Can Leeds end the slump against Preston?

Leeds United

For many of us who love football, the international breaks are proving to be tough love.

Before Gareth Southgate, Gordon Strachan et al gave us heart-warming wins in a mild spring, Leeds United were beating second-placed Brighton, and Huddersfield were happily being thrashed at relegation-threatened Bristol City. After Chris Wood’s two-goal performance, some of the LUFC fans (who obviously don’t know about the White Rose self-destruct button) were predicting automatic promotion after all for the Whites.

After the break, Huddersfield were still losing – in the 96th minute of the match at home to (cue, football’s patronising ‘experts’) ‘plucky’ Burton Albion, while Brighton got back to winning their next two matches.

Sadly, we have lost at Reading and Brentford in successive away games in the Championship and Chris Wood – which can also refer to the entire Leeds attack – has scored none. To be fair to Chris it is a very long way to New Zealand and back again and you would hope that leg room wasn’t an issue; it is also grossly unfair to blame him alone for our inability to convert chances, of which, as so often this season, we created many more of in the second halves of each of those games.

Chris is having a fantastic season and so are we. If the momentum was not adversely affected by the fortnight’s break, then maybe it is just a case of tiredness, coupled with uncertainty at the back. Pontus Jansson was mysteriously unavailable for the Brighton game and – even more mysteriously – unavailable to wave at the same Elland Road fans who he had previously courted so unsuccessfully. Nobody knows quite what went on in the run-up to the game – and Garry Monk played his usual flat bat on it – but it doesn’t require a Swedish-English dictionary to know that it wasn’t good.

It then looked as though Pontus would be unavailable for last night’s match because of a hamstring injury, yet he turned up and played. Rumours about unprofessional behaviour, Monk managing the yellow card situation with a view to play-off matches or, indeed, an injury have abounded. It doesn’t help any of us, merely lifelong Leeds United fans, not to know what is happening and it doesn’t appear to have helped with the defensive stability that we have long coveted and often wondered if we would ever see again.

The Football Association were getting as worried about our promotion prospects as Shaun Harvey must have been and so they have now banned Liam Cooper for six matches for violent conduct, stamping and being a Leeds United player. The ruling English football authorities have long been synonymous with inconsistency in their ‘rulings’ and so we must hope that Pontus really isn’t injured. Luke Ayling is back from his ban and able to play in central defence with Kyle Bartley but, although – even given Chris Wood’s success – Ayling would be my player of the season, I still think this weakens the defence as a whole.

Our next match should, therefore, be revealing for all kinds of reasons. Will a return to our erstwhile defensive fortress at Elland Road see the team play with renewed confidence or will former Leeds manager, Simon Grayson, and his Preston North End team cast an even wider shadow over the joy and optimism we last enjoyed there three weeks ago?

I think it was probably time for Grayson to leave Leeds when he did but I still have a soft spot for the man who was, is, Leeds through and through. He steered us on the first part of our return journey to the Premier League and, but for the Leeds Board not backing him when he really needed them to, might have completed it with us.
We thrashed his new team at Deepdale on Boxing Day but Preston have warmed up for revenge with a 5.0 win over, ahem, Bristol City. It will certainly be emotional.