Neil Warnock admits he is facing a critical six-week spell in his Elland Road tenure – amid growing discontent from Leeds United supporters at the club’s poor recent performances.
The under-fire United boss endured angry chants of “Warnock, time to go” from seething fans in Saturday’s pitiful derby defeat at Barnsley – with his side aiming to avoid a fifth successive away reverse in tonight’s FA Cup third-round replay at Birmingham City (7.45pm).
While Warnock has urged supporters to judge him at the end of the campaign, he has acknowledged that the coming weeks are seminal both for United’s season and his own future at the club.
The 63-year-old today reiterated his belief that he is doing a good job and is remaining fully focused on orchestrating a play-off push for United in 2012-13.
But the United boss, continuing to work hard behind scenes to bring in some new recruits to galvanise the club’s campaign – which is showing signs of flagging – fully accepts that away form needs to improve quickly – starting at St Andrews tonight.
If United lose to Blues, it will be the first time since the relegation season of 2006-07 that they have lost five matches on the spin away from home – and that is likely to pile on the pressure on Warnock ahead of Saturday’s home clash with rock-bottom Bristol City.
He said: “The end of the season is the time to judge. Okay, if it falls away in the next six or seven weeks, then it’s a different ball game, but my intentions are to get us into the play-offs.
Specifically on the subject of criticism from fans he added: “Of course, it hurts.
“But what I have done in the last 12 months is keep the ship steady really.
“Now we are optimistic we are going to bring two or three in. Once you have got them in and if things weren’t right, I could understand (criticism), really.
“Although if I’d have been stood with the supporters watching that first half on Saturday, I would have been joining in.”
Warnock is likely to make changes in the wake of Saturday’s embarrassing loss to Barnsley and will definitely be forced into making two with midfielders Ross Barkley and Michael Tonge ineligible, with the pair not registered ahead of the initial third-round clash at Elland Road.
Left-back Adam Drury is available after missing the weekend game at Oakwell with flu symptoms.
Blues have injury doubts over weekend scorer Callum Reilly, who came off at half-time in their clash at Huddersfield Town due to illness.
Boss Lee Clark is also assessing Reilly’s replacement Jonathan Spector, who suffered a recurrence of an ankle injury after coming on at the John Smith’s Stadium.
Nikola Zigic, who has hit five goals in his last two matches against United - is available after being suspended at Elland Road, with fellow frontmen Marlon King and Peter Lovenkrands also pressing for a start.
Loan player Robert Hall has been denied permission to play by parent club West Ham United, with Darren Ambrose, Hayden Mullins, David Murphy and Stephen Carr among a number of players sidelined through injury.
Birmingham have confirmed that any visiting fans wishing to attend today’s game can pay on the day - at cash turnstile number 36 in the Gil Merrick lower tier stand.