GARRY MONK’S trip home last night will have felt infinitely more pleasurable than the long journey back from Brighton in the wee hours four days ago.
Monk’s view that Leeds United did not do themselves justice at the Amex Stadium was a succinct one, with the Whites’ head coach having plenty to ponder on the long trek back north on a dismal day that coincided with the first anniversary of his dismissal from Swansea City.
Thankfully, the sight of his players answering him in the affirmative with a performance brimful of character against another divisional high-flier in Reading was much more to his liking.
Leeds were not scintillating, but it was not that sort of occasion on a murky old night when the stakes were high and victory was the be-all and end-all, with fans hailing Monk in song at the final whistle.
The sight of a solid display packed with spirit, heart and fortitude will have wholly reassured Monk as Leeds vanquished memories of Friday’s abject occasion on the south coast at the first possible juncture.
Endeavour was shown, particularly in the first half, with Leeds meriting the lead given to them by top-scorer Chris Wood, who blasted home his 14th goal of the season on 19 minutes.
Wood left the fray a few minutes after the half-hour mark with what proved to be a hamstring issue, an incident which represented the only real downside to the evening with Leeds then showing real resolve in his absence, particularly in the second half, to get over the line.
Fielding a relatively untried 4-1-4-1 formation with Souleymane Doukara and Kemar Roofe in central midfield roles represented a bold selection from Monk, but his side’s first-half efforts vindicated the decision.
An enforced change of tack when Wood exited did necessitate a further switch to 4-4-2 with Roofe and Doukara moving up front, but United stayed on message and showed energy and professionalism in a solid first period.
In contrast to their efforts at Brighton, the decision making was sound, with the hosts keeping their mistakes to a minimum.
Just one major Leeds transgression arrived when Pontus Jansson erred and allowed Garath McCleary to slide past him, but thankfully Kyle Bartley was on hand to save the day, making a fine intervention to prevent Roy Beerens from tapping home.
In the context of the half, it was a big moment with Leeds taking the lead moments later.
This time, ruthlessness was displayed at the other end with Wood on hand to bury the ball high past Ali Al-Habsi from close range after a low pull-back from the lively Hadi Sacko had found its way to him in the danger zone.
The next major development saw Wood walk off gingerly, with Liam Bridcutt entering the fray for his first league action in exactly three months.
The onus was very much on Reading to bring more to the table, but their attacking offerings were spartan and that trait continued on the restart, with Liam Kelly’s shot that flashed wide appearing in isolation.
At the other end, Doukara was inches away from converting Sacko’s low cross after he dispossessed Tyler Blackett, who toiled against the United winger for significant spells.
Some rare Royals enterprise then saw Garath McCleary head just over following Beerens’s clipped cross, which heightened the need for Leeds to instigate a killer second goal – admittedly made more problematic by the absence of Wood.
Reading started to sense their opportunity in the final 20 minutes and asked some probing questions with the underemployed Robert Green alertly tipping over Beerens’s rising strike after substitute Yann Kermorgant profited from Charlie Taylor’s error. The momentum shift continued with Leeds indebted to Green again 14 minutes from time when he turned away Kermorgant’s goalbound downward header from McCleary’s corner.
Leeds were forced to man the barricades as the night became increasingly tense in the final 10 minutes.
Fraying nerves were thankfully eased in stoppage time when Leeds were the beneficiaries of a soft looking penalty award when Taylor went down in the box under pressure from Chris Gunter.
Doukara assumed responsibility and fired forcefully past Al-Habsi to seal three points, with there still being time for Jansson to make a heroic block with the final action of the game as Leeds were left to savour a sixth win in eight games at Elland Road.
Leeds United: Green; Ayling, Bartley, Jansson, Taylor; Vieira; Sacko, Roofe (Mowatt 70), Doukara, Dallas (Grimes 82); Wood (Bridcutt 33). Unused substitutes: Silvestri, L Cooper, Berardi, Wilks.
Reading: Al-Habsi; Gunter, McShane, L Moore, Blackett, McShane, L Moore; Kelly (J Cooper 87), Evans (Meite 78), Beerens, Van den Berg; McCleary, Samuel (Kermorgant 62). Unused substitutes: S Moore, Harriott, Wieser, Watson.
Referee: G Eltringham (Tyne and Wear).