LEEDS United’s players have got to have the right approach to these final eight games of the season.
They are getting looked at now and results need to be there to make sure they don’t kind of stagger over the line, akin to what happened last season.
Last season was slightly different because Leeds were going for the top six whereas this season they are just trying to salvage a little bit of positivity going into next year.
Leeds are very much ensconced in the middle bracket of the Championship along with the likes of Norwich City and Nottingham Forest and teams like that who should, in theory, be doing better.
But, in reality, they are not because of performances on the pitch, changes within the hierarchy and not the same investment as the other clubs.
It’s perhaps not a case of being weighed down by expectation but there are expectations because of where they have been in recent years. But it’s just been another season of transition.
They have got to perform and look like they are part of a squad that could be going places next season.David Prutton
In terms of what Paul Heckingbottom can do between now and the end of the season, he can really root through his squad to see what he has got because, if there are youngsters that he perhaps wants to blood, then this is probably the time to do it.
But there is also pressure on the senior players who want to be there next year. They have got to perform and look like they are part of a squad that could be going places next season. From Paul’s point of view, I think he will want to balance it with the fact that he will want a strong end to the season and he will want a strong showing from the players that are there, the supposed top dogs on the big money.
They need to justify the position that they are in.
But I think the calls to play more youngsters are quite right and a bit of a no-brainer.
I’m not saying chuck in 11 brand new young pups to see what they are about, but if there are young lads that are fighting for a start then you can pragmatically say we can get these some good Championship minutes under their belts, especially with the games they have got coming up.
I used to love Easter weekend because it was a quick turnaround and a couple of games and you basically got the games done and then you recovered and rested and re-energised again. You knew that once Easter was out of the way that it wasn’t too long before you had the chance to go and have a break and recharge.
But because of the mid-table nature, it feels different. If you are mid-table in the Premier League, you are absolutely laughing your head off because you have got the full Premier League money next season, you are in the top division of English football and you are looking forward to the status and the glamour that comes with that.
But mid-table in the Championship, for a club that was aiming for the play-offs at the start of the season, that just leaves everyone with a really flat feeling. United’s Pontus Jansson obviously captained Sweden this week in their friendly against Romania which had people again questioning whether he should be captain of Leeds. He has got leadership qualities, but he can be quite hot-headed at times and you need to have him on the pitch for the majority of the season. But then Liam Cooper has been sent off a couple of times.
And the general form of the back four has kind of ebbed and flowed with the general form of the team. You need someone who is a bit of a mainstay as captain and Pontus seems like that and the fact that he has just captained his national team is a huge statement and a huge statement for him as a player. It shows that he has got that trust, so why not have him as captain at Leeds?
If you are looking at moving forward between now and the end of the season to get the standards back up and make sure that they keep them to make sure the fans go home happy into the summer, then I think making Pontus captain is a great shout.
I think Liam has got good leadership qualities but the form of players such as that has reflected the team in general. I don’t think anyone has got away with it. It’s not been a disgrace by any stretch of the imagination but when you come out and the aim is quite obviously the top six and you fall short, then there are definitely discussions to be had over where it went wrong and what could be done better.
That goes across the board and across the playing staff.
Bolton are United’s next opponents at Elland Road on Friday and I think it will be tough for Leeds. Bolton quite obviously need the points to make sure they are absolutely secure but against Aston Villa they were resilient, tough to beat, they didn’t lie down and they had a lot of fighting spirit.
And maybe a situation like this brings it out of you when you are looking at a Leeds team that is in mid-table. I’m not saying that Leeds don’t need to fight and need to scrap, but Bolton’s want and need is much different because they are clinging on to their Championship status.
It will be extremely tough because of the buoyancy and confidence Bolton will feel coming off the back of that victory going into the international break. It’s absolutely nowhere near a sho-in.
Upcoming Championship fixtures on Sky Sport include:
Today: Middlesbrough v Wolverhampton Wanderers, 5.30pm; Derby County v Sunderland, 7.45pm.
Tomorrow: Hull City v Aston Villa, 5.30pm.
Monday: Preston North End v Derby County, 12.45pm; Sheffield United v Cardiff City, 7.45pm.
Tuesday: Fulham v Leeds United, 7.45pm.