THE term ‘sleeping giant’ may be an over-used one in football, but not where Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United are concerned.
If anyone can reinforce that fact, it is Garry Monk.
His tenure in West Yorkshire may have ended in acrimony when he departed in the late Spring of 2017, yet even his many critics there could not deny that the current Owls manager got Leeds stirring again.
That 2016-17 season was a period when Elland Road rediscovered its mojo after some fallow years stretching back to Simon Grayson’s play-off ‘near miss’ campaign of 2010-11.
Although it did take time, with Monk’s first three home league matches yielding just one point.
Back in the early autumn of 2016, some even went so far as to suggest that Leeds’s notoriously ‘trigger-happy’ former chairman Massimo Cellino might be ready to live up to his Italian nickname of ‘Il mangia-allenatori – the Manager Eater – and show Monk the door if things did not improve.
In contrast, Monk’s opening trio of league matches in front of the Hillsborough crowd have been rather more gratifying, in terms of points at least, with seven banked from a possible nine and no losses ahead of the arrival of his old club tomorrow.
The mindset of the players he inherited and the atmosphere at Wednesday, compared to that which initially greeted him at Elland Road, represents another positive difference in his view.
Monk said: “In terms of the size of the club and the backing and the history and things like that, of course there are similarities.
“But I think this club is in a totally different situation. When I walked into Leeds, there was a lot of disharmony and fractiousness between the players and the fans and the off-field stuff there with the owner at the time.
“It was a big thing at the time, the players were scared to play at Elland Road because it was such a demanding ground.
“But we connected all that together, there is no denying that. That was not just me; that was everyone. I think we gave that spirit back to the club. That is what I am proud of most probably in that period, being able to do that at such a big club.
“Here there is not that (initial) problem with the crowd, they are already behind the team.”
Leeds’s exile from the Premier League stretches back to 2004 and as each season passes by without a return, so the agitation and frustration increases by a notch among a vast fanbase.
It is something that Wednesday know a fair bit about themselves, with their own absence from the big time extending even further back to 2000.
The challenge of being that person who breaks the cycle motivates Monk, just as it did when he joined Leeds, who are currently one place and one point above third-placed Wednesday going into tomorrow’s derby encounter.
Monk added: “Both clubs have been out of the Premier League for a number of seasons now but (saying) that does not change that.
“We might play it down, but there is no getting away from it, that is what we are here for, you take that challenge on. I took that challenge on there.
“I am proud of the work we did there. I see the same here; an expectation, but one we want to meet the challenge for and try to take it forward.
“In terms of wanting to be back in the Premier League, like a lot of big clubs, they (Leeds) will feel the same.”
“The expectation is that they will be back where they feel they belong, which is the Premier League.
“But this game is not about that. It is about Sheffield Wednesday, it’s about a big, historic club like this and us putting it back in the place that we want to go to,” he said.
“It will take a lot of work, it is a big job and there is a lot of work to go to be able to do that, but we are taking small steps early in my reign and we need to continue to do that.”
Like with his early days at Leeds, Wednesday may be a work in progress on the attacking front, but have quickly gained the look of a side who give out no free lunches and look hard to beat.
That is manifested in the Owls’ defensive statistics, with only Leeds having conceded fewer Championship league goals this term – with their goals against record at home also currently being the joint-best in the division along with tomorrow’s visitors.
In time, giving away little on home soil and being able to grind out single-goal victories where necessary was a key facet of Monk’s time at Leeds and Wednesday have already displayed that trait in gritty wins over Wigan and Stoke.
Massimo Luongo, who scored the winner in both games, is available after coming off with a knock in midweek, with No 1 keeper Keiren Westwood, a nemesis for Leeds in recent times, back after missing the last two games.
But tomorrow’s game comes too soon for ex-Leeds defender and Owls captain Tom Lees, on his way back after two months out with a hamstring issue.
“Tom is back in full training (today) and he will need a period of building up his football fitness and he is not available for Saturday,” Monk said.