Leeds are on a roll and we'll be difficult to stop now

Asked what his abiding memory has been of an unforgettable year for Leeds United, Jonny Howson takes a few seconds to ponder the question before answering.

The hesitation on the part of United's stand-in captain is understandable with 2010 being so eventful at Elland Road that, as he readily admits, knowing where to start when it comes to picking out the highs and lows is difficult.

Was the highlight the club's first win at Old Trafford in almost three decades that began the year in such memorable fashion? Or maybe the stoppage-time equaliser from Jermaine Beckford that earned Leeds a replay against Tottenham Hotspur in North London three weeks later?

Then, there was the heart-stopping run-in of last season that saw United appear to squander what had, on New Year's Day, seemed an unassailable lead in the League One promotion race before performing a dramatic rescue act on the final day by coming from behind to beat Bristol Rovers with 10 men.

And as if that was not enough for Howson to ponder when trying to pick one particular memory, the second half of 2010 has brought a first hat-trick of his career and a charge up the Championship table for Leeds that suggests a concerted push for a return to the Premier League lays ahead in the New Year.

No wonder, therefore, that the 22-year-old opts to take a few moments before responding to the Yorkshire Post's questioning.

"In many ways, this year has been typical of Leeds United in that the club is renowned for going through the highs and lows," says the midfield player who first joined United's Academy as a nine-year-old.

"We just don't seem to be able to do boring.

"Personally speaking, this year has been the best year of my career. We got promoted, did well in the FA Cup and have been on a good run lately. It is my most enjoyable time in football at the moment.

"Standing in for Richard Naylor as captain has also been enjoyable. Just playing for the club you support is a massive achievement and something I am very proud of but being captain tops it off, especially as there have been a lot of great captains at Leeds down the years.

"There have also been some lows this year, the worst for me being probably that run of defeats we had just before the end of last season. At that stage, it looked like being the play-offs for us again and that would have been a major disappointment after the place we had been in at the halfway stage of the season.

"But, if I have to pick the most memorable moment of the whole year, it would be winning promotion.

"I said for a long time before we went up that I wanted to achieve something. I wanted a medal. My pass at Manchester United (that set up Beckford's first-half winner last January) was great, as was coming on in the final game against Bristol Rovers and scoring our equaliser.

"They are all great things. But nothing beats having that medal in my hand to prove what we achieved as a team."

Howson has been a key figure for Leeds in 2010, the Morley-born midfielder having appeared in all but one of the club's 51 league and cup games across the past eleven-and-a-half months.

Perhaps most importantly, he netted the vital equalising goal against Bristol Rovers on the final day of last season that kick-started the fightback that climaxed so spectacularly with Beckford's promotion-sealing winner.

That strike was Howson's fifth of the campaign, a tally he has already surpassed this time around with him having seven goals to his name – making him the club's joint second highest scorer behind Luciano Becchio.

The latest of those goals came just last Saturday when his expertly-executed curled shot from 20 yards capped a dramatic second-half fightback as Leeds beat Burnley 3-2 to move up to fourth place, their highest position since the final few weeks of the season that ended with defeat in the Championship play-off final to Watford.

Considering United were 16th as recently as the final week of October, it represents a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for a side who have another chance to underline their growing promotion aspirations today when Championship leaders Queens Park Rangers come to Elland Road.

Howson said: "Going into Christmas as the team in form is not a bad place to be. To get out of this division, you have to show consistency and we seem to be doing that. But no one is getting carried away, we are not even halfway yet."

Asked whether the signing of Andy O'Brien on loan from Bolton Wanderers two months ago has been a key factor in the upturn in results, United's vice-captain says: "When Andy came in, we were struggling a bit and his experience has helped us.

"But I also think if you get a couple of results then the confidence starts to creep back up. That has helped us kick on.

"Another thing in our favour is we have had a few players back from injury.

"Bar a couple of the lads, everyone is fit and that means the competition to get in the team is fierce."

Rangers travel to West Yorkshire looking to bounce back from a 3-1 defeat to Watford at Loftus Road eight days ago, a result that saw Neil Warnock's side surrender the last remaining unbeaten record in the Football League.

Howson said: "I am not sure if it is a good or bad thing that QPR lost, I can probably only tell you after Saturday.

"They will be determined to bounce back, while they also have a lot of very good players and a good manager.

"But we are hoping to keep our run going."

If Leeds are to finish 2010 on a high then they will have to do so the hard way due to their final three opponents of the year – QPR, Leicester City and Portsmouth – all being expected to feature heavily in the promotion race.

Howson, for one, believes United can rise to the challenge. He said: "We probably needed a year like 2010. After what happened, Leeds needed to get back on a roll and I feel that is what we are on now.

"Getting promoted was crucial to that. Once you get on that roll, it can be hard to stop – especially when you take into account the support that Leeds United gets. The support around the city is wonderful and if 2011 is half as good as 2010 has been then we are in for a good year."

The big match: Leeds United v Queens Park Rangers, Championship, Elland Road, today, 3.0pm.