PABLO HERNANDEZ can be the catalyst to get Leeds United’s Championship season up and running, according to head coach Garry Monk.
The former Valencia and Swansea City playmaker made an impressive debut on Wednesday night as United, who yesterday signed Bristol City full-back Luke Ayling on a three-year deal, edged through to the EFL Cup second round on penalties.
Kemar Roofe and Hernandez, on loan at Elland Road until January from Dubai club Al-Arabi, were the standout players, with the latter’s vision and passing range making Leeds a much more potent attacking threat than had been the case in the opening weekend defeat at Queens Park Rangers.
“I said after the QPR game that what I feared this team suffered from is a little bit of apprehension from playing, the lack of a little bit of belief in themselves to play,” said the United head coach, who worked with the Spaniard at the Liberty Stadium.
“It is quite natural with young players at a very big club on a big stage for them, so early on in their careers, to struggle for consistency at a high level.
“So what we needed to do was add a little bit of experience to the squad, people that have been at that level or higher levels, players who don’t have a fear of playing and putting their way of playing on to the pitch.
“Pablo was a prime example of that on Wednesday night. He will benefit from that but, more importantly, the young players and the young players will have looked at that, too.
“I think that he showed what we are trying to do here and the young players will take great confidence from that as well because I think he dragged them through.
“In the end, you started to see those young players grow in the game and I think that was partly because of the influence of having Pablo on the pitch with them.”
United, the subject of fresh speculation yesterday over a possible takeover after Italian businessman Andrea Radrizzani was spotted at two recent games with owner Massimo Cellino, will look to build on Wednesday night’s Cup win at Fleetwood during back-to-back home games against Birmingham City tomorrow and Fulham on Tuesday.
Hernandez, despite playing 120 minutes at Highbury, is expected to be fit to face the Blues and that has to be good news for Roofe.
The 23-year-old joined United from Oxford United for £3m after being named as the League Two player of the year in 2015-16. At Loftus Road last Sunday, Roofe was largely anonymous in a contest that QPR won every bit as convincingly as the final 3-0 scoreline suggests.
In tandem with Hernandez, however, Roofe was an altogether different prospect in the Cup with the pair linking up impressively throughout a tie that finished 2-2 after extra-time.
“The main thing was getting through,” said the former Oxford man about a 5-4 shoot-out win over the League One side.
“Cups are all about the result, not so much the performance. It is whoever gets over the line with a victory.
“We needed the win after what happened on Sunday. They got the first goal and it would have been easy for a team to drop their heads after that. But we showed character and got back into it.”
Roofe arrived at Elland Road this summer with a big reputation after helping Oxford to promotion and a place in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final, where the U’s lost to Barnsley.
“Last season was great for me and Oxford,” he added. “I have to thank them for what they did for me. It showed how together we all were as a club because we got performances and results and achieved stuff. We want to do the same at Leeds, it is why I came here.
“The move to Leeds has been amazing. I have enjoyed every minute of it. I am developing as a player and this is a big club to join.
“That was a big part in why I came to Leeds. Things are going in the right direction with all the additions and the squad is a good one. I am excited.
“Sunday was disappointing, but these things happen. We didn’t intend for it to end up like that and it did hurt us. It also hurt the fans just as much.
“But we were back in the next day and working hard to put things right and fix it.
“The celebrations after (knocking out) Fleetwood were great. We have to stick together, all of us – fans, players, staff, everyone at the club. We all want the same thing. If we stick together we can be a massive force.”
The takeover speculation concerning Leeds was sparked by Radrizanni, one of the founders behind the global media rights firm MP & Silva, sitting next to Cellino at QPR. He had also been at the friendly against Atalanta the previous weekend.
“At the moment there is nothing concrete,” said the Italian when asked about his presence at the two recent games, “but it is (only a) simple conversation to understand the club better.”