Neil Warnock has mounted another defence of his record at Leeds United, insisting the club are “healthier” and more stable as a result of his year in charge.
Warnock, whose first anniversary as manager falls on Monday, described the job as the “toughest I’ve ever had” as he faced up to the reality of a Championship season badly damaged by United’s last three results.
The 64-year-old will take his squad to Premier League champions Manchester City tomorrow for one of the ties of the FA Cup’s fifth round but his overwhelming ambition – an eighth managerial promotion – is set to elude him after a return of one point from games against Cardiff City, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Middlesbrough.
Warnock admitted that Leeds “haven’t got much chance” of claiming a play-off position having dropped eight points off the pace but he responded to midweek criticism from United’s supporters by claiming the club were well-placed to move forward next season.
“The players have spent all week apologising to me,” Warnock said. “They all know how close we’ve been in the last three games to getting the wins we needed.
“One by one they’ve said ‘sorry’. But that lack of wins isn’t through a lack of trying. I’ve got a genuine bunch here, compared to when I came to the club. There isn’t a lot needs doing to the team and I do believe the club are in a far healthier position now.
“I’ve only been here a year and it’s as tough a job as I’ve ever had. I think I’ve stabilised the club and I don’t believe I warrant getting stick. But every manager gets stick. At Sheffield United there were always three or four hundred even when we were winning. It was time for a change every week.
“I just think you’ve got to be careful what you wish for because if you look at the clubs I’ve left in the past, are they much better off now?”
Warnock is out of contract in June and it is increasingly unlikely that he or the club will seek to negotiate an extension to his deal if United fail to climb back into the reckoning for promotion.
The club are 11th in the table and eight points behind Middlesbrough, the club in sixth.
“Our place in the league isn’t a fair reflection,” Warnock said. “If we’d taken our opportunities in games – and by that I don’t mean the ones when we haven’t played well – then we’d be a lot higher.
“When you look back we could very easily be in the play-offs. That’s the big frustration for me and the fans. That’s why they’ve been so vocal. In the three games, how we’ve not got nine points I’ll never know. Another eight points and we’d be well in there.
“Every manager will say ‘mathematically’ and all that but realistically we haven’t got much chance of getting into the play-offs. We’ve got to try and win every game and that’s the criteria now.”