Kalvin Phillips admitted he was being driven by a desire to defy critics of Leeds United and prove that Marcelo Bielsa’s side are the best team in the Championship after stunning Middlesbrough with a sensational equaliser.
Phillips served up the latest goal in United’s 99-year history, 10 minutes into stoppage time, to snatch a 1-1 draw on Saturday and strengthen the club’s hold on a top-two place.
Leeds were heading for a fifth defeat in seven games when Phillips finished off a last-gasp corner in a game extended by 12 additional minutes after winger Jack Clarke was taken ill and treated by paramedics on the away bench.
United have been in the thick of the ‘Spygate’ controversy for more than a month and saw their hopes of a quick end to that saga scuppered on Friday when an EFL board meeting failed to reach a decision over whether the club should face disciplinary charges.
Bielsa’s players were also under pressure having dropped off the top of the division after losing 3-1 to Norwich City a week before their trip to The Riverside but Phillips insisted Leeds were “the best team in this league” after his dramatic strike claimed a point.
The result on Teesside was enough to take Leeds back into first place ahead of Norwich’s derby against Ipswich Town this afternoon.
“You want to prove a lot of people wrong,” Phillips said. “There's a lot of stuff said and obviously people don't like us but it kind of motivates us to basically make a point to people and say we’re the best team in the league.
“You want to be top and be the best team in the league and with the way we’ve been playing, I think we are the best team in this league. We’ve just had a few bad results recently.
“I think this result is a big confidence boost and hopefully we can go on another run now.”
Leeds, in Biesla’s first season as head coach, are 15 games from ending a 15-year exile from the Premier League but the club have conceded ground with their recent results and were on the verge of a 1-0 defeat at Middlesbrough after Lewis Wing’s 48th minute strike.
A confident Phillips, though, said: “I don't think we’ve looked this well in a season for a long time. You can tell by the way the fans are and the way the city is now that everyone’s buzzing about us.
“Hopefully we can keep fighting, keep getting points and be there at the end of the season.”
Phillips’ defensive midfield role and sporadic appearances at centre-back have limited his attacking threat under Bielsa and his late finish on Saturday came from only his fourth shot on target this season.
“I was a bit confused, to be honest,” he said. “There was so much extra time and it was a bit like 'when is the whistle going to actually go?’
“But the ball fell to me and I got the goal and it’s a huge point. It’s not just about me but the whole team and we did brilliantly towards the end of the second half. It could have been three or four.”