Emerging Leeds United ready to take aim at top three
After victory over Aston Villa lifted Leeds United up to fourth place in the EFL Championship the resurgent Whites are now setting their sights on climbing even higher in the next week.
The big games keep coming for United as they face the long travel to play second-placed Brighton in another Sky live game on Friday night and quickly follow-up by playing the team in third place, Reading, at Elland Road next Tuesday.
Just a month or so ago the prospect of two such tough games would have filled Whites supporters with dread, but now this double header is being seen as more of an opportunity to emphasise Leeds’ promotion claims.
Head coach Garry Monk is still talking down prospects as he does not want his largely young team to start believing they have achieved anything yet, but supporters are beginning to feel the excitement – showing their backing again with another 30,000 plus crowd for the Villa game despite the awful 5.30pm Saturday night kick-off time.
It was only in September that Leeds attracted just 8,488 for their home game with Blackburn in the EFL Cup and there were fewer than 20,000 fans in the ground in October for Wigan’s visit in the league so the turn round in belief has been rapid.
And the latest victory, in which the highlight was a long awaited first-ever senior goal for forward Kemar Roofe, came despite an escalating injury list.
United took the field without experienced midfielders Eunan O’Kane and Liam Bridcutt, defender Liam Cooper and playmaker Pablo Hernandez, but the development of youngsters Kalvin Phillips and Ronaldo Vieira in recent weeks has been staggering as they are looking like old stagers in midfield, not the rookies they are.
Roofe is growing in confidence by the game and beginning to look like the £3 million prospect United thought they had bought in the summer, particularly since being given a more central role.
The re-emergence of Souleymane Doukara in a wandering left flank role is also not to be underestimated and it is fair to say that the absent players have not been missed with Leeds winning five of their last six league games in their dart up the EFL table.
Monk still believes he has a small squad to work with, but is delighted by the competition for places now developing.
He said: “It’s the competition you want and the mentality you want that when you get an opportunity you have to take it.
“I don’t like to single out players because we’re all about the team, but considering Kalvin and Ronny along with Kemar were up against Villa’s Jedinak, Gardner and Westwood, players with a lot of Premier League experience, I thought their mentality was good and they came out on top.
“It was a great experience for them and something that will help them in the future.
“I think we’re quite some way off the potential of what the young players can be, but all this experience they are having right now is going to stand them in good stead.
“The 18 we had in the squad (against Aston Villa) was the only 18 players we had fit in the first team so we need to get bodies back out on the pitch.
“We’ve been a bit unfortunate with injuries. Pretty much all of them have been impact, that’s tackles or contact or certain things like that. We work a lot physically with the players and we are fairly happy with where we’re at, but we have to obviously try and avoid these contact injuries and can’t afford any more – we’re a young and inexperienced group as it is.”
Monk is unsure whether O’Kane will be fit again for the Brighton trip while Bridcutt is on the way back, but not being rushed and unlikely to be risked in the next two games.