AMID the swirl of raw emotion that was always going to characterise Leeds United’s first game since the death of Gary Speed, the significance of the team’s performance was perhaps understandably somewhat lost.
The outpouring of grief at Elland Road, the club where the Wales manager spent the first eight years of his playing career, meant Tuesday’s trip to Nottingham Forest was always going to be a draining night.
Supporters were determined to pay their own tribute, an 11-minute chanting of Speed’s name during the first half being chosen as the most fitting way to honour a player who made most of his 312 appearances for Leeds sporting the shirt number 11.
United marked the end of those 11 minutes by opening the scoring when Robert Snodgrass fired in from outside the area, a goal that left manager Simon Grayson noting afterwards, “Maybe that tells you that it was meant to be”.
As well as providing a fitting tribute to Speed, the 20th minute strike by the Scot also set Leeds on their way to their biggest away win in more than two years and, in the process, possibly transformed the club’s season.
After a string of indifferent displays, the swashbuckling nature in which Grayson’s side set about Forest suggested the Yorkshire club really do have the quality to last the pace in the promotion race.
Not that the players themselves will be getting carried away, as the scorer of the first goal at the City Ground is quick to stress as attention turns to Saturday’s home game against Millwall.
Snodgrass said: “I am not one to push we will do this or do that. We won’t say we will go out and win the next five or anything like that.
“But there is no doubt it (Tuesday) was a magic night that showed just how good we can be when everyone is at it.
“That was the Leeds United we all know. It was all that we are about, especially after what happened at the weekend.
“Our performance was first class. The club had had a couple of difficult days. The manager and the assistant manager (Glynn Snodin) were very close with Gary Speed so they made it clear what they thought about him.
“The crowd did the same so, in terms of getting the result, it showed that the lads listened to what the manager said and did the business.”
A major factor behind United’s transformation from the side beaten so easily by Barnsley just four days earlier was Grayson’s switch to the 4-2-3-1 formation that he favoured for much of last season.
With Aidy White moved forward to fill the wide left role in which Max Gradel had so excelled last term, Leeds’s pace and movement ripped Forest apart to such an extent that the visitors could have won by more than the eventual four-goal margin.
Snodgrass said: “The formation is something we know. The win was magic, especially the runs we made going forward. Having said that, the thing that pleased everyone the most was the clean sheet. I always say, ‘As soon as we get a clean sheet, we will be more than a match for anyone’.
“It is up to us as a team to make sure we don’t concede those silly goals. We always have the firepower going forward, as we showed against Forest.”
United’s victory at the City Ground continued their impressive form on the road, taking the tally of wins from the last six away games to five. It is a run that contrasts sharply with the club’s form at Elland Road, Leeds not having won on home soil for two months. That last triumph came against Portsmouth on October 1, since which Leeds have crashed to defeat against Blackpool (5-0) and Barnsley (2-1). They have also been held to 1-1 draws by lowly Coventry City and promotion-chasing Cardiff City. Millwall will make the trip to West Yorkshire on Saturday determined to extend the home side’s woes.
Snodgrass, however, insists there is no mental block that is affecting the United players.
He said: “Playing at home isn’t a problem. What you have to remember is that teams actually come and play 4-5-1 at Elland Road, just as we did at Forest. It becomes very hard to break down. But at home I don’t think there is any difference to last year.
“The fans are unbelievable and we put on some good performances.”
United will unveil the new Gary Speed Suite in the club’s East Stand before Saturday’s game, in memory of their former player, and will hold a minute’s applause, wear commemorative black armbands and wreaths will be laid.