Leeds United 2, Burton Albion 0
Little by little, bit by bit, things are looking up at Elland Road, as Leeds United manager Garry Monk appears to be insulating the football side of the club from the madness that has dogged the West Yorkshire giants over the past decade or so. Thus protected, and focused on the business of actually kicking a ball about, the men in All White appear to be quietly thriving. That focus, that separation from the bigger picture of court cases and ownership wrangles – that is what has elevated the level of performance achieved by Monk’s team above and beyond the efforts made under previous managers.
It’s a factor that will be instrumental in any success United may enjoy this season and – incredibly – football’s craziest club does appear to be poised for success, as things currently stand. Ninth in the table, just a point outside the playoffs, and EFL Cup quarter finalists with a TV date against Liverpool at Anfield to come, damn your eyes. It seems almost too good to be true. Success is all relative, but for the current vintage of Leeds, this is as close to that elusive commodity as we could reasonably imagine. Is better yet to come? Well, you never know.
I’ve thought for a while that, the longer certain non-football personnel within the club can stay out of the limelight, the better the chances will be for the club to succeed where it matters, on the park. In previous seasons, things have been going reasonably well – but there’s been this tendency for those of us who love the club to twitch nervously, all too well aware that something would probably happen to derail us. And then it would happen – a loco rant from the boardroom in the local press, an inexplicable sacking or two – and it’d be as if the players’ heads went down and they were thinking “what kind of Fred Karno’s army outfit are we playing for here?”
This season, that dreaded twitch has been noticeable by its absence. We’ve had our bad times, and even Monk himself has been guilty of the odd gaffe. But overall, his stewardship of the football club has been characterised by a serenity, and a steadfast determination to get on with business, that has permitted no distractions to interfere with the steady progress being made.
It’s progress that has been solid if unspectacular, but Monk has made a point of commenting that the players are a group growing in togetherness and unity of purpose. Within that insulating bubble the manager has created, the squad seems happier and much better able to function as professional footballers. The difference this has made to the angst and anarchy of previous seasons is difficult to over-stress. But you only have to look at the results and performances to see that it is so.
There is still chaos and uncertainty abroad at the higher levels of the club, there’s no point in beating about the bush on that one. As we’ve seen in previous years, it’s the kind of thing that can spread throughout the whole place and negatively affect playing matters. In a highly professional and competitive environment, tiny differences can have a vast effect on relative performance – and United have thus been at a disadvantage compared to calmer, better-run clubs. The credit due to Monk for creating a vacuum between the footballing aspect of the club, and the nuttiness elsewhere around Elland Road, must be immense. It’s Monk we have to thank for the fact that we don’t look as daft nowadays on the field as we still frequently do off it.
Today, against Burton Albion, Leeds got the job done without having to be particularly brilliant. Hard work, concentration and commitment proved to be sufficient unto the day, and two late goals from Wood and Doukara saw off determined and tough opposition before whom last season’s United might well have wilted. It was an object lesson in earning the right to win – and then pouncing just in time.
Monk seems to be building a team and an ethos upon traditional lines; work hard, don’t accept defeat, show grit and determination, keep going to the end. That will get you a hell of a long way against most teams in this league, as was evident against Clough Junior’s men today, and also our frequent nemesis Norwich City in midweek. The foundations are being laid in blood, sweat and tears; the brilliance can and will come later.
So, it’s onwards and upwards for United on the field – and long may that continue. And, as long as Garry Monk is allowed to get on with doing his job, his way, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be at least guardedly optimistic for the future. Monk has an air of confidence about him that inspires faith and belief, in players and fans alike. He seems to expect to succeed, and there’s a determination about him to keep that vital separation of football matters from everything else.
Winning is what matters. All else is secondary and subordinate to that. Such seems to be the Monk Mantra. Let’s hope that everybody connected to the club understands and accepts it.