leeds united boss Brian McDermott insists next opponents Blackpool and Nottingham Forest represent the real Championship play-off deal – despite their recent indifferent form.
Tonight’s opponents Blackpool, who host United in a televised tea-time clash today (kick-off 5.15pm) and Forest, who welcome McDermott’s side on Sunday have both struggled for form of late, winning just once in their last six matches.
But both remain just outside the play-off positions with the dual away double-header representing a tough assignment to see out 2013 with for Leeds, hoping to avoid a re-run of their final two away games of the last calendar year.
Ahead of Christmas 2012, fans will not need reminding of how United were in eighth spot and well primed for a play-off push after five wins in six Championship matches, only for sobering defeats to Forest and Hull City to significantly dent their charge. It proved a momentum shift that Leeds were unable to reverse as they fell away from genuine top-six contention in the new year, with the challenge this time around being to avoid any repeat.
On Blackpool and Forest, in tenth and seventh place respectively, McDermott, sweating on the fitness of central defender Marius Zaliukas (ankle), said: “They are contenders, no doubt about it. They are good sides.
“But we’re in good shape, and in fifth position at the moment.
“It’s a difficult run, but I’d say that any game away from home is difficult. To be honest, playing at home is difficult. You look on Saturday at Barnsley – bottom of the league and some people would say struggling – but they came here and did a job.
“They were organised and I don’t think they necessarily looked like a team at the bottom of the league.
“It was one of those games where it could have gone badly wrong and we could have lost it.
“Everyone in this league is good enough to give you a game and we’re good enough to give everyone a game. We’ve proved that.”
United’s trademark work ethic shone through again in the goalless stalemate with Barnsley, if not allied to sufficient attacking quality, with McDermott hoping his side can unlock the door where they failed against the Reds against Paul Ince’s Pool this evening.
He added: “You couldn’t fault the commitment of our players and the problem against Barnsley was that we didn’t have enough guile.
“We didn’t really open them up as we could have done, although I credit them for that too and I still know that we had chances.”