A NEW year and a new, more expansive approach from Leeds United.
After a miserable 2014 in which only Blackpool of the 18 teams that spent the full 12 months in the Championship collected less points, the Elland Road club was badly in need of a lift.
Four days after the chimes of Big Ben had heralded in the new year, it came via a battling second-half display at Premier League Sunderland in the FA Cup.
Decent draws at Bolton Wanderers and at home to Birmingham City followed before Tuesday’s thrilling win at home to leaders Bournemouth – achieved thanks to a plan that saw the league leaders pressed deep in their own territory and United’s own attackers encouraged to get forward as often as possible – encouraged the belief among long-suffering supporters that the club’s on-field fortunes, at least, may be about to turn.
Of course, this being Leeds United, any hope that a possible light at the end of the tunnel has been spotted is invariably followed by the realisation that another train is careering towards the club.
But, Massimo Cellino’s ban apart and the confusion over who will run United in his absence, this has been a rare week of smiles at Elland Road and Sam Byram, for one, is delighted.
“Beating the leaders has given everyone a big confidence boost,” said the 21-year-old, who recently passed the landmark of 100 games for the club. “And especially the fans.
“To see us put in a hard-working performance and get three points against a good team must have really pleased them.
“It can only help us going forward, starting with our next game (at Huddersfield Town on January 31). We look to that game and it is definitely a winnable one.
“We can go there and definitely take the positives from Bournemouth. It is a big derby but I think if we put in the same effort and performance as we did against Bournemouth then we won’t be far off.”
Talk of beating a local rival and building on the last outing if won are, of course, the staple diet of the modern generation of footballers, who begin media training almost the moment they sign schoolboy forms.
But, at Leeds United, such talk of football and prospects of building on an encouraging run of games are usually way down the agenda behind all the other off-field circus that continues to besmirch a once proud club.
So, before the next crisis sends United into an apparent tail-spin and talk turns once again to Italian court cases and luxury yachts, Byram gave his thoughts on how Neil Redfearn inspired his side to a victory the bookmakers – offering 4-1 on a home win – did not see coming.
“I thought Bournemouth were surprised by how we approached the game and credit has to go to Redders,” said the Academy graduate.
“You could see times in the game where we really pressured them and they started to give the ball away at the back and I don’t think that’s like them.
“Bournemouth like to pass teams off the pitch and I think we gave them a real, tough, big surprise. The boys worked incredibly hard and there were a lot of tired legs in the changing room (afterwards).
“Obviously, Bournemouth are a very good passing team but we set out to stay compact and try and get it forward to Steve Morison and get runners off him with Rudy (Austin) in the hole, trying to get him running in behind.
“I think they got frustrated, we saw them come in at half-time arguing with each other so we knew the game-plan was working.
“It was a tough battle. I think the boys have ran their legs off, showing that the team spirit is there. It was a big win for us, especially on the back of other results. We have had a bit of a change in our formation – the past two games especially – and we have been hard to play against and hard to beat.
“I think teams get frustrated when they can’t pass through us and the game plans have definitely been working for us in the last few games.”
Byram, to his credit, has remained steadfast in his belief when speaking to the media during the recent run of taking just 13 points from a possible 57 that United would not get dragged into relegation trouble.
“I think it will be good for the fans to see us start crawling back up the table,” said the 21-year-old when asked about whether he felt Tuesday’s win would ease fears among supporters.
“But, in terms of the players, we know we have got the quality in the squad. I don’t think there has ever been a doubt in our minds that we were going to be in a battle and I think we will be okay.
“We all read stuff on social media and things like that. But we don’t let it bother us, to be honest.
“We are a tight-knit group and we always look to the next game, and always try and stay positive.
“We take what we can from the previous game and take it to the next one.”