WHISPER it quietly but Leeds United might just be getting their act together.
Twelve long years after dropping out of the top flight, the Elland Road club has enjoyed a start to a Championship season under Garry Monk that has only been bettered once in that time.
Monk’s men have 23 points from 15 games and head to Norwich City sitting ninth. Only Kevin Blackwell’s Leeds of 2005-06, who went on to reach the play-off final, boasted a healthier return at this stage and even then, by just a solitary victory.
The cautious sense of optimism engendered by such a solid opening third of the campaign was this week reflected in United’s next home game against Newcastle United selling out, the first time this has happened for a league fixture at Elland Road since Bristol Rovers were beaten on the final day of 2009-10 to end the club’s three-year stint in League One.
And this despite the November 20 game being shown live on TV and ticket prices being set at Category A.
“It shows the capability of the club,” said Monk, who despite stressing the need not to get carried away clearly realises the benefits of harnessing the feelgood factor swirling around LS11.
“It is the first time in six years they have had a capacity crowd and it shows how the team has been progressing. The importance of that support has been seen in performances.”
United’s impressive recent form – 19 points have been taken from the last nine games – will be put firmly to the test in the coming weeks.
Today’s trip to Norwich City will be followed after the international break by that sold-out clash with Newcastle, while a rejuvenated Aston Villa await in early December along with Brighton and Reading.
That will mean United tackling four of the eight teams sitting above them in the table right now. That Monk’s men have already lost to three of the other quartet of teams that make up the top eight – August’s win at Sheffield Wednesday being the one that breaks the mould – suggests we will know a lot more about Leeds’s potential by the middle of next month.
Still, for now, there can be no doubt that an air of positivity has returned to the club.
“That comes from a team that is performing and improving, trying to work well, and with fans buying into it by supporting the team,” added Monk, ahead of an away game that has again seen Leeds sell their full allocation of tickets.
“The more fans we have at Elland Road, the better for the team and the better for everyone. The more travelling away, the better for everyone. It goes hand in hand.
“It is exciting for the players. I don’t know if any of the players in the squad have experienced Elland Road at capacity. They probably haven’t so Newcastle will be interesting to see how they deal with that situation.
“But one thing we learned at the start of the season – and one of the mistakes we were making – was that we had apprehension in our play.
“We have turned that corner now, not just from the players side but from the fans side.
“We are helping each other get through each game and put a performance on. The fans are loyal and passionate. They want something to buy into and, at this moment in time, we are giving them exactly that with our performance. It is my job to keep pushing them and keep growing that.”
Leeds will face a Norwich side still smarting from the double whammy of being knocked out of the League Cup fourth round on penalties at Elland Road and then being thrashed 5-0 at Brighton & Hove Albion.
Both teams were much changed for that Cup tie 11 days ago and Monk says too much should not be read into how things went.
“I don’t think the Cup game has any bearing on this game, if I am honest,” he added. “Both teams made changes for that game and, if anything, we are prepared for a team that will have a strong reaction.
“They have had a difficult week but in this competition you can have a good week and be flying and within one week you can have what everyone feels is terrible.
“They are a very good squad. They are a very good team and it will be difficult for us down there. It is always a tough place to go.
“We are prepared for a team that is going to give a strong reaction and we have to be ready for that.”