Ross McCormack claimed the success of Leeds United’s season would be determined by their form over Christmas and their dealings in the January transfer window after his 16th league goal saw off Doncaster Rovers.
The Scotland international edged closer to the 20-goal mark and maintained his position as the Championship’s top scorer with a game-ending strike on Saturday and then called on Leeds to take decisive steps forward in the seven weeks ahead.
United regained a place in the Championship’s play-off zone after a 3-0 win at the Keepmoat Stadium, their 10th victory of the league term.
Matt Smith’s first-half header gave Brian McDermott’s side initial control of a competitive derby but McCormack’s slick effort on 77 minutes drew a line under a long spell of dominance from Doncaster, and his late cross set up Rodolph Austin for the third and final goal.
United’s form in McDermott’s first full season as manager has put them in contention for promotion and the club are seven points back from second place with 20 games played.
A takeover planned by a consortium involving Leeds managing director David Haigh is due to go through before the end of this month, a buy-out which will seemingly increase McDermott’s spending power in January and open the door to new signings.
United’s existing squad, meanwhile, have a run of four matches in 10 days to contend with, beginning with Saturday’s game against Barnsley at Elland Road.
McCormack said: “I think over Christmas and what we do in January as a club will dictate where we’re going to be.”
The 27-year-old – handed a new long-term contract by Leeds during the last transfer window – has carried the weight of responsibility for goalscoring since August and drew praise from both United manager Brian McDermott and Doncaster’s Paul Dickov after his performance on Saturday.
Leeds were under heavy pressure for much of the second half but McCormack drew the sting from Doncaster’s fightback by taking a pass from Danny Pugh, skipping between two defenders and casually stabbing a shot under the body of Rovers goalkeeper Ross Turnbull.
The forward is two goals away from matching his best-ever tally in a single season for Leeds – a haul of 19 produced in the 2011-12 campaign – and he again credited his form to the other players in United’s side as he assessed a valuable victory in South Yorkshire.
“It’s down to hard work but obviously my team-mates are setting up a lot of chances for me and at the moment they’re going in,” McCormack said. “Long may that continue. I don’t like to think like this but it seems as if most of my shots are going in. I’m really enjoying things and I keep going on about them but the other boys have been fantastic.
“This is a massive win and we knew it wasn’t going to be pretty. The pitch and the conditions weren’t easy but we dealt with them well.”
Smith’s header was his seventh goal of the season, enhancing his reputation as a suitable partner for McCormack, but Austin struck for only the fourth time in his Leeds career, beating Turnbull with a skilful volley on 88 minutes.
“To be honest it was long overdue to be honest,” Austin said.
“I want to score more and it did come at a good time.
“I don’t put targets on myself but to score was good for the team.
“The wind really affected the game and it wasn’t the best but importantly we got the points.”
McCormack said: “In the second half we had to weather the storm because Doncaster played really well.
“But we got the second goal at a crucial time and capped it off with a fine third.”