Leeds United in strong position at break time
Leeds United head into their last international break of the season in fine spirits and with promotion hopes very much intact after possibly their best win yet under head coach Garry Monk.
While the performance earlier this year against Derby County was the best at home and the 4-1 win at Preston on Boxing Day the most emphatic on away soil, the significance of last Saturday night’s victory over Brighton cannot be underestimated.
The 2-0 success against opponents that have been in the top two in the EFL Championship almost the whole season was a real statement that the Whites are handling the pressure well.
It should also renew their confidence for some tricky games to come as Leeds had not previously beaten any of the current top three this season and had lost their previous six games against Brighton.
In the process it took Leeds eight points clear of Fulham, who stand one place outside the play-off places and they are 12 clear of Norwich, in eighth.
They are also now seven points ahead of sixth-placed Sheffield Wednesday and have a vastly superior goal difference over all their immediate rivals.
Six more wins from the remaining eight matches will guarantee a play-off place and realistically four will surely do it, but although United are in a strong position and still not completely out of the running for an automatic promotion place, with Brighton eight points ahead of them, they still face a tricky run-in.
With games to come away to fifth-placed Reading and leaders Newcastle plus home matches against Preston and Norwich and matches against relegation threatened teams scrapping for the lives there is still work to be done.
Leeds boss Monk is determined to keep his players’ feet on the ground and refusing to put a target on how many points his team now needs.
He said: “We are not getting carried away, we know what the result (against Brighton) does for us, but we haven’t guaranteed ourselves anything yet and we are taking it step by step.
“The reason we have been successful is that we have focused on the next game and that’s what we will continue to do.”
Another clean sheet against Brighton was a bonus and achieved without Pontus Jansson, who was surprisingly left out, and Luke Ayling, who was suspended.
The latter’s absence did give Monk a chance to get Charlie Taylor back in at left-back and his general display and great work in creating the first goal showed he is getting back to full fitness.
Monk now has a real selection headache now on which are his first choice full-backs with Gaetano Berardi strong again on his switch to the right and Ayling facing a fight to get his place back when his ban is played out after the next match on Saturday week.
Leeds, meanwhile, have five players on international duty this week with Liam Cooper (Scotland), Chris Wood (New Zealand), Jansson (Sweden), Stuart Dallas (Northern Ireland) and Mo Barrow (Gambia) all receiving call-ups to play for their respective countries.