Green hails natural-born finisher Wood after Leeds hold their nerve
AT the business stage of the season, the presence of players who hold their nerve in testing circumstances when others waiver is a somewhat reassuring asset.
Leeds United can be thankful that they appear to have several who are blessed in that regard.
After several stepped up to the plate at Newcastle on Friday evening, those characteristics could come in handy again this afternoon against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Friday was a night for hardened men on Tyneside and on an occasion when performance levels dipped among several Whites players, some stood truly tall.
Goalkeeper Robert Green and centre-back Pontus Jansson underlined their importance to the United cause with authoritative performances, but star billing was ultimately reserved for one man in Chris Wood.
The prolific striker may have been a peripheral figure on Tyneside, but his mindset stayed strong and his deadly ice-cool finish deep into stoppage-time showcased the nerve of a winner and natural-born finisher.
At this time of year, such players are simply worth their weight in gold.
On Wood’s dramatic input in the ‘95th minute’ at St James’ Park – when he clinically plundered his 28th goal of a remarkable season to salvage a point for Leeds – Green said: “It is priceless something like that. It is why people are worth what they are worth up front.
“They (Newcastle) had some near misses on their part. We hit the bar and then had a save straight after, but that was it in terms of chances. But a bit of quality on the cross and a bit of quality on the finish and I was celebrating at the other end. It was pleasing to see.
“He (Wood) looked exposed at times and a bit lonely up there, but we can play badly and when Chris gets a chance and he tucks it away. He made it look a simple finish, but everyone in football knows that was a quality, quality finish.
“That is the standard of a top striker. You get some quality on the ball and there is an even-money chance he will stick it away.”
On an eminently forgettable Good Friday, the best was very much saved for the last as far as Leeds were concerned.
Events at Carrow Road and Hillsborough – and to a slightly lesser extent, John Smith’s Stadium – put a pre-match dampener on proceedings for Leeds, allied to a realisation that minding the gap between themselves and the immediate teams below them who are battling it out to nail down a top-six place would take on heightened importance.
To their credit, Leeds – in testing circumstances – held their nerve and showed a granite jaw, in the words of head coach Garry Monk.
Acknowledging that priceless collective quality at the business stage of the season, Green added: “We stuck in there and it is that old adage in football – no matter how badly you play, you always get a chance.
“The lads at the back defended admirably and put their bodies on the line. Newcastle have got quality in abundance up top and we managed to stick at it and got some sort of reward at the end. They will be disappointed and we are thrilled with the point.
“To come to a place like this, not play as well as you can and still get a result is a positive.
“To go into the final push with a good win last week and the way this game went has given us that little lift. It is a point, but it felt like a big point. With a minute to go, you are biting someone’s hand off for a point.
“We have just got to keep that belief when we play. We are a match for any team and we have proved that over the course of the season. Other teams can do that to you. That is the Championship and it has been like that for years.”
A time when resolve and getting over the line is valued rather more than performances, Leeds underlined the full importance of that on Tyneside and displayed evidence of their collective bottle.
Monk’s recent insistence that his players must focus on their own business and not be distracted by the overall Championship picture and frenzied play-off battle was a particularly timely one.
The United head coach, whose side prevailed 1-0 in the reverse fixture against Wolves at Molineux in October, said after drawing against the secondplaced side: “You cannot always have it your own way. Sometimes you have got to find a way to get a result.
“They (Leeds players) were probably on their phones in the afternoon. But I sat with them after Reading and Brentford and I felt that the distraction of where we are (in the league), what this point could mean and what that point could mean, was there.
“A lot of them have not been in this position before, fighting for a play-off place, so we sat with them and went through it with them.
“We are at our best when we focus on that one game. That is what they did against Preston and it is what also they did again at Newcastle and it is also what we need to do in the remaining games.”
LAST- GASP HERO: Leeds United striker Chris Wood celebrates his dramatic stoppage-time equaliser against Newcastle United in the Good Friday Championship encounter to earn the acclaim of goalkeeper Rob Green, another of the visitors’ leading lights, inset.