Leeds United: Play-offs have to be our goal says Taylor

Charlie Taylor and Craig Conway challenge for the ball.
Charlie Taylor and Craig Conway challenge for the ball.
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Leeds United’s four-match winning run ended at Ashton Gate on Tuesday night, but Charlie Taylor says if Bristol City are capable of finishing in the top six then so are the Whites. Phil hay reports.

Tuesday was Bristol City’s night but Charlie Taylor came away from Ashton Gate believing that if Lee Johnson’s side were angling for a top-six finish, Leeds United should be doing the same.

There is more between the sides in the Championship table then there was in City’s 1-0 victory – a first defeat for Leeds in five matches – and the contest was tight enough to suggest that if one of these sides makes a beeline for the play-offs, the other might not be far behind.

United paid for their finishing at Ashton Gate and paid for making nothing of their spirited response after Marlon Pack scored the only goal of the game in the 60th minute.

City advanced to fifth place on the strength of their win as Leeds dropped back into the bottom half of the league.

Garry Monk, United’s head coach, has never spoken of the play-offs or outlined in detail his expectations for this season but his players are more open about their aims.

Kalvin Phillips said over the weekend that a top-six finish should be the club’s “main target” and Taylor was no less bullish after Tuesday’s result.

“The play-offs without a doubt has got to be the aim,” the left-back said.

“Bristol City have moved into them so there’s no reason at all why we shouldn’t be up there, or why we can’t get up there.

“They never really looked like scoring against us.

“Once we conceded we had to go for it and they got us on the counter a few times but they never looked a threat and that’s the most gutting part about it. We should have got something from the game.

“On a good day we could have had four or five goals. It’s just about being ruthless or less selfish in the final third. We could have got a hatful.”

Another flying display from Hadi Sacko on the right wing, the source of momentum for Leeds in the last half-hour, was offset by poor decision-making from the Frenchman.

Top scorer Chris Wood was denied by Bristol City goalkeeper Frank Fielding late on after choosing to shoot instead of squaring the ball to an unmarked Pablo Hernandez.

In all, however, it was a performance in keeping with much of September and in contrast to the struggles of the first month of the season.

Johnson spoke of his “relief” afterwards and both he and Monk agreed that there had been little between the teams. Monk’s frustration was heightened when referee Keith Stroud sent him from the dug-out in the closing minutes of normal time.

“I’m sure whatever he (Monk) said was valid,” said Johnson in defence of his counterpart.

Leeds’ head coach is undeniably short of goals up front, or short when Wood isn’t scoring, but his defence no longer look like a unit who will concede at will against any opponents. Kyle Bartley and Pontus Jansson smothered 10-goal striker Tammy Abraham during the first half on Tuesday but the hamstring strain suffered by Jansson is an obvious worry.

Leeds conceded within 15 minutes of losing him, though no blame was attached to his replacement, Liam Cooper, for events leading up to Pack’s finish.

“It was just precautionary with Pontus,” Monk said.

“He just felt a bit of tightness in his hamstring and rather than risk anything we brought him off. I thought Coops came on a did very well. I was disappointed for my team because they deserved something from that game.”

Taylor, however, admitted that Jansson’s impact had been telling, saying: “He’s brilliant, isn’t he? Especially from corners and set pieces.

“He takes a lot of pressure off the team and he’s just a big commanding figure at the back.”

Monk promised last month that a squad containing 11 new signings would find its feet in time and left-back Taylor said a four-match winning run and an ill-deserved defeat at Ashton Gate was vindicating Monk’s view.

“There were a lot of new faces through the door in the summer and I think we just needed time to gel and to get together,” Taylor said.

“In the last few weeks you’ve seen that. We have played some good stuff really and I think it’s something for the fans to be excited about.”

Taylor’s future remains up in the air with his contract into its final year and no expectation of a fresh agreement between him and the club. The defender requested a transfer in July but Leeds chose to retain him and Taylor insisted that the closer of the summer window had made his situation “easier”.

“Now that the transfer window is shut, nothing can happen until January,” he said. “It’s easier for me and my head is in a better place. Things are clearer.”

In the shorter-term, United have a Yorkshire derby against Barnsley at Elland Road awaiting them on Saturday, a meeting with the Championship’s highest-scoring side.

Paul Heckingbottom’s team have turned in some compelling results already, routing Rotherham United and Wolverhampton Wanderers 4-0. A 90th-minute header from Sam Winnall - a target of Leeds’ last January - earned them a 1-1 draw with Aston Villa at Oakwell on Tuesday.

“It should be a good game,” Taylor said.

“Barnsley have started well but it’s a game we desperately want to win after (the defeat to Bristol City). Going into the international break, we want to finish on a high and keep the momentum going.”

HEAD IN HANDS: Pontus Jansson agonizes after missing a chance against Reading on Saturday.

Consistency at the back vital for Leeds United to turn around dismal form