Leeds United will bid to earn a fourth successive league win for the first time in three years, with Neil Warnock insisting his side have responded perfectly to claims that their season was dead in the water.
An optimistic Warnock believes the pieces are falling into place at Elland Road after three back-to-back wins, saying the club’s improved form is a riposte to the “doom-and-gloom merchants who had written us off.”
Leeds climbed to 11th in the Championship after beating Huddersfield Town last weekend and victory at Derby County tomorrow would establish the club’s longest sequence of league wins since December 2009.
United appeared to be a club in crisis two weeks ago amid a seven-game winless streak, a deteriorating position in the Championship and continuing doubt about the takeover of United which was finally agreed on November 20, but a deserved success in their Yorkshire derby at Huddersfield continued a sudden and impressive recovery.
Warnock said: “The difference is our confidence. We’re going into games thinking we can win. That’s the difference. We go into the game tomorrow as confidence as we can be.
“In the past it was a case of ‘how will we turn up? Will it be the good team or the bad team?’ We’ve seen such a contrast this season but as a manager you’ve got to focus on what the strengths of your team are and how you can add to that.
“The two new players coming in (loanees Jerome Thomas and Alan Tate) was like finishing the jigsaw puzzle. We just needed a couple of pieces to set everything else off. It showed not just in the training sessions but in the Crystal Palace game too.
“That was pivotal and we then took on our poor record on Tuesday nights against the best squad in the league (Leicester City). Then we went to Huddersfield. All the doom and gloom moments had written us off but that’s when you’re at your most dangerous in the Championship - when you’re written off.”
Warnock was himself on the verge of ruling out promotion as a realistic target for Leeds as frustration gripped his camp last month but he attempted to play down heightened expectation caused by United’s eye-catching run of results.
“It doesn’t take a lot in Leeds,” Warnock said. “You lose three and it’s doom and gloom. Win three and everything’s rosy. That’s how it is because Leeds United are the only club in town.
“But as a manager you take a backwards step and look at the whole picture. There are reasons why we’re doing well now and I knew that we’d do well if we put the jigsaw together.
“We’re getting players back and we’re not far off a full squad. Suspended players are back as well and that gives us a choice. It’s what we’ve wanted all along - a bench which lets you change a game.”
United’s team has remained virtually unchanged for the past three matches, with Warnock putting his faith in a more attacking line-up after losing Rodolph Austin to injury and Michael Brown to a brief ban.
A midfield of David Norris, Paul Green, Michael Tonge and Jerome Thomas laid the foundations for Leeds’ win at Huddersfield and Warnock said: “It all came about when Rudy was injured and Brown was suspended.
“We thought ‘to hell with it, let’s play all the attacking players in midfield.’ Sometimes you don’t have any choice.”