Sharp-shooter: Leeds United's prolific Chris Wood on verge of joining elite 30-plus club
Chris Wood's inclusion in the Championship's team of the year is unlikely to be the last acknowledgement of his goalscoring this season.
He will go close to Leeds United’s player-of-the-year award and might pick up the Championship’s too. Only Dwight Gayle can realistically threaten to deny him the division’s golden boot.
Scoring 27 goals in all competitions also puts Wood on the verge of joining distinguished company at Elland Road, where finishing on that prolific scale has been rare over the years. United celebrate their centenary in 2019 but in all of that time, only five players have ever reached 30 in a single season.
Wood needs three more finishes to add his name to that list with as many as 11 games remaining.
The timeline goes back to 1927 and Tom Jennings, a Scottish centre-forward whose scoring exploits at Leeds were unrivalled before the emergence of John Charles in the 1950s. Jennings scored 35 goals in the 1926-27 season, 35 of them in league fixtures, and also claimed hat-tricks in three successive games against Arsenal, Liverpool and Blackburn Rovers.
The irony of his form was that Leeds finished second bottom of the first division regardless and were relegated but Jennings’ record of 117 goals in fewer than 200 appearances for United built his reputation as one of the club’s greatest pre-war footballers. He died in Scotland in 1973.
Charles is considered by some to be United’s greatest player either side of the Second World War and ‘Il Gigante Buono’, as Juventus nicknamed the 6’1” Welshman, cleared 30 goals twice: once in 1953-54 when he finished with 43 and again three years later when he scored 39. Charles’ total of 43 in an individual campaign has never been bettered and Jermaine Beckford is the only other Leeds player to score 30 more than once.
Beckford’s best return – 34 in 2008-09 – was achieved despite the striker missing a month of the season with a torn hamstring.
Even with those goals behind them, Leeds finished beneath League One’s automatic promotion places and lost to Millwall over two legs in the play-off semi-finals. It was his haul of 31 the following year, his last at Elland Road, which carried United into the Championship.
Beckford’s 31st earned a crucial final-day win over Bristol Rovers, sealing second place in the table. Between 1957 and 2009, Peter Lorimer and Lee Chapman were alone in finding their way to 30.
Lorimer reached that exact mark in 1968, the year of United’s League Cup triumph, and Chapman produced 31 in 1991, a campaign in which the club finished fourth in Division One. Gary McAllister said Chapman was a poacher who “by hook or by crook got on the end of everything”.
Wood has been in that mould this season; in the right place at the right time so often and again in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Brighton. His close-range header on 64 minutes, laid on by a deft cross from Charlie Taylor, broke the deadlock, the 11th time this term that the 25-year-old has claimed the opening goal at Eland Road.
“It was an excellent cross and Woody was there to put it away,” said United head coach Garry Monk. “It set us up and in that game, it was always going to be crucial who got the first goal.”
Up until a goalless draw against Queens Park Rangers on March 11, Wood was on course to find the net against every side in the Championship. A hamstring injury prevented him from playing against Brentford in December and he was a late substitute in a Boxing Day win at Preston North End. Newcastle and Wolverhampton Wanderers also found a way to negate him but Leeds will play all four sides before the regular season finishes.
James Beattie, Monk’s first-team coach and a former England striker, spoke in October about making Wood a forward who was capable of “destroying teams at this level”.
“His reputation as a striker should precede him,” Beattie said. Wood has arrived at that point and is now three goals from reaching a mark which narrowly eluded Ross McCormack at Elland Road in 2014. One finish from his final eight matches left McCormack stranded on 29 on the last day of the Championship term.
Asked why Wood’s impact had been so consistent, Monk said: “Very clearly there are principles we have to follow day in, day out and he’s one of those who bought into that. We push the players to it. There’s individual work you do with them and unit work you do with them (on and off the pitch). You hope it helps them.
“With goalscoring, and I could sense this at the start, he’s quite a natural. He’s quite instinctive in terms of his finishing and his technique. We just needed to help him refine it all and be a bit more clinical.
“Credit to the team for creating chances and credit to him for being on the end of them. But it’s down to the work we do on attitude and mentality – number one here will always be hard work.”