THOMAS CHRISTIANSEN welcomed Pontus Jansson’s return to form and said the defender epitomised a squad who had “taken one step up” as Leeds United looked to return to the Championship’s top six today.
The Elland Road club stand to regain a play-off place for the first time in two months with victory at home to Hull City this afternoon and Christiansen praised his squad for facing up to the severity of the results which knocked them down the league.
A prolonged struggle has been followed by four wins from six games, a run stretching back to a 2-1 victory over Middlesbrough which Christiansen classed as a crucial turning point.
United’s improvement has coincided with a marked change in the displays of Jansson, the club’s charismatic centre-back and a player who earned a place in the Championship’s team of the year last season.
The Sweden international’s header earned a 1-0 victory over Norwich City last Saturday, moving Leeds to within one point of the Championship play-off places.
His goal followed on from another in a 1-1 draw with Aston Villa two weeks earlier and Jansson, who looked notably out of sorts earlier in the season, admitted after the clash with Norwich that he had endured a “messy start” to the campaign.
Christiansen said he had looked to Jansson to take more responsibility after dropping him for a league game at Bristol City and revealed that he spoke with the defender repeatedly in an attempt to raise his form.
“I believe that everyone had to take one step up and especially him, with him last year being an important player for the team,” Christiansen said. “I didn’t see him taking the responsibilities that he had to do.
“I’ve had several talks with him individually and now it gives us the bonus that he has more confidence. If it comes from talking to me I can speak to him every day! But this is what we need.
“Also, when the good results are there and building up, the confidence in the defensive line, the goalkeeper and everyone grows. It wasn’t only Pontus who had to improve in that sense but he understood.
I didn’t see him taking the responsibilities that he had to do. I’ve had several talks with him individually and now it gives us the bonus that he has more confidence.Leeds United head coach, Thomas Christiansen
“The club believe in him and they showed it with the extension of his contract (Jansson’s new five-year deal in October), showing he’s an important player for the team. He had to reply or respond. Now we have the Pontus that the team need and want.”
Christiansen described Leeds’ win over Garry Monk’s Middlesbrough on November 19 - a difficult fixture which followed on from a seventh defeat in nine games for United - as “a good moment” which helped arrest a bad sequence.
The club have taken 10 points from their last four fixtures and face an out-of-form Hull side at Elland Road today. City are under the management of Nigel Adkins for only the second match after sacking Leonid Slutsky.
“It’s very positive when the team respond as they’ve responded,” Christiansen said.
“Since the game against Middlesbrough I’ve seen a change in the mentality of the players. They’ve assumed responsibility on the pitch. Everyone has taken one step forward. This is what we need if we want to be a big team in this league.
“(Middlesbrough) was a good moment against a very strong opponent, a team who had to promote straight. That was a good sign, first with the result, second with the performance and the attitude of everyone.”