Brian McDermott said his Leeds United squad had “come of age” after fighting back from two goals down to earn a 3-3 draw against Watford at Elland Road.
McDermott spoke of his pride at United’s performance on Saturday, despite the 86th-minute concession which denied them a sensational victory and a sixth home win in a row.
Leeds trailed 2-0 at half-time to goals from Troy Deeney and Cristian Battocchio but a Danny Pugh effort on 50 minutes – his first goal for Leeds since October 2011 – sparked a dramatic fightback from McDermott’s side.
Matt Smith and Ross McCormack then turned the game on its head and left Leeds within touching distance of a return to the Championship’s top six but Deeney’s second goal ensured a share of the points with a late equaliser for Watford.
United manager McDermott focused on his team’s recovery afterwards, saying: “There was nothing in the first half but they scored from nothing and then scored again before half-time.
“That’s when you find out what you’ve got in your dressing room and some of our young players really came of age.
“I’m absolutely proud of all of them.
“We’ve got great spirit here and it counts for a lot as far as I’m concerned. Spirit can take you places. I’ve had it before, really good camaraderie.
“But it’s not just about spirit. There’s quality here as well. You can’t have spirit and not have quality and we showed quality in abundance in the second half.”
United have one of the strongest home records in the Championship and five wins and a draw from the past six matches at Elland Road have maintained the club’s close proximity to the play-offs. Leeds were minutes away from climbing to fifth in the table on Saturday but they lie eighth after Deeney’s equaliser, one point short of sixth-placed Reading.
McDermott said: “I’ve got hope because I know what the players here are like. I also know that if we get (Elland Road) rocking, it’s a difficult place to come. Of the last six we’ve played here, we’ve won five and drawn one. That’s not a bad return.
“There’s a lot of hope for us but I keep saying that it’s not about quick fixes. We’ve had so many disappointments over the years at Leeds and we can’t have that any more.”
Watford – last season’s beaten play-off finalists – are without a win in eight matches but showed no signs of damaged confidence during the first half at Elland Road.
They were blown away by United’s intensity in the second period, however, and relied on Deeney’s ninth goal of the season to snatch a point.
A magnanimous McDermott said: “You’ve got to give Watford credit. They’ve got real pace on the break and they almost went up last season so from my point of view, sometimes you’ve got to be careful not to be too greedy.
“At 2-0 down would you take a point?
“We didn’t want to at the time because we wanted to win the game but we’ll take it now.
“Watford have been on a difficult run but you can see that they’re coming out of it.”
United were without Tom Lees on Saturday after the England Under-21 international succumbed to the knee injury which troubled him prior to Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Wigan Athletic.
McDermott said: “He did really well to play against Wigan.
“His knee was swollen and he got through 90 minutes but it wasn’t quite right in training on Friday.”