HEAD COACH Paul Heckingbottom has told his Leeds United players to “forget the play-offs” if weighed down by their expectations and concentrate on the even “more important” matter of securing their own futures at Elland Road.
Leeds head to 18th-placed Reading today with the 13th-placed Whites now nine points off the Championship’s top six after a return of just seven points from their last 12 games.
After last month’s 1-0 win at home to Brentford gave United a first win from their last 10 league games, the Whites then lost further ground as last Friday night’s 3-0 loss at Middlesbrough was followed by a defeat through the same scoreline on Wednesday evening at home to Championship leaders Wolves.
The Whites have just 10 games remaining but Heckingbottom has told his players that impressing with a view to next season is even more important than being bogged down focusing on any play-off bid this term.
Asked if his players were playing for their shirts this season or if he was already looking at who would be playing for Leeds next term, Heckingbottom admitted: “Both. That was a conversation after the (Wolves) game.
“I said forget the play-offs if it’s weighing you down, forget the play-offs.
“We’ve had a look at the teams above us now, we’ve competed in some games and been short in others and they are deservedly above where we are. We’ve seen that, we’ve seen why.
“So if that was weighing us down in any way, that sort of pressure or hope of getting in the play-offs then forget about it.
“You’re playing for something totally different and which should be more important which is a chance to be in this group and this squad next season and to hopefully push and be competing for those top-six places.
“Because at the minute, the table doesn’t lie, we’re too far off it.”
Assessing United’s prospects of making a last ditch bid to gatecrash this season’s play-offs, Heckingbottom said: “They’re not mathematically (impossible).
“We’d be delighted if we did get there, we would be in good form.
“But the bigger picture is the process doesn’t change, we want to win games, of course we do. But we need to get an improvement, we want to build a squad that is going to challenge.
“Of course you want to win the next game that’s in front of you but I think there’s bigger issues to address going forward that need to start being tackled.”