Kemar Roofe edged Leeds United to the brink of the Championship play-offs and claimed the pressure was on other clubs in the Championship with a handful of games remaining.
The £3m forward made the most of his first league start in a month by scoring one goal and creating another as Leeds took a big step towards a top-six finish on Saturday and ended Preston North End’s chances in the process.
Preston’s 3-0 defeat at a sun-drenched Elland Road effectively ruled them out of the running for the play-offs, leaving Fulham in seventh place as the only threat to the top six.
Leeds’ rousing defeat of Preston maintained a five-point advantage over Fulham, moving the club onto 72 points and making play-off qualification a near certainty.
Only one side in the past decade have needed more than 75 points to finish in the Championship’s top six and Leeds can reach that total with a win at Newcastle United on Friday night.
Roofe was instrumental in Saturday’s victory, scoring the opening goal and creating the second for Pablo Hernandez as United established a 2-0 lead at half-time.
The 24-year-old admitted that Leeds “played with more freedom” than they had in previous games at Reading and Brentford, both of which ended in defeat, but said pressure would not be a factor for Garry Monk’s side in the final five games.
“None of us feel pressure because no-one expected this at the start of the season,” Roofe said.
“I guarantee that if you’d asked anyone at the start of the season ‘where do you expect us to finish?’ probably no-one would have said the play-offs or promotion but we’re doing that.
“To be honest, if you asked me I don’t even know where we are in the league. It doesn’t bother us. We just take it game by game.
“We’ve got confidence in ourselves because we know how hard we work through the week. We don’t mess about and as long as we take care of ourselves, we’ve got a good chance.
“We’re playing with confidence and we were allowed to play with a bit more freedom (against Preston). It showed in our performance.”
Leeds’ play-off place had come under threat in the build-up to Preston’s visit as a 2-0 loss to Brentford last Tuesday followed a 1-0 defeat away at Reading.
Asked how important the win over Preston was, Roofe said: “It was massive. We’ve always said we’ll never lose three on the bounce and it was disappointing to get the two losses.”
Roofe’s impact since a £3m move from Oxford United in July has been patchy but the forward, who won promotion from League Two with Oxford last season, set the tone on Saturday with the opening goal on 18 minutes, beating Preston goalkeeper Chris Maxwell with a deflection after a clever exchange of passes with Chris Wood.
“The ball was sticking in my feet but luckily I managed to get a good enough contact,” Roofe said. “I think it got a deflection off the defender and went over the keeper.
“Our tactics were a bit different and more attacking. I started out wide but I was allowed to drift inside with (right-back) Luke Ayling as more of a wide player. We were told to be more advanced and obviously we were.”