Middlesbrough v Leeds Utd: Morison big part of Whites’ fine run

FROM the moment the fourth official held up the board on the final Saturday of last July to indicate that Steve Morison was to be substituted, the jeering began.

Steve Morison has not scored for Leeds United since March, 2013 but it is a statistic which masks his importance to the side in their recent sequence of excellent displays (Picture: Bruce Rollinson).

It did not end until the striker had reached the sanctuary of the away dugout at Chesterfield’s Proact Stadium, as the 1,700 Leeds United fans who had followed their side down the M1 for a pre-season friendly delivered their damning verdict.

Morison was not wanted at Elland Road and the sooner he left, the better.

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For the striker, it was a similar message – albeit delivered in rather more aggressive tones by his terrace critics – to the one he had been given a year earlier by then manager Brian McDermott.

However, where Morison had packed his bags in the summer of 2013 and headed to Millwall on loan, this time around the striker stuck around and his reward has come since the turn of the year.

Seven consecutive starts in the league and a leading role in a revival that has taken United into the top half of the Championship mean Morison has turned those jeers of summer into winter cheersand he could not be happier.

“It is amazing how things have changed,” said the 31-year-old striker when speaking to The Yorkshire Post ahead of today’s all-Yorkshire encounter with Middlesbrough. “And how things are working out.

“Obviously, I had to be patient. For so long, the season was, basically, long and frustrating. Just a waiting game, really. Waiting to be called upon.

“It was a shame it took 26-odd games for that opportunity to come along. Now, though, I have been given a chance to cement my place in the team and things are going well.”

Indeed, Morison has grasped the opportunity with both hands.

Brought in from the cold at Elland Road to face Bolton Wanderers on January 10, the Wales international quickly became a key cog in the formation that has transformed United’s season after months in which the club employed a midfield diamond that failed to sparkle.

Playing as the lone frontman in a 4-2-3-1 set-up, Morison has rediscovered the form that not so long ago turned him into a Premier League striker.

His hold-up play has been outstanding, as has the way he has brought others into play.

It is no coincidence that Leeds have been enjoying their best run of the season since Morison returned to the fold along with another erstwhile exile, Luke Murphy.

“The formation was due to change here,” said Morison, who has been employed for much of his career as a lone frontman.

“The diamond and pretty football just doesn’t seem to cut it in the Championship.

“There are only a couple of teams that have ever done it. You need the right players to be able to play that formation.

“The change has been good for me and I enjoy it. I have managed to play all right, too.”

Morison has, in fact, done better than “all right”. Head coach Neil Redfearn is certainly delighted with the striker’s play, as he made clear when quizzed at his weekly media briefing on Thursday about Morison not having found the net for Leeds since March, 2013.

It is, of course, a slightly misleading statistic. Not only did Morison spend all last season at The Den, but it is only since the start of this year that he has been given an extended run in the team.

“A goal would be nice, of course it would,” said Morison. “But it seems to be everyone else who is talking about it.

“They say things like, ‘You haven’t scored for a year’. Well, it’s quite difficult scoring when sitting at home. I got nine last year for Millwall.

“I won’t lie and say I don’t want a goal. But everyone else is more focused on it than me. I keep seeing people ask the manager, ‘Are you going to stick with Morison when he hasn’t scored?’

“I think to myself, ‘But we have just won again. What more do they want?’

“I have had tough times before. When I first signed for Millwall in League One, I went 21 games and scored one goal. But (manager) Kenny Jackett put me in every single week.

“Then, the second half of that season, I got 23 goals in 24 games and we got promoted. As the manager has said a few times, if I wasn’t getting chances then that is the time to worry.

“I am part of a winning team and feel to be playing well. If people want to focus on the goals I am not scoring, fine. But, as Peter Lorimer said this week, there is a lot more to playing up front than goals.

“I am a big part of what is going on at the minute.”

Morison’s value to the side right now makes the decision by then manager McDermott to send him out on loan last term all the more baffling.

It is also a decision that may well have played a part in the jeers at Chesterfield that, in recent weeks, he has turned into cheers.

“On the first day of pre-season, I was told to find myself a new football club,” said Morison when asked about the summer of 2013.

“People thought it was me wanting to leave, but that wasn’t the case. Far from it. I had no idea what was coming.

“That was the most frustrating bit. I’d been off for eight weeks for the summer holidays, but was then told on my first day that I had to go.

“Brian didn’t want me here. He wanted Noel (Hunt) in. That is fair enough. It was just frustrating that it took eight weeks to tell me.

“At the time, I said to Brian, ‘You’ve had eight weeks to tell me, I could have gone somewhere else today rather than come here’.

“The next day, I went back to Millwall because they were the only people I could make a phone call to. I had to sort something out fast and that seems to have been held against me since then.

“People seem to think that it was me who asked to leave and wanted to leave.

“That wasn’t the case at all. That is why it has been so frustrating this season to be sitting around.”