All Whites marksman Chris Wood thrives after backing of club and manager

Kiwi striker Chris Wood celebrates yet another goal for Leeds United in the 2016-17 season.
GETTY IMAGES

Kiwi striker Chris Wood celebrates yet another goal for Leeds United in the 2016-17 season.

Chris Wood is a man of few words, but that doesn't hinder his ability to explain the purple patch he finds himself in.

Lofty All Whites striker Wood has been on fire with Leeds United this season, his red-hot boot leading the Elland Road outfit into strong contention for an English Premier League promotion as the end of the second-tier Championship season looms.

Prior to a clash with Brighton on Saturday (Sunday NZ time), the 25-year-old marksman had no less than 25 goals in 39 appearances for his club in 2016-17.

Wood captained the All Whites during their last World Cup qualifying tie against New Caledonia in November.
GETTY IMAGES

Wood captained the All Whites during their last World Cup qualifying tie against New Caledonia in November.

That included a competition-best 22 in the league, putting the Whites fourth with nine rounds remaining in the race for an all-important top six spot.

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After netting 13 goals in 37 games during a comparatively lack-lustre 2015-16, Wood reckoned the key factors behind his stunning form this season were nothing out of the ordinary.

Leeds United manager Garry Monk has been a key factor in what has been a superb club season thus far for Wood.
REUTERS

Leeds United manager Garry Monk has been a key factor in what has been a superb club season thus far for Wood.

"Just a bit of hard work, and a good squad around me," he said, just a few days ahead of a trip home to play in the All Whites two-legged World Cup qualifying tie against Fiji.

"I've also got a good manager giving me a load of confidence, I finally feel like I've got a team and manager that backs me.

"You always love football when things are like they are ... obviously you have your ups and downs but at the moment it's looking good and going well."

That fact is also reflected in his rapidly rising market value.

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As several Premier League clubs sniffed around in the January transfer window, Leeds are said to have placed a whopping £15 million (NZ$26m) price-tag on the player they reportedly bought for around £3 million in July 2015.

But Wood appears in no rush to leave and a quick glance at his CV perhaps proves why as he thrives under a manager in Garry Monk who has placed plenty of faith in his Kiwi frontman since taking over at the club last off-season.

Before signing with the Yorkshire side, Wood had spent more than six years bouncing around eight different English clubs, mostly on loan for a short period before being moved on to his next destination.

The frustrations of last season, by the end of which some Leeds fans has begun to voice their displeasure with his performances, may have also played a part in a substantial improvement in on-field output.

All Whites coach Anthony Hudson clearly re-calls seeing a different looking Wood arrive for the team's preparations for their successful campaign at the Oceania Nations Cup in Papua New Guinea in late May and early June last year.

"We had a camp in Brisbane and he showed up and was one of the strongest in the yo-yo test, it was the fittest and best shape I'd ever seen him in.

"His diet had changed and he seemed totally focused on what he wanted.

"[His strong form] is not by chance, it comes down to his mentality and how hard he works ... I think Woodsy, among a few others in this squad, can be a superstar on the international stage this year."

While reaching that status would take some doing, carrying his clinical club form into the All Whites environment certainly wouldn't hurt his chances.

Score goals at the Confederations Cup and in crucial World Cup qualifying matches like he has been for Leeds and Wood may just get there.

And although reluctant to look too far past the Fiji tie, played in Lautoka next Saturday and Wellington three days later, he was clear on what his team needed to do to scale similar heights.

Backing up a statement made by Hudson earlier this month, Wood was adamant ditching the underdog tag attached to the All Whites for so long was key if they were to finish 2017 with the World Cup qualification they desired.

"100 per cent, that needs to be dropped," he said.

"We need to go into games believing we are good enough to win against these [big] teams.

"It is the thing that has been holding us back for years, [getting rid of it] going forward will do us the world of good."

Given where his confidence levels lie, expect Wood to be leading the charge towards that change.

 - Sunday Star Times

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