Green hails nat­u­ral-born fin­isher Wood af­ter Leeds hold their nerve

Yorkshire Post - Sports Monday - - FOOTBALL - Leon Wob­schall FOOT­BALL WRITER Email: leon.wob­schall@ypn.co.uk Twitter: @LeonWobYP

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.”

PIC­TURES: BRUCE ROLLINSON

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.

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