ANOTHER week and another move up the table into what has been uncharted territory for Leeds United in recent years.
Seven days after a derby win at Rotherham United that took the Yorkshire club up to fifth in the Championship for the first time since Christmas 2013, Garry Monk’s men were at it again on Saturday night.
Victory over Aston Villa in front of a raucous Elland Road audience was enough to nudge up a further place to fourth, a standing United had last occupied on the first day of 2011.
Heady days, indeed, and judging by the rousing version of club anthem Marching On Together reverberating around the old ground at the final whistle, something special is stirring at a club that have punched below their weight for far too long.
Under Monk, United’s footballing mojo is back and the manner in which Leeds ruthlessly finished off a Villa side previously unbeaten in seven games under Steve Bruce suggests this group is capable of going the distance this term.
No longer, it seems, does that famous shirt hang heavy on those in white and, for that, the 37-year-old deserves huge credit. He should also be praised for instilling the team ethos that has characterised a stirring run that has now brought nine wins from the club’s last 13 league outings.
Kemar Roofe and Chris Wood got the all-important goals against Villa, but everyone from Robert Green in goal through to tireless lone frontman Wood made a telling contribution.
This said, there were some who caught the eye that little bit more than others. Midfield was one such area, Roofe’s attacking verve dovetailing neatly with the intelligence and endeavour of Ronaldo Vieira and Kalvin Phillips as the duo went toe-to-toe with seasoned Premier League performers Mile Jedinak and Ashley Westwood.
It was a similar story in defence, Green pulling off two vital saves in quick succession early in the second half before the entire back four put their bodies on the line to keep Villa at bay once Roofe had broken the deadlock.
That Leeds achieved all this despite injuries having left Monk with just 18 fit players made the standing ovation from the home fans in a bumper 32,648 crowd that bit more justified.
Roofe, no stranger to what is needed to prevail amid the pressure-cooker atmosphere of a promotion chase after helping Oxford United to runners-up spot in League Two last season, admits there is a palpable sense of belief at Elland Road.
“There is something special developing here,” said the £3m summer signing after breaking his scoring duck for the club.
“After the start we had, everyone was writing us off. But, within the camp, we had the belief, as we knew what we could do.
“This was a massive win because Villa are a massive club. It wasn’t smash and grab, either. We deserved the win and we were the better team.”
As for Leeds occupying fourth place in the Championship for the first time since drawing 1-1 with Middlesbrough on New Year’s Day, 2011, Roofe insisted no one’s head had been turned in the home dressing room.
“I learned from last season when I was at Oxford not to look at the table until the end of the season,” said the U’s top scorer in that campaign with 26 goals. “That was a great experience and I have learned a lot from it.
“We are not getting too carried away, we are just focusing on the performance and not the results. The secret to our success this season has been the work that we put in on the training ground.”
Roofe had bemoaned to The Yorkshire Post after last Tuesday’s League Cup exit at Liverpool that he felt “cursed” in front of goal after a post had denied him a first goal in Leeds colours. He banished that jinx in timely fashion against Villa, pipping Pierluigi Gollini to a quite exceptional 68th-minute cross from Souleymane Doukara with a brave header.
Coming on the back of two quickfire saves from Green to deny Albert Adomah and Westwood, Roofe’s lifting of his goal curse proved the pivotal moment in what was only the third of 81 league meetings between these two old rivals to be played outside the top flight.
Wood came close to adding a second six minutes later when found by the impressive Charlie Taylor, but the Kiwi would not be denied again in stoppage time. Hadi Sacko, after latching on to a sloppy pass from Jedinak, burst into the area before hitting a low shot that Gollini got a hand to only for Wood to pounce and beat Tommy Elphick to the ball to score from a yard out.
It meant a first defeat for Villa under Bruce and James Chester, the former Hull City defender, admits that the Championship is now having to sit up and take notice of the Elland Road club.
“This is probably the best Leeds side that there has been for some time,” he said. “You could see the confidence that they have in front of a full house here. It is a difficult place to come again and this is probably the most realistic chance they have had of gaining promotion from this division.
“I do believe we were probably the best team for 60 to 70 minutes but, at a difficult place like this, you have to take your chances.”
A trip to Brighton & Hove Albion awaits Leeds on Friday night. No team has claimed more points on home soil in the Championship this season than the Seagulls.
This, though, is unlikely to faze a United side who know that another victory in front of the live Sky cameras will mean yet another step up the division to claim third place.