Rested Leeds United players aim to provide festive cheer

Pablo Hernandez.
Pablo Hernandez.

With Leeds United in the top six for Christmas the players have earned a few days off before they get down to the business of trying to add some festive cheer to the positive feel at the club.

After seeing his side go back into fifth place in the EFL Championship with a hard fought 1-0 win against Brentford last Saturday, head coach Garry Monk revealed that the players would be able to freshen up this week ahead of a testing week in which they face back to back away games.

They will be training on Christmas Day, however, with the Whites playing Preston the following afternoon and Aston Villa next Thursday.

Monk said: “It is good to be where we are in the league at the moment, but everyone and the players need to keep fighting in every minute on the pitch.

“We will have a little break now, the players have earned a few days off and it is important for them to rest both physically and mentally.

“After that we will be back at the training ground to prepare for the busy festive period and two really important away matches.”

Both of United’s Christmas opponents are mid-table teams, but Monk is expecting tough tests for his team with their opponents still harbouring hopes of getting into the top six themselves.

First up are the only Championship club that Leeds have not yet faced this season and they will be up against one of their former managers in Simon Grayson, who is doing a decent job at Preston.

Although a lifelong Leeds fan, he will be keen to get one over his old team this time and close the six-point gap that currently exits between the teams.

United could not go into the game in much better spirits, however, after successive home wins and clean sheets when they have shown fantastic team spirit and overcome further injury setbacks with top scorer Chris Wood having to come off against Reading last Tuesday and another key player, Charlie Taylor, having his game ended early by an Achilles injury against Brentford.

Taylor was hurt in the opening half, but tried to play on until taken off on 58 minutes, to be replaced by Gaetano Berardi.

He has started every league game this season so will be a big miss if he is out for some time, with the timescale of his recovery not clear yet.

“He had a sore Achilles,” Monk explained.

“He’s a brave lad and he wanted to stay on so we said we’d monitor him in the second half, but you could see he wasn’t quite right. He relies a lot on his athleticism.

“We changed it and when Berra came on he was excellent. We didn’t lose any level in that position.”

Wood’s hamstring injury saw him miss out entirely last Saturday, but Monk is hopeful he could be back for the trip to Preston when playmaker Pablo Hernandez is also in line to return after missing the last seven matches.

He said: “Pablo only trained for two days and wasn’t quite right so the (Brentford) game came too soon for him.

“He’ll have a good week’s training now and will be back in contention for next weekend.

“We’re hoping Chris will be involved in the latter stages of next week and hopefully he’ll be available for the Preston game.”

Monk was delighted with the fighting spirit shown by the team as they found a way to beat Brentford despite struggling in the opening half.

More chances were created after the break, but when it looked like Leeds would draw a blank Kyle Bartley came up from the back to score the only goal of the game with an 89th minute header to spark huge celebrations.

Monk added: “It’s great to see that mentality, fight and spirit from the players to keep going right to the end. It’s something we’ve been doing a lot and building a lot on.

“In close games where we’ve not quite been on our level we’ve found a way to win.

“All in all in this period we’ve just had, the players have done very well and deserve a lot of credit.”