This article is part of Football League World’s ‘FLW Greats’ series, this content strand is where we look back on a player’s individual season and discuss how impressive they were…
Leeds United have seen a number of strikers come and go, with some varying success from player to player, but not many have had a better season than Chris Wood did in 2016/17.
Having signed for the Whites at the start of the 2015/16 season, Wood’s first season at Elland Road yielded a solid return despite some patchy form, with injury problems halting his progress.
A full pre-season at Thorp Arch was on the horizon for Wood and a new managerial setup was set to start producing some ridiculously good results for the towering Kiwi. Garry Monk was appointed the club’s new manager to take over from Steve Evans and brought with him Pep Clotet and James Beattie (among others) as his backroom staff and it was clear that the latter had a huge impact on Wood as his striker coach.
Wood’s movement in his first season and snatching at chances was causing problems for the Leeds attack and this was honed immensely under Beattie.
Monk’s first game in charge was a 3-0 humbling away to QPR and immediately put him under pressure from the trigger-happy Massimo Cellino, but Wood managed to ease the concerns in Leeds’ second home game when his stunning 93rd-minute overhead kick got Leeds off the mark for the season against Fulham. A relief of pressure around Elland Road saw Wood take to the Kop with a cupped ear, to suggest he was aware of the growing criticism from his last campaign, albeit from a minority and largely unwarranted.
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Wood continued in this manner in the next game when he smartly added a second for Leeds away to Monk’s current club Sheffield Wednesday, brilliant work from Kemar Roofe whipped a low cross towards the near post, where Wood angled the ball towards the far corner.
Two games without a goal followed before a much-needed win at home to Blackburn Rovers where Wood couldn’t miss to open the scoring after Hadi Sacko’s driving run towards the byline, with Kyle Bartley bundling in the winner late on.
There was a lot more confidence from the Leeds fans that Wood was finally showing his true colours after a shaky start, a goal-scoring quality unrivalled in the Championship that everyone knew he had in his locker, but just needed utilising better.
While Monk was under pressure, Wood was single-handedly putting the Whites on the way to vital wins, a penalty to take the lead against Cardiff City seemed to kick start their season properly with more hard-fought performances from front to back, largely helped by Pontus Jansson and Bartley’s dominance at the heart of the defence.
An absolute 1-0 battering of Ipswich Town saw Wood make it five for the season from a corner in mid-September and he was starting to look like the main man for Monk.
Wood then went three games without a goal before crashing in a powerful effort at home to Wigan in an eventual disappointing 1-1 draw against the run of play. A searching cross from Sacko found Wood 12 yards from goal to see him chest down and fire into the far corner.
Playing at the top of Monk’s 4-2-3-1, Wood was tasked with a lot of ‘target man’ work but did it superbly and this goal was a prime example.
Wood then made it seven for the season against Burton Albion from the spot before netting a tap-in against Norwich City in the following game, in a dramatic last-gasp 3-2 triumph.
Wood’s goal return was plugging away and seeing him established as one of the deadliest strikers in the division, with three in his next four games lifting Leeds to within a decent shout of the automatic promotion places.
A thoroughly dominant performance against Rotherham United’s defensive unit saw him net his first brace of the season, pinning the centre-back to double Leeds’ lead to then tap into an empty net from Roofe’s cross. Another header came from the powerful frontman in the next game in another 1-0 battering, this time against Derby County and Leeds looked very strong candidates for the top six under Monk, and who could blame them? They had the league’s in-form striker, looking to surpass Newcastle United’s Dwight Gayle in the second half of the season, which he did.
A brace away to Barnsley wasn’t enough for a point as the Tykes put in a top-drawer performance to dominate the Whites at Oakwell but it showed the value of Wood to Leeds’ attack. He kept up his run in the next game when he bundled an opener in against Nottingham Forest at Elland Road but was massively outdone by Souleymane Doukara’s thunderbolt.
Another Yorkshire derby defeat yielded another poacher’s effort from Wood as Leeds fell to late defeat at Huddersfield Town as tensions flared.
However, Leeds were to do the league double over a different local rival thanks to Wood’s smart movement and finish at home to Sheffield Wednesday, beating a rigid offside trap to poke past Keiren Westwood before Rob Green’s penalty heroics.
A couple of goals later and perhaps the best moment in Wood’s Leeds career came with a home clash against automatic promotion hopefuls Brighton and Hove Albion. It was teed up to be a massive game in the battle for promotion as a Leeds win could have thrown the cat amongst the pigeons.
Brighton came into this match looking to keep the chasing pack at arm’s length but the raucous atmosphere at Elland Road seemed to almost yield a goal in of itself. With the game poised for a goal in the second half, Leeds pushed for an opener and it was coming. Cross after cross towards Wood was cleared before Charlie Taylor broke down the left-wing and hung a high cross towards a backtracking Wood on the penalty spot. Time seemed to stand still as he met the ball and the crowd went from absolute silence to pandemonium when his header looped towards the near post past a helpless David Stockdale. Cue the carnage.
Wood added a second from the spot late on in a deserved 2-0 win for the Whites and the play-offs looked a shoo-in if they kept up this form.
However, a poor run in the next run of games saw their comfortable top-six status weaken, but hope was rekindled when the frontman salvaged the most unlikely of points away to Newcastle with a well-placed volley deep into added time.
Ths kickstarted a run in the last five games of the season where Leeds didn’t record a win and relinquished their top-six spot to Fulham, putting Wood’s future at doubt at Leeds, with top-flight clubs certain to circle for him.
Two goals in his last two games took him to a whopping 27 in the league and 30 in all competitions, and while it wasn’t enough to see the club take their place in the play-offs, it was a truly stunning striker’s performance that season and something that Leeds fans would have been grateful for this term under Marcelo Bielsa.
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