Steve Cooper had a three-word reply to anyone prepared to start talking about promotion for Swansea City even though it was still August.
“We are growing,” said the Swans manager – a neutral response to chatter about a return to the Premier League after his team gained an eye-catching 1-0 victory at Leeds United that took them to the top of the Championship.
“It is the perfect result – a clean sheet away from home and scoring one,” said Cooper after the evergreen Wayne Routledge’s goal had taken his team to the summit.
“It is a good return. I’m not going to be too reserved, but there are 40 games left. I feel like we have played 30 already!
“Of course, it is a good start, encouraging. A good tally so far, no doubt about that.
“But we need to keep going, keep working and get ready for the next game. Six games… it is too early for any mention.
“I’m not looking at it (the table), honestly. We are pleased with how we are doing, pleased with the progression of the team. We are growing.”
The growth has been spectacular, though – like a plant that was expected to sprout a couple of encouraging leaves, suddenly turning into a rapid climber.
Earlier this summer the Swans lost their manager Graham Potter to Brighton, sold their two most valuable players and expected source of goal in Oli McBurnie and Daniel James, and rinsed the squad of their highest earners, apart from Andre Ayew.
In spite of that, Cooper has moulded a team that play attractive football, but with a disciplined and tenacious spirit – qualities that were evident at Elland Road in abundance.
The result has been five wins and a draw from their first six matches – a sequence of results that has propelled them two points clear of Charlton at the top of the table.
They are already three points clear of Leeds, in third, and there is a six-point gap to Preston who are just outside the play-off places.
Cooper has fitted in seamlessly and, having soaked up plenty of pressure and seen Leeds miss plenty of chances, substitute Routledge’s 90th-minute strike took the Swans to their very promising position at the top.
Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa said: “The individual performance of the players was positive. Our players played a little under the level that they have. We had the ball constantly. We defended well.
“We created enough chances to deserve two or three goals. The chances that the opponent team had was in relation to the corners, and more from the second balls after the corners.
“We had a high possession of the ball. We attacked with calm. This is the analysis of the game.”
Both teams came into the top-of-the-table showdown unbeaten with 13 points from five games, with Leeds only top on goal difference, but it was United who slipped to their first league defeat of the campaign.
The hosts totally dominated yet, like on numerous times last season during their unsuccessful promotion drive, their finishing let them down.
Leeds almost took the lead on the stroke of half-time through fit-again captain Liam Cooper, who nodded a corner against the frame of the goal and then hooked the rebound over.
Patrick Bamford sliced an effort wide and Freddie Woodman saved a Pablo Hernandez drive from the edge of the box.
The further missed chances saw Bielsa introduce striker Eddie Nketiah on the hour mark.
Chants of “Eddie, Eddie Eddie” rang around the ground and the on-loan Arsenal striker almost made an immediate impact, poking over the top after he latched onto a through ball.
Swansea wanted a penalty when substitute Sam Surridge went down, but referee Darren Bond was unmoved.
Hernandez opted to take too many touches rather than shoot when unmarked at the back post, then blazed a shot just over as Leeds piled on the pressure.
Nketiah almost scored late on, heading wide from Dallas’ cross when under pressure from Woodman, but it was Swansea who won it at the death.
Leeds failed to clear a corner numerous times and Routledge fired a low shot into the bottom corner.