Connect in the back of the net

Leeds fans have had a bizarre existence the last decade or so.

Fans of a certain age will remember taunts of being glory hunters or ‘dirty Leeds’ jibes.

The last few years they have been used to pity or humiliation; once giants in English football, now consigned to the lower leagues, bringing 6,000 plus fans to games against MK Dons.

This year, however, the script was slightly different.

Since their return to the Championship in 2010 they have tended to stick pretty close to the lower middle of the table.

 

Galvanised by Monk

The arrival of Garry Monk galvanised the Yorkshire sleeping giants into attempting a challenge for the play-offs, which prematurely came to an end last Saturday after a 3-3 draw with Norwich.

Leeds had seemed to have their place sown up with an 8 point cushion at the start of April but after a run of 4 losses in 6 games are now set for yet another season outside the promised land of the Premier League.

With Monk’s contract running out this summer should the club reward him for such a dramatic turnaround in their fortune? Or will he be punished for falling at the last hurdle and denying them a chance of returning to the top flight?

Since Massimo Cellino bought a controlling stake in the club Leeds have been featured in the front section of the paper more than the back.

Repeated battles with the law over alleged tax evasion and a remarkable parade of bizarre managerial appointments did not enamour the eccentric Italian businessman to the Elland Road faithful.

Therefore when Monk was announced as their new head coach last June most fans and indeed the footballing world at large were surprised at how sensible Cellino’s new gambit was.

 

Success with Swansea

Monk had initial success managing Swansea, the team he had played for through each of England’s league divisions, even being touted as a future international manager by many of his peers.

Despite leading Swansea to their highest ever league position in 2015 a run of one win in eleven games led to him getting the sack that December, a decision many in the sport considered harsh.

Monk said that he was excited to get to grips with such a big project, and clearly Leeds had faith in his ambition, announcing plans to refund season tickets up to 50% if they failed to make the Championship play-offs.

 

Major recruitment drive, but a poor start

Monk lost key personnel early on in his tenure; fan-favourite Mirco Antenucci was released, and starlet Lewis Cook was sold to Bournemouth for around 7 million pounds.

Captain Sol Bamba was deemed surplus to requirement by Monk and subsequently joined Cardiff  City on a free, rejoining former Leeds boss Neil Warnock.

Leeds embarked on a major recruitment drive; the experience of free agent Rob Green  was matched with the purchase of Marcus Antonsson, Luke Ayling, Liam Bridcutt, Kemar Roofe and Eunan O’Kane. Loan deals were struck for Potus Jansson, Pablo Hernández, Kyle Bartley and Hadi Sacko, Jansson and Hernández  joining permanently in January.

Garry Monk’s tenure as Leeds boss could not have got off to a worst start as they went down 3-0 to QPR.

There were reports that Cellino was already planning to make Monk his 6th managerial casualty.  

Leeds slipped to 5 defeats in their first 10 games, the players struggling to adapt to their gaffer’s style of play.

 

Signs of revival and a run of impressive form

But green shoots began to emerge, especially with a run of three straight victories against Blackburn, Cardiff and Ipswich.

By the time December came along Leeds were 4th, winning 5 out of 7 home matches.

Players spoke of a great togetherness and a belief that the methods Monk brought in would continue to bring success.

Chris Wood was in phenomenal form, scoring his 13th goal of the season in the 2-0 defeat of Aston Villa.

New club captain Liam Bridcutt formed a formidable pairing with Ronaldo Viera, an 18 year old Brazilian wonder kid who was beginning to take the Championship by storm after breaking into Steve Evan’s plans the following season.

Pontus Jansson was a colossus at the back, quickly becoming a fan favourite, and although there were still echoes of his old error-ridden self, not least after a mistake against Newcastle, Robert Green had cemented his place as number 1.

The 4-2-3-1 formation Monk favoured allowed a mix of attacking possession-based football and discipline off the ball.

Off the pitch the club’s image continued to get a kicking as Cellino was suspended from footballing related activity and fined £250,000 for breaching the FA’s football agent rules over the sale of Ross McCormack to Fulham in 2014.

At the start of January Aser Group Holding acquired 50% of Leeds United, led by Andrea Radrizzani.

This deal offers an option to increase this stake at the end of the season, one which the Italian seems intent on taking. So stability off the pitch after a tumultuous three year period seemed to be in reach.

 

Momentum hits a turn for the worst

However January also brought the loss to Sutton United in the FA Cup.

In the aftermath, Leeds’s momentum seemed to stutter, and there was certainly a lack of consistency.

Losses to Huddersfield, Cardiff, Reading, Brentford, Wolves and, perhaps the hardest to swallow, Burton Albion have taken their toll.

The teams around them smelt blood and after being dislodged from the top 6 Leeds had to win against Norwich last Saturday to keep their faint hopes alive.

The Canaries took an 3-0 early lead before Leeds rallied and took the match to a draw.

Barring a Fulham loss and a reverse of a 13 plus goal difference Leeds promotion hopes are over.

 

So what went wrong?

Chris Wood is their top scorer with 26 goals but next in the list is Bartley, a defender, with 6.

Leeds often seemed to lack a plan B with Wood left isolated for large periods of the match.

Monk failed to settle on a starting eleven, particularly rotating 6 different wingers and often lacking options to come off the bench and change the game.

You can point to Tom Cairney’s late equaliser for Fulham in March as a turning point, the Cottagers taking heart from the result to close the gap.

 

The Leeds faithful behind Monk

Monk’s contract runs out at the end of the season and there seems to be no indication from the club currently that another will be offered.

Radrzzani tweeted in April that there would be plenty of time to discuss an extension in June, but fans are furiously tweeting #signgarrymonk to make sure the new owner is aware of the fans’ appreciation for their manager.

Although obviously disappointed at how the season has panned out, no one is under any illusion that such a campaign would’ve been possible without him.

Norwich are reported to be keen in having him take over at Carrow Road and if Monk is to leave Elland Road he would have no shortage of admirers.

As Leeds travel to Wigan this Sunday all eyes will be on the technical area, with some fans sure to ask would they be in the Lancashire team’s plight but for the turnaround orchestrated by the man once touted as a future England manager.

 

Written by Matthew Robson

Follow Matthew on Twitter @TheRobsonator93

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