The Championship season rolls on at such a ferocious pace that it doesn’t usually wait for moments of reflection. But after the season petered out with a 1-1 draw against Wigan Athletic, Leeds United can look back at a largely positive campaign.
The key talking point from the final game against Wigan was Charlie Taylor’s refusal to be named in Garry Monk’s squad. With purported interest from Premier League clubs Liverpool and West Bromwich Albion, he has been determined not to sign a new contract all season. Taylor came through the youth ranks at the club and has long been seen as a future England international but his career at the club has sadly ended in ignominy with his decision not to play, with Monk blasting his agent for advising him poorly. You feel it’s a decision that Taylor will regret one day.
Monk came to the club as Massimo Cellino’s 6th appointment in two years, with many in the football world surprised that a young up-and-coming English manager would take on the poisoned chalice of Leeds. His reign began with a 0-3 thumping at Queens Park Rangers, and after an unimpressive August and a defeat at home to local rivals, Huddersfield Town, rumours started to circulate that Cellino was willing to wield his familiar axe once more. Here we go again, thought the long-suffering fans – long weary of Cellino’s infamous impatience.
As often is the case, the turning point in form came from a late goal. Leeds were playing Blackburn Rovers in the EFL Cup at Elland Road, and Chris Wood bundled in on the 86th minute to give the Whites only their second home win since April. Leeds would win their following three Championship fixtures.
By December they had really hit a sweet spot, best exemplified by a 4-1 dismantling of Preston North End at Deepdale. Preston were managed by the last Leeds manager to have any degree of success, Simon Grayson. Former Leeds star striker under Grayson, Jermaine Beckford, was sent-off in the game and the feelings of ‘what might have been’ of the Grayson era were finally extinguished. It was now the Garry Monk era, and promotion was tantalizingly close.
After Leeds beat fellow promotion hopefuls, Derby County 1-0 at Elland Road they were just four points off second placed Newcastle United. It was a result that flattered Derby, as Leeds put them to the sword with a convincing and dominant performance.
In February, Leeds lost to non-league Sutton United in the fourth round of the F.A. Cup in one of the greatest cup shocks in recent years. The defeat seemed to have longer lasting tremors, and the team were not to find a consistent run of form like they had over the Christmas period again.
Play-offs still looked like a strong possibility as Leeds ended March by beating then league leaders Brighton 2-0 at home in a result that seemed to give them breathing space in the promotion mix. They were 7 points ahead of 7th placed Fulham, with 8 fixtures remaining.
A mixture of poor form, not making signings in January, inexperience and a Fulham side on an unstoppable march up the league conspired to push Leeds out of the play-off positions. It was a bitter pill to swallow – but unlike recent years, it’s much easier to glean the positives from the season as a whole. On a meagre budget, Monk was canny – bringing in a mix of loan signings, unproven foreign players on the cheap, youth, and revitalizing players who underperformed last season, such as Chris Wood.
Wood scored against Wigan to take his tally to 30 goals for the season, which puts him alongside other greats of the club such as Tom Jennings, John Charles, Peter Lorimer, Lee Chapman and Jermaine Beckford who’ve also reached the milestone.
Andrea Radrizzani’s deal to complete a deal to purchase 100% of the club is still not over the line, meaning any talk of future signings are on hold. Garry Monk has laid the foundations for another promotion push – but if they are to come back stronger, he’ll want assurances that he will have a squad that can—this time—last the pace.