Leeds United: Bamba plays down play-off bid but wants to stay

Alex Mowatt and Sol Bamba celebrate victory over Middlesbrough.
Alex Mowatt and Sol Bamba celebrate victory over Middlesbrough.
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Sol Bamba played down the prospect of a late promotion bid from Leeds United in the aftermath of Saturday’s 1-0 win over Middlesbrough but said he was determined to remain at Elland Road and front the club’s charge next season.

The centre-back claimed it was “too soon” to talk about a pursuit of the top six, despite Leeds registering their fifth victory in six league games, but he admitted that the club’s impressive form was increasing his interest in a permanent transfer to Yorkshire.

An early goal from midfielder Alex Mowatt earned United a hard-earned win at The Riverside and knocked Middlesbrough off the top of the Championship, despite Aitor Karanka’s side dominating a pulsating match.

Leeds have taken 15 points from a possible 18 during a spectacular turnaround since the start of January, drawing a line under the threat of relegation and focusing their attention on the top end of the division.

The club are 11th in the table after Saturday’s result but 15 points adrift of sixth place with 14 games left to play.

Bamba, who produced another compelling display in the centre of defence, said he was reluctant to “blow the confidence of the fans” with strong momentum behind United but he gave a realistic assessment of the club’s chances of reaching the play-offs.

“Mathematically it’s possible so I’m not going to blow the confidence of the fans,” Bamba said. “It’s a tough league and we start from far (back) so if we manage to do that it would be brilliant and if we keep on winning we can do it. But I’m not sure it’s realistic.

“When you beat top sides, confidence comes and obviously if we keep going we can think about the play-offs. But I think it’s too soon to be honest.”

Saturday’s result was Middlesbrough’s first defeat at home since August and United’s victory allowed Derby County to replace Karanka’s squad as Championship leaders.

Boro produced almost 30 shots on goal but were unable to find a way past Leeds goalkeeper Marco Silvestri who took the man-of-the-match award afterwards.

“(Middlesbrough) is tough place to come and I don’t think a lot of teams will get points here,” Bamba said. “We can be really happy about the performance.

“You could feel it was our day when the goalkeeper was making a lot of saves and we were making a lot of blocks. We dug deep and managed to win it.”

Bamba joined Leeds on loan from Palermo last month and the 6ft 3ins centre-back has been highly influential during their recent resurgence.

The 30-year-old has carried the armband for the past three games and he was in the thick of a resilient display at The Riverside as Leeds completed a home-and-away double over Boro.

Leeds signed Bamba on a half-season deal and the club have the right to take him from Palermo permanently in the summer.

Bamba, a former Leicester City player, said: “I couldn’t ask for any more here. I’ve come back to a big club like Leeds in a league I know, playing in front of thousands of people. Hopefully I can stay many more years. To be part of it is one of the best feelings.”

The Ivory Coast international, meanwhile, said he would be happy to give up the captaincy away at Brighton tomorrow with Liam Cooper – Leeds’ skipper before his recent injury – set to replace the banned Giuseppe Bellusci.

Bamba said: “It’s no fight. The manager’s obviously going to decide but for me, Cooper is the club captain. It’s no problem if he’s the captain tomorrow.”

HALF TIME: Leeds United 1 Norwich City 0 - Jansson nods Whites into first-half lead