Paul Heckingbottom praised the impact of goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell but admitted that Leeds United’s shortcomings were evident again after Aston Villa subjected his side to another defeat in Birmingham.
Heckingbottom bemoaned familiar failings in a 1-0 loss which improved Villa’s chances of automatic promotion but extended Leeds’ demoralising run through the second half of the season.
United’s head coach, who was reported to be facing the sack earlier this week, suffered the seventh defeat of his 13-match reign after Lewis Grabban struck with a 29th-minute header at Villa Park.
Leeds exerted pressure in periods of a tight game but failed to seriously trouble Villa goalkeeper Sam Johnstone and were unable to reply to Grabban’s finish as Steve Bruce’s side closed to within two points of Fulham in second.
Heckingbottom admitted he was craving another victory having recorded only two in two months at Leeds, saying: “For a smile and to enjoy yourself, definitely.
“However, you learn a lot from these moments, me going forward thinking about the team. I’m learning a hell of lot about the players. Next season, we’re definitely as a collective nowhere near where we need to be so whatever changes are made, we want to produce a stronger team and a stronger squad.”
Despite speculation about his future, Heckingbottom, whose deal with Leeds runs to the end of next term, insisted on Thursday that he expected to remain in charge beyond the sumer. Asked if he was clear on which players Leeds would seek to replace in the forthcoming transfer window, he said: “I’m getting a better idea every day.”
United’s best spell at Villa Park came at the start of the second half after Heckingbottom replaced Caleb Ekuban with Samuel Saiz but clear chances refused to come and Villa were denied a more comfortable win by another convincing performance from Peacock-Farrell.
The 20-year-old stepped into Leeds’ line-up last week following of a loss of faith in former number one Felix Wiedwald and Heckingbottom said: “He was one of the changes that early on I felt I had to make. He’s been an example to the others that regardless of whether players have been in the Under-23s, the Under-18s or not had a game before, if they’re good enough or if people’s form’s dropping ahead of them then they’ll get an opportunity.
“We were good at certain things in the first half but we kept giving the ball away too cheap. I’m not taking anything away from Villa but most of their best attacks came from us losing the ball. In the second half we needed more of the ball, better possession, and we did that but we needed to score in our best spell, the half-hour after half-time.
“It shows when our best chance of scoring is a set-play, an eye-of-the-needle killer pass or building momentum where you force an error. That was my feeling.”