GARRY MONK insisted he was “not fixated” on winning promotion this season and said his squad needed time to grow regardless of their league position as Leeds United readied themselves for a pivotal game against Derby County.
Monk’s side will move eight points clear of seventh place in the Championship if they beat Derby at Elland Road tonight but Monk claimed his players had not yet reached the stage where failure to qualify for the play-offs would rank as a serious disappointment.
Leeds have held a top-six position for two months and have a chance to cut the gap to the automatic promotion zone to four points this evening but United’s head coach cut a relaxed figure and said he was not putting pressure on his side to secure a place in the Premier League at the end of his first year in charge. Monk said: “We all want to be successful. We all want to make it the ambition of this club, the ambition of the players, the ambition of myself and everyone here to get into the Premier League. That’s where you want to be.
“But I’m not fixated on it. I’m not saying to the players every day ‘we need to get there, we need to do this, we need to do it now’. I focus on the process. We all want it as quickly as possible, of course we do, but I’m not in a rush. The players aren’t in a rush.
“What they have to be is ready to improve and fight as hard as they can for three points. That’s all that matters because it takes you to where you need to be in the long run. Come the end of the season, we’ll discuss it if we find we have an opportunity but there’s a long way to go until we reach that point.”
Monk, whose defence has been weakened by the loss of Pontus Jansson to suspension and Charlie Taylor’s on-going Achilles problem, takes charge of his 32nd match this evening and has mounted a bid for the play-offs with a squad who have an average age of 24.
Derby are one of only three Championship sides to have beaten Leeds since the start of October, winning 1-0 at Pride Park on a day when Monk served a touchline ban, and tonight’s televised match brings together two of the division’s form teams. United have amassed nine wins from their last 12 league matches.
Monk, however, said: “I don’t look at it the way you think I’m looking at it. I look at the game ahead and the three points – how hard the players have to fight for those three points, how hard they’re trying to put their football on the pitch and to make them develop. I know if I take care of that and the players take care of that then all the other stuff takes care of itself.
“There’s no point thinking of the outcome when you have to think about the process. I focus solely on that. If we get that right then more often than not we’re always in a position to win games.
“It’s great for people on the outside to dream. You want them to dream big and have aspirations. We have them as well but we have to remain balanced. This group are doing tremendously well but for me there’s plenty more to come from them. I think they need to be given time to reach their full potential. We have to recognise that.
“We’ve only been together for a short period. We’ll scrap and fight and do our best for this club and great if it was this season but it’s about the improvement of the squad and focusing on what we’re trying to do.”
Monk planned to take a late decision on the fitness of centre-back Liam Cooper who suffered a knee injury in Monday’s FA Cup win over Cambridge United.
Derby, meanwhile, could hand a debut to striker and new signing David Nugent after his £2.5m move from Middlesbrough.
Midfielder Will Hughes is available after a two-match ban but has been carrying knee and hand injuries and Jacob Butterfield is suspended.