'˜Bully-boy' Chris Wood is top of the class for Leeds United against Sheffield Wednesday

THE club is not exactly an exclusive one with Ross McCormack, Mark Viduka and Jermaine Beckford all having earned membership since the turn of the Millennium.
Chris Wood looks across to check that there is no offside flag as he wheels away to celebrate what proved the winning goal for Leeds United against play-off rivals Sheffield Wednesday (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe).Chris Wood looks across to check that there is no offside flag as he wheels away to celebrate what proved the winning goal for Leeds United against play-off rivals Sheffield Wednesday (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe).
Chris Wood looks across to check that there is no offside flag as he wheels away to celebrate what proved the winning goal for Leeds United against play-off rivals Sheffield Wednesday (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe).

But, in reaching the landmark of 20 league goals in a season, Chris Wood once again underlined his pivotal role in Leeds United’s promotion push.

The Kiwi striker, a target for the boo-boys back in August, settled an absorbing Yorkshire derby with a typically predatory strike that was followed by Jordan Rhodes being denied an equaliser courtesy of a stunning penalty save from Rob Green.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It was enough to take Leeds up to fourth in the table as Wood’s tally of goals in all competitions swelled to 23. The fact his nearest ‘challenger’ – for want of a better word – in the race for the Elland Road golden boot this term has found the net 18 times fewer says everything about Wood’s value to the West Yorkshire club.

“Chris is up there with the very best strikers in the division,” said United defender Kyle Bartley about a forward signed from Leicester City for £3m in the summer of 2015.

“It is massive for him to get that 20th league goal. As a striker, you set your personal targets and Chris is well on his way towards achieving his. It is not necessarily a case of saying Chris is all we have got in terms of goals, more a case of the fact that he has made that spot his own.

“That is all credit to him. Chris has added a lot of goals this season but his overall play, week-in week-out, has been great. He really leads from the front and that takes the pressure off the defence; he gives everyone a lift by holding the ball up.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“The way he bullies centre- halves makes him an absolute nightmare to play against.”

Asked if this “bullying” extended to both him and Pontus Jansson during training, Bartley laughed: “No, he is a bit too scared for that. We just tell him to save it for the weekend.

“Seriously, he has been brilliant for us and we have just got to hope that his form continues from now until the end of the season.”

That August night when Wood, after netting a stoppage-time equaliser against Fulham, cupped his ear in retort to the critics on the Gelderd End who felt he was not up to the task of leading the United attack seems a long, long time ago now.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He was not the first Leeds striker to find himself a target for criticism from the Elland Road crowd. Even Lee Chapman, who would win the Golden Boot in United’s first season back in the top flight in 1991 and then fire United to the league title a year later, had to endure plenty of stick in his early months at the club.

But, like Chapman, Wood has won over his critics with endeavour, honesty and, above all, an ability to capitalise on the slightest of openings – as he proved when joining Viduka, McCormack and Beckford, who achieved the feat three times, on 20 league goals in a season for Leeds for the first time since 2000.

As Gaetano Berardi swung over a cross from wide on the left flank in the 24th minute against Wednesday, there seemed little chance of the ball reaching Wood as one of just two players sporting a white shirt in the Owls’ penalty area.

Vincent Sasso, standing five or six yards closer to Berardi, seemed certain to head the ball clear.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Wood gambled anyway, meaning when Sasso inexplicably ducked under the flight of the cross, the Kiwi, after being played onside by Jack Hunt, was five yards in front of Glenn Loovens, who by now was appealing in vain for an offside flag.

One touch later, Wood was ready to hit a shot that the horribly exposed Kieren Westwood had no chance of saving and the hosts had the lead.

It was one Leeds, who through Hadi Sack spurned a great opportunity to double their lead just eight minutes after Wood’s opener, fought doggedly to preserve, particularly in a second half dominated territorially by the Owls.

Time and time again, Carlos Carvalhal’s men would find themselves in a promising position only to come up against a wall of white shirts. That Green had only one genuine save of note to make all afternoon spoke volumes for the resolve and organisational skills of a defence that has now kept 13 clean sheets.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Green’s big moment came eight minutes after half-time. Souleymane Doukara’s manhandling of Sam Hutchinson at a corner gave referee Mike Jones no option other than to point to the spot.

Jordan Rhodes, who had never lost in his 10 previous appearances against Leeds for a variety of clubs, stepped forward and opted for placement over power.

To be fair to the Owls striker, he hit the ball well. Green, though, proved his equal by diving low to his left and touching the ball via the slightest of finger-tip saves on to a post.

“It was a great save,” said Bartley. “The penalty looked like it was going right in the corner. Greeny has really come into his own these past 10 weeks. He has been a great voice. His experience has really shone through and he has proven just how good he is.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Ross Wallace latched onto the rebound after Green’s penalty save, but his shot was charged down by Berardi. The Scot, as if to underline the frustration felt by the visitors when faced with such a resolute backline, later threw himself to the ground under a challenge from Bartley in a desperate attempt to con the awarding of a free-kick.

Jones, though, was having none of it and rightly booked Wallace for diving. “I knew I hadn’t touched him,” said the Leeds defender, who is just one booking away from a two-game ban. “But I had seen the ref sprinting towards me and feared the worst.

“It was a big win for us. We speak before every game that Elland Road is our house and that we don’t want anyone to come to our house and score goals against us.”