Neil Redfearn admitted that Leeds United were embroiled in “a fight” after a Boxing Day defeat to Wigan Athletic dragged his squad closer to the Championship’s relegation places.
United’s head coach said a run of positive results was badly needed in the wake of a 2-0 loss at Elland Road but insisted that the club were still capable of stabilising their season quickly.
An own goal from Liam Cooper and a late James McClean strike gave Wigan – one of the Championship’s bottom three sides – a precious victory in Yorkshire, their first in nine games.
Cooper gifted Wigan the lead on 10 minutes by chesting a McClean cross into United’s net and an 11th defeat of the term was confirmed seven minutes from time when McClean slipped in behind Redfearn’s defence and smashed a shot past goalkeeper Marco Silvestri.
Redfearn was left to rue Cooper’s early mistake but the Leeds’ boss also blamed poor finishing for the result.
Billy Sharp hit Wigan’s crossbar with a header in the first half and Mirco Antenucci and Sam Byram both passed up opportunities in the second, the latter from point blank range.
Asked if his team were in a relegation battle, Redfearn said: “I think you’re always in a fight in this league. We’re down there but at the same time a few good results in a row can quickly move you up to mid-table. There’s a lot of football to go.
“I do think we’re getting better and I’d say we’re a better side now than we were when I took the job (at the start of November). But we’ve really given the division a 10-game start this season and that’s put pressure on us, no doubt about it.
“This was a tough month of fixtures and we should have had more points out of it. Again, Wigan’s first goal’s a mistake and how many times have we said that now? Our finishing
was wayward too. Sam’s is a chance he has to score.
“We’ve always been playing catch-up and when you’re in that position, you can’t afford any blips. The blips really hurt you. But we’ve got to be brave, we’ve got to tough it out and we’ve got to remember we’re capable of beating anyone on our day.”
Redfearn rested Brazilian midfielder Adryan yesterday, leaving him out of United’s squad completely. Michael Tonge and Giuseppe Bellusci were recalled to his starting line-up.
Leeds dominated much of the second half but failed to force an equaliser before McClearn picked them off in the closing stages of the game.
United, however, look set to strengthen their forward line with a deal to sign striker Leonardo Pavoletti on loan from Italian club Sassuolo.
Leeds will operate under a transfer embargo in the January window but the club still have scope to make signings up to a certain cost.
Pavoletti was at Elland Road for Saturday’s match and is likely to join until the end of the season with a view to completing a permanent move in the summer.
Redfearn, whose side go to Derby County on Tuesday, said: “We got in front of goal often enough and we had a lot of the game. We made all the running.
“To give Wigan credit they defended well but if it had gone to one apiece then we’d have gone on to win the game. With the pressure they were under, we’d have scored again.
“But we needed to keep the back door shut and the second goal put a poor reflection on what actually happened in the game.”