Life is just champion for Leeds midfielder Snodgrass

WHEN the Leeds United squad got together earlier this week to fight it out for the right to be crowned the club’s FIFA 2012 champion, few gave Robert Snodgrass a chance.

It was not anything to do with the Scottish international’s prowess with a games control pad, more the fact that steel pins had recently been inserted in his left hand following surgery to fix torn ligaments.

Snodgrass had suffered the injury in United’s 1-0 victory at Leicester City, and ever since he had been forced to wear a cast and bandages.

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No wonder, therefore, that his chances of prevailing at a computer game where swift hand movement is crucial were all but dismissed by the rest of the squad. Not for the first time, however, Snodgrass rose to the challenge and overcame the odds, Republic of Ireland Under-21 international Aidy White being the Scot’s unwitting victim in the final.

On reflection, maybe the Leeds squad should not have been surprised by the resilience of a team-mate who just a few days earlier had put aside the discomfort of his painful left hand to shoot Simon Grayson’s side to an unlikely victory at Burnley with two goals in the final 15 minutes.

“The injury is a pain,” admits the 24-year-old when speaking to the Yorkshire Post ahead of today’s derby clash with Barnsley at Elland Road. “I ripped the ligaments and had to have pins put in my hand to keep it in place.

“It is a strange injury for a footballer. It has been a bit weird as you need your thumb for balance when doing all sorts of things. But there was no way I was going to miss any games.”

Following his two-goal salvo against Burnley, his determination to play was something to be grateful for – as the 3,721 fans housed in the Cricket Field Stand last Saturday made clear when chanting ‘Snoddy, Snoddy, Snoddy, oi oi oi’ as the BBC tried, in vain, to interview him on the pitch post-match.

Snodgrass chuckles at the memory.

“That was great,” he says, “even if I was struggling to hear any of the questions I was being asked. To stand there and hear all the fans singing my name like that was brilliant. It was a touching moment, and one I really enjoyed.

“The fans had pulled us through, basically, because we hadn’t been at our best. It shows just what a special club this is. The fans demand 110 per cent but if you give that then they will stick with you.

“They will us on. I always think about the day we won promotion from League One. We were right up against it at home to Bristol Rovers, down to 10 men and a goal down. But the fans dragged us through. Jonny Howson got the equaliser and then I just knew the second goal would come.”

Last weekend’s dramatic intervention at Turf Moor neatly illustrated just how important Snodgrass, the club’s longest serving first-team player after Ben Parker and Jonny Howson, has become to United’s fortunes.

Basically, when Snodgrass struggles – as he did in the opening weeks of this season when hampered by a back problem – then Leeds look less than convincing. But if he is firing then opposition defences know that Grayson’s attack are going to be hard to contain.

It was the same last season when Snodgrass’s return to full fitness after a knee injury coincided with the charge up the table that took Grayson’s men from the lower half of the Championship table to the heart of the promotion race.

Typically, the down-to-earth Scot is keen to stress the team effort that goes into United’s results – though he does admit to being proud of being among the longest-serving players at Elland Road.

Snodgrass says: “I feel almost like a part of the furniture now, which is great. A lot of players have come and gone in that time, too. So, to be here when so many have left shows I must be doing something right.

“The best thing, though, is that the club has progressed every season since I joined. If we had been going backwards, I would be questioning what I had been doing wrong. But we haven’t.

“The play-off defeat to Millwall (in 2009) was horrible but we made up for it by winning promotion the following year. Then, we finished seventh last season and are now fifth. This is a great club and one that is heading back to the Premier League.”

Back-to-back wins over Leicester City and Burnley are why Leeds occupy a place in the play-off spots going into today’s derby against Barnsley, a team who held the Indian sign over Grayson’s men last season with a 5-2 win at Oakwell being followed by a 3-3 draw in the Elland Road return.

“What happened last year is still fresh in the mind,” admits Snodgrass about Barnsley taking four points off their neighbours from up the M1 last term.

“I didn’t play in the away game but I know what it is like to lose by five goals because of what happened against Blackpool recently so I now know how the lads must have felt as they came off the pitch.

“The home game was a bad one, too. It just about summed up our season as we dominated but couldn’t finish them off and only drew 3-3. As a club, it was one of the more disappointing nights of the season.

“We were so much in control at one stage but ended up with just a point. Hopefully, it will be a very different story this weekend.”

If Leeds are to exact revenge today for last term, Snodgrass is likely to be a key player.

And for inspiration, he need look no further than the events of the past week when an injured hand proved to be no barrier to success – either with a ball at his feet or a games console in hand.

“I played as Barcelona,” says Snodgrass of his FIFA 2012 triumph. “Though I didn’t play like them, I just stuck the ball into the channels.

“As you would probably expect in a room full of professional footballers, the competition was fierce. Quite a few of the lads fancied their chances, especially as I had a bandage on my hand. A few even said, ‘No chance’ when it came to talking about my chances. But, in the end, class showed so now the lads know who is the boss at FIFA 2012.”