So it turns out Garry Monk isn’t a magician after all. Groundbreaking analysis I know. Yet after watching Leeds United battle through seven games in twenty days, it’s prudent to remind ourselves that there are clear reasons why we sit fourth from bottom.
But before we explore why the first month of football has been a tumultuous reminder of why Leeds United supporters are jinxed, let’s quickly recap the results on the field.
In the league, United were good for one win, one draw and three defeats. That makes four measly points and a shaky 21st position as the European summer fades away (and the Australian summer is approaching. Yay, go me!).
We have progressed into the round of 32 in the League Cup, with two victories over inferior opponents. Sure, it’s nice to win games, but these victories are largely meaningless to me. Does a 1-nil victory over Luton Town excite you about our prospects of approaching the play-offs this season? I don’t think so.
We don’t need a cup run, and truth be told, we couldn't threaten for the final even if we wanted to. The league proper is the destination of this club’s all-in aspirations, and where the judgments must come from.
We have seen growing pains. No doubt about it. They are the same old bugaboos that have plagued this club over the past 24 months. Despite an influx of new talent to the frontline, goal scoring remains an issue. Five goals in five league games: only six clubs have scored less and there has been no early improvement over last season.
Marcus Antonsson has looked the most threatening up front, but he is yet to truly look comfortable with English football. Kemar Roofe is quality, no doubting that, but the young lad is learning the difference between lower league football and a big-time, pressurised environment. As for Chris Wood, same old story I’m afraid.
I compared Wood to Harry Dunne of Dumb and Dumber after the Fulham game, and the comparison is growing on. Every time the big Kiwi has me doubting our relationship, he redeems himself quicker than a front-flipping striker. One step forward, but one step back, one step forward, one step back. It seems to be the modus operandi of the Leeds United frontline.
Then we have the defence, which has been... um, how do we put this in a family friendly manner... not good. The backline has been disastrous, and we keep finding new ways to disappoint. On the opening day of the season, it was an utter no-show from the entire team; against Birmingham it was simple lapses in attention; and against Forest on Saturday, we conceded two goals from corners. Not just any goals, these were two of the softest freebies you’re ever likely to see.
Oh, and is now a good time to remind you that United have one of the tallest squads in the League? Isn’t height useful at defensive set pieces? One clean sheet, 11 goals against - good for fourth worst in the league - and numerous meltdowns on the defensive end.
This is my major concern after August’s events. We need defensive help. With Sol Bamba being left out of Monk’s 18 man squad on Saturday, it looks almost certain that the skipper (for now) is not part of the short term equation. Perhaps the future of Ayling-Bartley-Jansson-Taylor will save us, but for all these new additions, we’ve yet to see success.
The real (and only) MVP of our defensive unit has been the wooden structures standing behind Robert Green. The poor goalposts have taken a pounding while saving United from further embarrassment. In a not-too-distant world, that figure of 11 goals could be approaching 20.
Maybe this is my rose coloured-Monk glasses taking over, but I cannot blame the new gaffer for this. Not yet anyway. My untrained eyes see a boss who doesn't trust his players. Whether it be talent, mindset, professionalism or what; the trust is not yet present.
I know I sound like Donald Trump, calling out obvious problems without offering a solution. Luckily, we do have a solution. But it involves a little used virtue.
Ignoring a typo from our friend Tommaso, the wisdom in that 140 character masterpiece represents my thought process in a nutshell. Because....
The disappointment of opening day withstanding, there have been obvious positives in every outing. It started with a resilient victory in penalties over Fleetwood Town, then 45 minutes of impressive football against Birmingham, than a deserved equaliser against Fulham, and it reached a climax with the Derby day victory over Wednesday.
The team can play good football.
Monk has heralded in 10 new signings during his two months in charge. With each passing week, there are signs of growth. Signs of a football team being moulded from rubble into something resembling a professional outfit. An evolution I’d happily take.
Yet, for all the niceties in the world, it keeps coming back to time. And specifically, when is the inflection point between patience and backside-covering with Massimo Cellino. One can only guess what our owner is thinking at the moment, but my best guess has this being a pretty good impression.
I could imagine our Italian running around the offices of Elland Road, shouting and waving his arms around like a Disney character. Admit it, the comparison of Cellino to a talking caricature makes you smile. It did for me.
If there is anything Disney movies can teach us though, it’s that the days are darkest just before they get bright.
Things sure looked bleak for Monstropolis in Monsters Inc. before James P. "Sulley" Sullivan saved the day. Is Garry Monk the Sulley that United needs? Let’s all smoke the peace pipe and hope that Elland Road can become a place of fairytales again.
Finally, for every highlight (or lowlight if you’d prefer to be negative) on the field in August, the most important two minutes of footage didn’t involved a single football being kicked. Just a man laying down the law.
In the aftermath of the Birmingham defeat, Monk offered the most insightful interview by a Leeds United manager in some time. To me, this was the line-in-the-sand moment for his young squad.
Shape up, or ship out.
It’s not where we have been, or even where we are currently. It’s about where we are heading under Monk. Please, Mr. Cellino, give the man some time.