This was a weekend of many positives for Leeds United. Five of the fellow top seven dropped points to leave play-offs looking deliriously inevitable, and a faint glimmer of hope still remains for automatic promotion. Pontus Jansson’s omission - a slightly concerning reoccurrence - led to Liam Cooper putting in one of his best displays in a white shirt, serving a reminder of what he can offer on his day. The performance in general was very encouraging, and the result was the biggest statement Monk’s Leeds have made thus far.
The announcement of Rob Green’s contract extension also added to the buoyant mood at Elland Road’s late kick-off, with the keeper putting in an excellent shift in the victory over Brighton. He’s earned it.
This is something of a purple patch for a keeper 37 years of age.
Leeds have stuttered a little of late, failing to recapture the fluidity and authority of our best football from earlier in the season. But during such a crucial stage, that has not been reflected in the form table; sitting fourth, having picked up 12 points from a possible 18, more than any other team in the Championship’s top ten. The goalkeeper is personally responsible for many of those, not least of the three we picked up on Saturday.
Brighton manager Chris Hughton gave a characteristically honest and levelheaded assessment in his post-match interview, accurately assessing that the game was decided in the few key moments, with three shots on target from either side. Plenty has been said, and rightly so, of Chris Wood’s clinical quality at one end, but just as important were Green’s heroics at the other.
With the match scoreless, he pulled off a remarkable reflex save to spare Cooper’s blushes on the one occasion the Scottish defender exhibited the weak aspect of his game - his anxiousness - as he rashly swung a leg at an incoming cross, inadvertently sending the ball towards his own goal. It would have been difficult to bet against a side of Brighton’s quality seeing the game out if they’d taken the lead.
There have been plenty of other such moments recently. Against QPR, he was man of the match, keeping a clean sheet against his former side in the only goalless draw of the season, especially impressively narrowing his angles and blocking to deny Conor Washington in a one-on-one.
Away at Fulham, he produced a series of saves to keep them at bay until the final seconds, in a game where his defence was under immense pressure and could have conceded much earlier, but for him. Despite the agonising nature of the equaliser, Leeds could just as easily have left Craven Cottage empty-handed.
His penalty save in the 1-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday was a particular highlight, in the six pointer over the local promotion rivals. Jordan Rhodes tamely struck the ball, but with perfect precision towards the bottom corner, by no means a brilliant penalty but put in the kind of area that usually evades a goalkeeper. Not on this occasion.
Whilst it’s undoubtedly his best run of form, it’s also a continuation of the steady presence he’s been for the vast majority of the season. It’s something of a contrast to the slightly hapless figure that he was in the opening weeks of the season, not least the meek figure he looked between the sticks in Leeds disastrous opening day defeat at Loftus Road. But since then - blunder against Newcastle notwithstanding - he’s grown with this team, and demonstrated the kind of experience and responsibility you hope to get with a veteran.
WATCH: Rob Green won't enjoy seeing this again! After a goalmouth scramble, Onuoha scores. More on SS1 now. https://t.co/m6L2fPjJfe— Sky Sports EFL ⚽️ (@SkySportsEFL) August 7, 2016
Such early erratic displays might have been in keeping with a layman’s impression of a player with one of the more extensive blooper reels in the game, and unfortunately he won’t ever live that Clint Dempsey moment in Rustenburg down. But to focus on such lowlights wouldn’t be a fair characterisation of a player who’s at the very least been a fantastic asset for second tier clubs, as Norwich, West Ham and QPR fans will testify. He’s achieved promotions to the Premier League with all three of his former clubs, with Norwich topping the league back in 2004, winning the play-offs with West Ham and QPR in 2012 and 2014. With the kind of form he’s shown of late, would you bet against him repeating such achievements with Leeds United come May 29th?