New Leeds United boss not daunted by tough run ahead
As starts go it was not exactly a success with Leeds United suffering another defeat at Sheffield United, but new head coach Paul Heckingbottom is still talking positively about the rest of the season.
The 2-1 defeat at Bramall Lane left the Whites down in 11th place in the Sky Bet Championship and eight points adrift of the play-off places.
A dreadful run of five defeats and two draws in their last seven league matches has seen Leeds fall out of the top six and cannot fill fans with much confidence that they can get back up there, especially as the club is in the middle of a run of games all against teams above them in the division.
However, rather than see this run of games as daunting, Heckingbottom sees it as a great opportunity to close the gap on the Whites’ rivals in the coming weeks and reviving their chances.
He said: “The beauty is that we’re playing lots of teams above us in this run of games now, so when we’re winning we’ll be taking points off the teams we’re trying to catch.
“People have been saying to me all the time about how tough it is and the run of games ahead, but you can flip that easily and look at it differently.
“If you manage to win these games and take the points off them then you’re reeling them in.”
Heckingbottom has breezed into the Elland Road club after being appointed less than 48 hours after Thomas Christiansen was sacked and has sent out plenty of positive messages about what he thinks can be achieved. He found out quickly how tough the task is, though, with his new side conceding after just over a minute at Bramall Lane.
Leeds did hit back through Pierre-Michel Lasogga, who is beginning to look like the centre-forward the club thought they were getting last summer.
But then it was tale of two penalties with the Blades given a spot kick to win the game following minimal contact by Eunan O’Kane on John Fleck while Leeds were denied when Sheffield defender Enda Stevens handled the ball in his area.
The upshot was a Whites defeat although they had more efforts on goal and a bigger percentage of the possession than their hosts.
Heckingbottom was able to see some hope in the display and spirit shown by his new players and he will be hoping the fortune changes this Sunday when Leeds are next in action at home to Bristol City.
In a game kicking off at 4.30pm because of live TV coverage, Leeds actually have a chance to complete a double over their opponents, having beaten them 3-0 at Ashton Gate back in October.
Bristol City are the only top six team United have beaten this season, another record they must obviously improve if they are to achieve their promotion ambition.
The tactics and team selection will be interesting as Heckingbottom looks to put his personality of the team he has inherited.
Whether they can play the fast, aggressive football he has said he wants is open to question and his 4-3-3/ 4-1-4-1 formation at Bramall Lane was not a huge success, although it was probably in part forced as options were limited with three players suspended and further injuries, including Pablo Hernandez missing training for a few days with a knock so only able to take his place on the bench.
The banned trio – Liam Cooper, Gaetano Berardi and Samuel Saiz – will also have to sit out Sunday’s game, but will be available for the following match at Derby County on Wednesday, February 21.