Leeds United: Saturday’s game is important, not pivotal – Redfearn

Rodolph Austin.
Rodolph Austin.
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Even with their positions reversed – Leeds United in the mire and Millwall a stone’s throw away from the Championship’s bottom three – Neil Redfearn would not be placing undue emphasis on Saturday’s game.

It evidently matters, as it did before Tuesday night’s win at Reading.

But Millwall’s visit to Elland Road is no longer the painfully tense prospect it threatened to be.

In Redfearn’s mind, Saturday will not be the fixture which keeps Leeds up.

A further 15 matches should see to that.

In an earlier period of his time as permanent head coach, victories were so infrequent that every one felt utterly essential.

Leeds went nine games without a win over Christmas and new year but results like Tuesday’s at the Madejski Stadium are gradually becoming more routine.

The upshot is that this weekend, Leeds could move eight points clear of the Championship’s relegation places.

Millwall are five points back in 22nd and, in spite of a rare win at Birmingham City in midweek, they have more weight on their shoulders.

Redfearn knows his players will do themselves a favour by making the most of a key fixture.

But he is not prepared to paint Saturday as a pivotal afternoon.

“We’ve eased things a little bit,” Redfearn said.

“The three points at Reading mean we’re nearer to the 50-point mark but there are lots of games to play still.

“We know now that we can go and get points from anywhere.

“It’s not just a case of looking for results from certain games.

“And no matter what happens on Saturday, we’ve got another 15 games after that game.

“There’s a long way to go.

“You could go into Saturday, build it up and win it but easily go flat again for the next two or three matches.

“If that happens, it’s not such a good result.

“We’ve still got to pick points up regularly but beating Reading has definitely taken a bit of pressure off.”

The win at the Madejski ensured that last weekend’s loss at home to Brentford – a first defeat for Leeds since the turn of the year – did not linger or fester.

Brentford were the better of the two teams and Redfearn’s tactics left him open to criticism.

But he took encouragement from the fact that the margin of the defeat was so close.

It has been the way of things ever since United were comprehensively outplayed at Derby County at the end of December.

Games against Bolton Wanderers and Birmingham ended in 1-1 draws.

And Leeds beat Bournemouth on an evening when Bournemouth too had enough of the contest to shade it.

Leeds’ victory at Huddersfield Town was earned by a 90th-minute header from Billy Sharp.

Even on Tuesday, Redfearn was gracious about a tight match on a poor pitch.

“I try to be as honest as I can,” he said.

“On Saturday I didn’t think we played as well as we can, I’ll admit that, but we still ran Brentford close.

“There wasn’t much in it and they’re a good side; an underrated side, a bit under the radar.

“They play good football. It could have been 1-0 either way and it was the same at Reading. That game could have been 1-0, 1-1, 2-0 whatever.

“We went through a tough time and we had to find a way to be consistent but there’s been nothing at all in any of our recent games.

“They’ve all been close and they’ve all be tight and the good thing is that we’ve come out on the right side of the majority of them.

“That’s how football is at this level and we’re learning about it as a group. To be fair to the players, they’re taking it all on board.”

Redfearn is relying on a small core of players and has done for the past month-and-a-half but his plans have coped with their share of disruption.

Rodolph Austin and Gaetano Berardi, both of whom would have featured on Tuesday night, were taken ill before the victory at Reading and did not make United’s squad.

They should both be fit for Millwall’s visit to Elland Road, though Redfearn might struggle to justify changing his line-up.

Captain Liam Cooper has a dead leg and, after missing the game at Reading, will not be available this weekend either. He might also be doubtful for United’s trip to Middlesbrough on February 21.

Redfearn expects him to recover before the end of the month.

Giuseppe Bellusci replaced Cooper on Tuesday and, alongside Sol Bamba, helped pin down Steve Clarke’s attack.

Reading were tepid through the middle but dangerous out wide as Garath McCleary and Nick Blackman looked for space to exploit.

United, however, were dominant in patches and Morison struck a post in the first half before Luke Murphy beat Reading goalkeeper Adam Federici with a 25-yard shot on 63 minutes.

Sam Byram’s 90th-minute header wrapped up the victory as Leeds pressed successfully for a second goal.

“The first one was a great strike and with the second, we’d be breaking on them time and again,” Redfearn said.

“That goal was coming but it was nice when it went in.

“We were aware of the illnesses and injuries before we travelled but we didn’t want to disclose too much.

“The likes of Rudy and Coops are big losses because they’ve been playing well but from one to 11 we were excellent on the night.

“The players are chuffed to bits and they’re very together.

“I keep saying that but in the last couple of months they’ve really shown that.

“We’ve let them have a couple of nights out, just to bring everyone together and get used to one another.

“It’s an important thing because we’ve got quite an eclectic mix here – overseas players, seniors, young players. There’s a real will amongst them and that’s been very apparent.”

Chris Wood controls a high ball against Fulham at Elland Road on Tuesday night. PIC: Bruce Rollinson

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