Eunan O’Kane credited Paul Heckingbottom with “making everything black and white” after admitting a 1-0 win over Brentford had prevented an early end to Leeds United’s play-off hopes.
Heckingbottom secured his maiden victory as head coach and Leeds claimed their first since Boxing Day as Brentford succumbed to a first-half header from Liam Cooper at Elland Road on Saturday.
O’Kane, who returned to United’s midfield after the imminent arrival of a new baby ruled out Adam Forshaw, said Leeds had been running out of time to resurrect a play-off bid having endured nine league games without a win and taken four points from a possible 27.
Heckingbottom was parachuted into Elland Road during that run, recruited from Leeds from Barnsley on an 18-month contract as a replacement for former head coach Thomas Christiansen, and O’Kane said the 40-year-old had made a quick impression on the club’s players.
“He makes everything black and white,” O‘Kane said. “It’s ‘you do your job, that’s what you’re responsible for’ and if everyone does their own job then we’ll be successful.
“If one person tries to do half of someone else’s job then that’s when errors start to come and that’s the big thing he’s been telling us. That’s your role, you carry it out and everyone else will look after themselves.
“It seems like it’s been a long time since we won a game of football. To get rid of that, to get over that little spell for the gaffer, I imagine he wanted to get his first win as quickly as possible. Now we have to look forward to Middlesbrough and hopefully another good performance.”
Leeds remain 11th in the Championship despite Saturday’s result but the win over Brentford brought them to within five points of sixth place on Saturday evening. Seventh-placed Middlesbrough, meanwhile, are just three points better off having been held to a 3-3 draw by Sunderland. Leeds travel to The Riverside on Friday night.
United’s squad maintained a play-off position for much of the first half of the season but dropped down the table as their results tailed off after Christmas.
O’Kane agreed that the club were in urgent need of their victory against Brentford, saying: “It was starting to become a bit of a big gap and we were running out games. We don’t have 25 games left.
“At this stage of the season every game is vital and had we not picked up three points the gap maybe would have been getting to a stretch. It might have got slightly too big for us.
“We’re chasing and we just have to keep focusing on the next game. We’ve got a tough run still to come in the next few weeks and it’s vital that we pick up some points if we want to keep it alive.”