GARRY MONK admitted that Leeds United were facing the “biggest three games of our lives” after a 1-0 defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers ended a four-month stay in the Championship’s play-off zone.
Leeds were knocked out of the top six for the first time since November 26 as a first half which Monk described as “one of our worst 45 minutes of the season” set Wolves up for a damaging win at Elland Road.
Striker Nouha Dicko took advantage a performance littered with mistakes to score on 39 minutes, clearing the way for Sheffield Wednesday and Fulham to climb above Leeds in the table. United are seventh, behind Fulham on goal difference.
Monk’s squad have been on course for a top-six finish since before Christmas, maintaining a place in the play-offs for 25 consecutive matches, but a run of two wins from eight games has put their season on the line with nine points left to play for.
Three wins from those fixtures would guarantee Leeds’ involvement in the play-offs with Sheffield Wednesday and Fulham meeting at Hillsborough on the last weekend of the season but Leeds’ sustained bid to rejoin the Premier League 13 years on from a bitter relegation is under sudden threat in the wake of Wolves’ victory.
“Here we go,” said Monk, whose side head to Burton Albion on Saturday. “This is the interesting part. We’ve spent so long in there with a points advantage and now we don’t have that. We don’t have that luxury any more.
“Now we have to go on the hunt and sometimes it’s easier with less pressure on you when you’re on the hunt. When you’re in (the top six) it’s maybe a different pressure but we’ve got to take care of our own business and these are the three biggest games of our lives. We have to approach them in that way.
“We’ve had the mentality for so long where we’ve been in the play-offs quite comfortably – in that protecting mode of trying to stay there. Now we have to change that mentality to a team who go on the hunt.
“There’ll be a lot of talking outside about the situation and that’s fine. We take it on the chin. But I’m more than confident. There’s not a massive gap or anything like that. We’re right in there and it’s still a really good situation for us.
“Of course today isn’t a good situation but there’s no time to feel sorry for yourself. That doesn’t get you anywhere.”
Now we have to go on the hunt and sometimes it’s easier with less pressure on you when you’re on the hunt.Leeds United manager, Garry Monk
Monk insisted he was confident that his players would cope with the mounting pressure, saying: “I think so, knowing them as I do.
“No-one here will ever be giving up and there’s no reason to. We’re in a fantastic position. We wanted to be in a better position but we’ll fight with everything have. If we do that, I think it’ll be good enough.”
Leeds fought back in the second half yesterday and were denied a penalty when a cross from Hadi Sacko hit the arm of Wolves defender Richard Stearman.
Souleymane Doukara, Kemar Roofe and Hadi Sacko all went close with headers but Monk was critical of his side’s anxious start.
“We know that the first 45 minutes were nowhere near good enough,” he said. “That was our downfall.
“We have to make it happen for the whole game. If you do it like that then you can always live with it if it doesn’t quite happen or if you don’t win a game. What we can’t live with is the first 45 minutes when we waited to see what happened. There’s a big difference.”