Neil Warnock insisted today that the squad at Leeds United was in better shape than at any stage of the Championship term, admitting: “I wish the season was starting now.”
Warnock claimed United’s form and transfer dealings in January had rejuvenated the club as he crossed his fingers for the surge of wins needed to pull Leeds back into serious contention for a play-off position.
A woeful defeat at Barnsley was the only black mark on United’s record last month and their manager cut an aggrieved figure after Saturday’s meeting with league leaders Cardiff City ended in an unfortunate 1-0 loss.
Warnock admitted that promotion was a “long shot” with six points separating Leeds from the Championship’s top six and tomorrow’s match at Wolverhampton Wanderers the first of 17 remaining fixtures.
But he said his side had “improved in every game” since responding to their defeat at Barnsley with an FA Cup win over Birmingham City on January 15.
“Birmingham was a turning point for us,” Warnock said. “It turned us around and we’ve got to continue in that vein because we’ve played very well since then. In fact, we’ve improved in every game.
“I wish we’d started the season with this squad and I’d be very happy starting the season now but we aren’t. We’ve got 17 games to go and we’ve got to get enough points to give us a chance of going up.
“Promotion’s a long shot and two or three teams are almost decided in the play-offs but I think we’re capable of having that run. That’s why I was so disappointed last weekend. Three points against Cardiff would have been fantastic.”
Warnock will have options available to him at Molineux with new signings Steve Morison and Stephen Warnock likely to feature for the first time. Morison missed the game against Cardiff with a thigh strain but he has trained all week.
Leeds signed the striker from Norwich City a week ago as part of a swap deal involving their top scorer, Luciano Becchio.
Becchio’s tally of 19 goals is far beyond that of any other United player but Neil Warnock aimed veiled criticism at the Argentinian as Morison prepared to replace him. United agreed to sell Becchio after the forward submitted a transfer request and he became the fourth Leeds player in less than two years to move to Carrow Road, following Bradley Johnson, Jonathan Howson and Robert Snodgrass to Norwich.
Asked how capable a replacement Morison would be, Neil Warnock said: “Steve’s biggest problem is that he’s not had much of a chance to play and he’s got to get match-fit. We need him match-fit straight away.
“But it’s a great bit of business looking forward. Norwich usually take our best players but I’m quite happy with this deal.
“At the moment I wouldn’t swap many of my players. They’ve got a great attitude and there’s not a bad egg amongst them. Everyone’s pulling together.
“I was disappointed with one or two things about Luciano and that’s why I wasn’t overly disappointed when he left.
“You can’t have so many pulling and one or two not. You need to be together and that’s been a noticeable difference in the last few weeks.”
Tomorrow’s match is the first of two away fixtures awaiting Leeds, the second – on Tuesday – at Middlesbrough, the club who lie sixth.
Warnock said: “We don’t want to get left behind.
“At Wolves we’ve got to keep ticking over and at Middlesbrough we don’t want them to go further away from us. They’re one of the teams we’re trying to catch.
“The games are important for different reasons but at the end of the day we need the points.”