IT’S an oft-used cliche that the mark of a successful side is one that bounces back from adversity at the first possible juncture.
That’s the mission brief for Leeds United after their chastening experiences at the Liberty Stadium, which didn’t exactly offer food for thought in south west Wales, more a lavish eight-course banquet courtesy of a ravenous Swansea City side who ripped them to shreds.
The Whites went into the game harbouring designs of propelling themselves into the fast lane for automatic promotion but ended it looking in the rear-view mirror to see if there was any collateral damage to their Championship play-off hopes – and discovered that the gaggle of teams snapping at their heels in sixth is starting to resemble a bottleneck.
The stakes have been raised ahead of United’s local argument with Doncaster Rovers at Elland Road on Saturday with Simon Grayson’s troops needing an instant replication of their positive response to their previous two league defeats – both to Swansea’s arch-rivals from along the M4 in Cardiff City – to start wiping out memories of a lamentable afternoon at the Liberty.
Left-back Ben Parker, who came on for the final 17 minutes of United’s X-rated televised display, succinctly summed up this week’s pressing in-tray requirements, stating: “It’s up to us to bounce back and prove – if there are any doubters – a few of them wrong and show Swansea was a one-off blip, because we haven’t become a bad team overnight.
“Hopefully, we can rectify things against Donny.
“There are still 12 games to go and points to play for and we’re still sixth. If anyone had said we’d be here in the play-offs, back at the start of the season, we’d have bitten their hands off.
“The ball is still in our court and the pressure is on other teams to come and catch us.”
While all the bouquets, justifiably so, have been thrown in the lap of Brendan Rodgers’ classy Swans after their consummate 3-0 victory, plenty of brickbats have arrived at United’s door, with Parker admitting they were their own worst enemies on the day.
Out on a limb geographically, Swansea – and its football team – are more than happy to slip under the radar in the race for automatic promotion leaving the pressure heaped on the shoulders of some big-city rivals.
But no-one can say United’s card wasn’t well and truly marked about the Swans ahead of their crunch encounter, with their unlucky reverse at Elland Road in the autumn providing more than enough evidence of their footballing talent.
However, despite being forwarned and fully briefed about a side who went into Saturday’s game having won more league matches than any other side in the whole of the Football League and with the lowest home goals against record in all four divisions, the words weren’t heeded.
Parker said: “They (Swansea) are a decent team, but we had a meeting on Friday night about them and knew what to expect. And the first 45 minutes was nothing short of a disaster for us really.
“We didn’t get out the traps or press them. We knew they like to play (passing) football and wanted to get in their faces but that never materialised and we’ve only got ourselves to blame.
“Swansea will look at it and say it’s a great performance by them, but we contributed to it massively.
“The manager let the boys know it wasn’t good enough at half-time basically and rightly so. We needed a kick up the backside to get a response in the second half.
“I thought we started a bit better and put them under pressure, but when they got their second goal our heads seemed to drop and they took the initiative.
“The lads came in a little bit disappointed with not getting a penalty (in the first half), but that’s football. A few tough decisions didn’t go our way, but that’s life and we can’t dwell on it.
“It was a below-par performance and we expect much better from ourselves.
“The main plus point was the fans. When I came on in the last 20 (minutes), it was a bit like coming on against Barcelona when they were keeping the ball, and they made it look pretty easy.
“But our fans were still singing along magnificently and they clapped us off the pitch at the end, which shows what unbelievable support we have and hopefully they will get us over the line at the end of the season.”
The sole crumb of comfort for Parker was his brief cameo at Swansea, just his second Championship appearance this term, his previous one coming at the Cardiff City Stadium at the start of January.
And the full-back is intent on making up for lost time, after an injury nightmare stretching back the best part of a year-and-a-half, and becoming a part of boss Grayson’s plans for the key seasonal run-in.
Parker added: “Since I came back, at Cardiff, I’ve been involved in the match-day squad, which has been great for me after being out for so long injured, which was very frustrating.
“The final hurdle is getting on the pitch and I know it will be hard for me as the players did magnificently during our unbeaten run in getting the club were there.
“It’s up to me and the other lads to push the starting 11.”
Making his first home league appearance since April is Parker’s aim this weekend when United tackle Doncaster, a side who handed United’s legions of followers one of their most painful ever days in the venerable surroundings of the new Wembley in a eminently forgettable League One play-off final reverse in May 2008.
Rovers also got under the Whites skin by outclassing them en route to a 1-0 victory at Elland Road in their last league meeting there in January 2008 when their ecstatic supporters joyously chanted: “We’re just too good for you” after seeing their side claim their maiden win at LS11 in some style.
But Parker has played down any potential prickliness to the derby encounter and insisted a win is all that matters.
He said: “It’s another Yorkshire derby and a massive game and they will bring a few fans, but all we’re bothered about is getting back on track with three points.
“Wembley is water under the bridge and we’ve moved on from that.
“They have done ever so well in the past few years and play some good football but both teams like to get the ball down so it should be an entertaining game.”