There are few footballers with a no-nonsense attitude to rival that of Pontus Jansson. “Extremely difficult” was Garry Monk’s take on today’s derby against Rotherham United but Jansson is envisaging a different type of game. “We have to go out there and kill them,” he said, cutting to the chase as he usually does.
Leeds United are in that mindset and a 1-1 draw with Aston Villa on Thursday, a point snatched from the jaws of victory, did not do much to deflate Monk’s squad. They left Villa Park feeling aggrieved with the result but believing that they had given Villa the runaround for much of the second half. “Before the Villa game if you’d offered me 1-1 as the score I would probably have taken it,” Jansson said. “But with the way the match went and with how well we played in the second half, maybe it was two points dropped.”
This afternoon’s meeting with Rotherham is an opportunity for Leeds to resume normal service against a team who are all but relegated already. Monk is wary of Rotherham, well aware that a crowd of over 30,000 at Elland Road might be affected or quietened by the belief that victory is a formality, but Jansson sees a ruthless approach as the best way to avoid any problems.
United beat Rotherham 2-1 at the New York Stadium in November, a game which Jansson missed through suspension. The defender watched as Rotherham lost Peter Odemwingie to a red card, fell two goals behind but rallied to score late on and leave Leeds hanging on for a narrow and unimpressive win. Jansson will look for more conviction this afternoon.
In all, neither he nor any of United’s players can find much fault with the club’s season so far. A play-off place is there for the taking after 24 games. “We’re in the position we want to be in,” Jansson said. “We play good football and I think we’ve finally realised just how good we are.
“If you ask me we’re one of the best footballing teams in this league and now we’re starting to get some of our injured players back to 100 per cent.
“When we believe in ourselves we’re a really good team. Now we just have to keep going. Rotherham’s our next game and that’s really important because we have to win. From the first minute we have to go out there and kill them – put full pressure on them and play the football we want to play. We know we are strong at Elland Road.”
Rotherham have struggled everywhere this season, taking 13 points from 24 matches and going through two managers in less than three months. Alan Stubbs was sacked in October and his replacement, Kenny Jackett, resigned after their defeat to Leeds, disillusioned with the squad and the scenario he inherited. Paul Warne, the club’s former player, is in caretaker charge but has already said that he is not interested in taking the job full-time.
In Jansson’s view, Leeds are playing better now than they were when they saw Rotherham off a month ago. “We’re getting better all the time and we’re a better team than when last played them,” he said. Jansson expects to be fit to start today despite needing painkillers at half-time during United’s draw with Aston Villa.
He and Jack Grealish, Villa’s talented midfielder, were injured in a tackle on the touchline during the first half at Villa Park. Grealish needed treatment twice and was substituted shortly after half-time with a dead leg. Jansson, who had earlier been hurt while making a desperate clearance to deny Jonathan Kodjia, also called for the physio but played on. He claimed the opening goal on 53 minutes and was inches away from giving Leeds a 2-0 lead with a volley which clipped the crossbar during United’s next attack.
“I had a feeling on the morning of the game that I might score,” he said. “It was the same against Norwich (Leeds’ 3-2 win at Carrow Road in which Jansson’s claimed their first goal). It was special. I was close to another one but that’s football. I took two touches, the second a shot, and I thought it was in.
“The injury started in my groin and went to my hip but I’m a warrior so I kept fighting. It was sore after the game but I’ll be fine. I’ll play with one leg if I have to. I had a 50-50 situation with the Villa guy and he went off but I kept playing. I think I won. I had painkillers at half-time and felt better in the second half.”
With January here, Jansson is increasingly the focus of attention with a permanent transfer from Torino due to be sealed after he makes the 20th appearance of his loan spell at Elland Road today. Among the existing squad, he is one of three players whose futures are potentially in question. Pablo Hernandez’s loan from Al-Arabi ends after this afternoon’s match and Leeds are due to sign him permanently ahead of their next league game against Derby County. Charlie Taylor, meanwhile, remains in situ despite submitting a transfer request in July. Taylor’s contract expires in the summer but sources close to him and the club expect the 23-year-old to remain at Elland Road during January with a view to leaving in the summer for a tribunal fee.
Leeds are also working to bring new signings to Elland Road with a striker high on the agenda. The club will look again at youngster Ashley Fletcher, a player they targeted last summer, if West Ham United decided to release him on loan this month.
Jansson insisted he was giving no thought to possible arrivals, saying: “It’s not my job to talk about players. That’s for Garry and the president (Massimo Cellino). But I do believe in this team and I see we now realise how good we are.”