Ever since that dreadful loss to QPR on the opening day of the season, Garry Monk has been asking for improvements and patience, and he’s been getting both. The Birmingham game was slightly better, Fulham better again, and Saturday's performance at Hillsborough was the best of the season so far and thoroughly deserved the 3 points.
There are so many positives from the 90 minutes, and I’m going to give you my top three. Firstly, the man who let the players take the credit on Saturday, Garry Monk.
Monk is probably one of the most balanced managers Leeds have ever had. He’s a defender at heart, which comes across in the no-nonsense defenders we have brought in like Bartley and Ayling, and the way he likes to sit a midfielder in front of the back four, like Bridcutt. However, he also loves an aggressive attacking purpose when we have the ball, and that's brought out by creative central midfield players and pacey wingers.
Not many managers go both ways: it's either solid defensive counter attacking football (think Diego Simeone), balanced possession based football (Pep Guardiola), or attacking threatening football (Jurgen Klopp). Not many managers try and balance all 3 of these. But this is what Monk did at Swansea and is also trying to do at Leeds, something which the players are slowly getting used to and which was displayed perfectly away at Wednesday.
Everything with a purpose.....
As well as his style of play, it's the type of person Monk is that compliments his balanced approach. It's clear from the way the players talk about him that he is a good man manager, very supportive, not afraid to develop youth quickly. But at the same time openly critical when needed, as we saw after the Fulham game. This honest yet supportive approach suits his style of play well and makes him one of the most well-rounded managers out there in England just now.
Strikers on Form
Nothing makes me happier than when our strikers score. It’s great when Dallas chips in with a goal or Roofe or Sacko. But for a side to do really well in the Championship, it needs to have its strikers firing full cylinders all season, and Antonsson and Wood have made a pretty good start. It felt on Saturday like they had a very good understanding of each other and they complimented very well.
Wood has come under a lot of stick for some of the misses of late, something which he clearly acknowledged going by his celebration after the Fulham goal. I think this stick comes form a good place though; we expect a lot of Wood. He’s our main guy, and we expect 20+ goals a season. He should relish this and rise to the challenge, something which I think he actually does. If these two carry on the way they are doing for the rest of the season we’ll get 40 goals between them, and this will put Leeds in very good stead for a top 6 fight.
Depth in Midfield
As long as I can remember we have always had a serious lack of depth throughout every area of the pitch. "We have a small squad" is something every manager in the past 4 years has uttered when under pressure (which has been a lot). Leeds still need to strengthen up front, and perhaps still at the back, but currently our midfield options seem to be beautifully endless.
Garry Monk clearly doesn’t know his strongest squad yet, which is fine, and on Saturday went with a midfield four of Mowatt, Bridcutt, Vieira and Sacko. In the centre of the park, Vieira and Bridcutt ran the show for me and Sacko created enough changes to but the game to bed long before we had even scored our first. Outside that four however we had Dallas, Kemar Roofe and Pablo Hernandez to call on, not even to mention Kalvin Phillips, and having that type of quality on the bench will put us in a great position this season.
Due to the intensity of the Championship, having 7/8 quality midfield players to call on in a full season is so important and this is the first time I can remember us having this since Grayson’s reign.
There are so many reasons to be cheerful today, and Leeds really looked to have turned the corner. Now all we have to do is play like this twice a week for the next 9 months. Easy peasy.