Liam Bridcutt claimed the Championship was looking at “the best Leeds United team for 15 years” after a 3-1 win at Birmingham put the club within touching distance of the play-offs and set them up for a pivotal game at Fulham on Tuesday.
Bridcutt backed Leeds to make good a top-six finish in the last 11 games of the season with Garry Monk’s side up to fourth in the table after an eventful weekend.
United’s resilient victory at St Andrews on Friday, inspired by another two goals from Chris Wood, maintained an eight-point advantage over seventh-placed Fulham, the team who sit directly below the Championship’s play-off places.
The promotion race now appears to be a battle between seven clubs after Norwich City in eighth were hammered by Sheffield Wednesday, and a heavy defeat for Brighton at Nottingham Forest yesterday left Leeds seven points back from the automatic promotion positions.
United have been exiled from the Premier League since 2004 and last reached the Championship play-offs 11 years ago.
The club have struggled to fully reverse the downward slide which began after their appearance in the Champions League semi-finals in 2001 but asked if Leeds were on the brink of an historic season, captain Bridcutt said: “It could be and I think we’ve already set history. This is probably the best Leeds side I’ve seen in the last 15 years and that’s all credit to the management and the players.”
Leeds have 64 points after their win at St Andrews, their 20th victory of the campaign. Monk’s players are eight short of the tally amassed in the Championship under Simon Grayson in 2011 and 14 behind the total which took Kevin Blackwell’s squad into the play-offs in 2006.
Bridcutt insisted he was confident Leeds would secure a top-six place, saying: “In terms of quality we’ve got all of that, and in terms of determination and fight I think we’re up there.
“There aren’t many teams who can live with us when we’re firing 100 per cent.
“We’re making it a bit more difficult for everyone else now. Every game we want to win and that’s the bottom line. We keep putting pressure on teams and that’s all we can do.”
Brighton manager Chris Hughton attended Friday’s game at St Andrews which saw Leeds ride heavy pressure from Birmingham to claim three points. Wood struck in either half to establish himself as the Championship’s leading scorer.
Hughton’s side have held an automatic promotion spot for most of the season but their position is weaker after a 3-0 loss to Forest.
Brighton visit Elland Road in a fortnight’s time and asked if Leeds still had a chance of snatching second place, Bridcutt – the former Brighton midfielder – said: “I don’t want to put anything out there but we’re making it difficult for teams. It’s up to others now to see if they can go and do it but we’re here to win every game and put pressure on the teams above us.”
Monk will have a full squad available for Tuesday’s trip to Fulham after defenders Luke Ayling and Kyle Bartley – both of whom are one yellow card away from a two-game suspension – avoided bookings at Birmingham.
Midfielder Ronaldo Vieira was rested at St Andrews but is likely to come back into Monk’s 18-man squad at Craven Cottage.
The fixture in London could change the complexion of the promotion race again with Fulham eight points behind Leeds and holding a game in hand.
Monk said: “We realise it’s an important game, like they all are, and we want to go down there and do well. We want to win the game and that’s what we’ll be preparing for.”