Leeds United v Wigan Athletic: The only way is up for Leeds, insists rejuvenated Byram
SO much has happened at Elland Road over the past 12 months that remembering where Leeds United were in the Championship heading into Christmas is not easy.
United were actually fifth, the third time in four seasons that the club had been occupying a play-off position as the festive period got under way.
Add in that the only other campaign since Leeds won promotion from League One saw Simon Grayson’s side sitting eighth at this time of year and it shows just what a comparative struggle 2014-15 has been.
A points haul of just 24 from 22 games means supporters are tending to look down the table anxiously rather than up in excited anticipation. Sam Byram, however, does not agree with the full-back instead insisting that United are ready to put an indifferent first half of the season firmly behind them.
“Obviously, the lads know about the league position,” said the 21-year-old ahead of today’s Championship game with Wigan Athletic at Elland Road. “But I don’t think any of us are worried about being relegated or being down in a relegation battle.
“I think we have got enough quality and experience in our squad to put a run of games together to get us up the table.
“Sometimes, when you get a good result, the next game doesn’t quite go your way. It is an up and down league and people beat each other all the time.
“That is just how the Championship is and why you have to take each game as it comes, and keep plugging away.
“Obviously, we would like to be in a better position than we are at the minute. But the boys aren’t worried. We have a good squad, and are confident in our ability to win matches and pick points up.”
For Byram, this season has been a welcome return to regular action after seeing last term ruined by two lengthy absences through injury.
After an incredible breakthrough campaign in 2012-13 under Neil Warnock, his struggles during the following campaign were a reminder of just how precarious a career can be.
Thankfully for the Academy graduate, his form has returned hand-in-hand with full fitness and the defender is quick to pay tribute to head coach Neil Redfearn.
Byram, who won United’s penalty in last Saturday’s 1-1 Championship draw with Nottingham Forest, said: “He has given me the confidence to go and play how I used to under him. He talks to me and gives me advice and stuff and I owe a lot to him for putting me back in the team and believing in me again. So it is credit to him really.
“The big thing for me is I have had a good run of games now and feel like I am back to full fitness. I feel to be getting back to playing how I like to play.
“With a run of games, you start to find consistency and everything sort of falls into place and I am quite pleased with how I have been doing recently.
“After scoring a goal, an assist for a penalty or creating a chance for someone else to score is second best and I was pleased to help the team in that way.
“Forest was a good away point and a good performance against a team who are doing well. They have got a lot of good players. It is a tough place to go and a tough team to play. A lot of the boys were happy with a point.
“We have been doing well at home, but we know we need to improve our away form and it is a good step in the right direction.”
Today is the first Boxing Day in five years that United have been at home, Hartlepool United being the visitors in 2009 and losing 3-1.
Since then, Leeds have been to Blackpool, Nottingham, Derby and Leicester but it is the home clash with Hartlepool that remains the club’s last December 26 triumph.
Byram appreciates that United cannot afford to extend that winless run to five years against a Latics outfit that is just one place off the foot of the Championship.
He added: “We need to go into the Wigan game and look to take the three points. It is a vital game.
“Not just with the results, but also because we have been playing good football at home. Hopefully, the fans can see we are trying to get the ball down now and play in the right way and, hopefully, we can do the same (on Boxing Day).
“People say Elland Road is a tough place to play. But once we are doing well and the crowd is behind you, it really gives the boys a lift. I am sure there will be a big crowd to get behind us on Friday.
“For the last few years, we have been away from home at this time of year, so it is nice to be at Elland Road. As a team, we are performing better at home at the moment and can only see playing here as a positive.
“The games are coming thick and fast, and we go into each game with a firm plan.”
Last six games: Leeds United WLWLLD, Wigan Athletic LDLLLL.
Referee: N Miller (County Durham).
Last time: Leeds United 2 Wigan Athletic 0; December 4, 2013; Championship.