THE disappointment of Sunday’s league defeat to Huddersfield won’t be forgotten, but it will be put to one side and pulled out as motivation further down the line says defender Kyle Bartley. Phil Hay reports.
A play-off tie involving Leeds United and Huddersfield Town would have the potential to make Sunday’s mayhem look like child’s play and there was a sense of unfinished business between them as the John Smith’s Stadium emptied at full-time.
“We’ll see,” said Garry Monk when it was put to him that Leeds’ 2-1 defeat at Huddersfield might not be the clubs’ last meeting this season or the end of a live rivalry with David Wagner. The result was bitter for Monk and hugely satisfying for Huddersfield but it did not change the fact that both teams have a top-six finish in their hands.
Kyle Bartley, United’s centre-back, suspects that the Championship might bring the sides together for a third time before the campaign finishes in May but Sunday’s loss reminded him not to think about the play-offs too soon.
A more immediate concern is the arrival of back-to-back fixtures against Cardiff City and Bristol City, both at home and both against teams in the league’s bottom eight. Leeds have the dual challenge of hanging on to the Championship’s top two while negating any threat from the clubs beneath the play-offs.
For Bartley, full-time on Sunday felt like the suspension of hostilities with Huddersfield rather than the end of them.
“I’m sure we’ll see them again sooner or later,” the defender said, “and that will be in the back of our minds. But for now, we have to move on. It was three points lost but we go into the next two games looking to get those points back.
“It’s motivation for the rest of the season and not just for one game or two games. We will move on but it sticks in the back of your memory and we’ll try to use this to really push on. We’ll pick ourselves up. We’re strong, we’ve got great spirit and we’ll get three points (against Cardiff) on Saturday.”
Huddersfield’s winning goal came very late, scored by defender Michael Hefele in the last minute of normal time, but Town saw the bulk of the chances throughout an intense derby and both Elias Kachunga and Rajiv van La Parra had come within inches of scoring before Hefele made the most of a kind break of the ball.
Monk’s tactics were designed to catch Huddersfield on the counter-attack and Town’s approach left ample space behind their midfield but United’s distribution and speed of passing failed to make much of it. A tired Pablo Hernandez was replaced six minutes before Hefele scored.
“We weren’t at our best in passing the ball,” Bartley said. “That first pass to relieve the pressure and then counter-attack wasn’t there. That’s something we need to look at and work at.
“But we’re in a great position and we’ve been here before, where it looks a little bit down but we then go on a bit of a run. That’s what we’ve got to do now. We’ve got to look at the next two or three games and get the points we know we can get. We still can’t look too far ahead. There’s too much of the season to go.”
Sunday was United’s 30th league game, leaving 16 in front of them. With 54 points, another seven wins would breach the 75 mark and all but ensure qualification for the play-offs. Monk has selection problems in the pipeline with Bartley one yellow card away from a two-match ban and centre-back partner Pontus Jansson three short of missing three games after both were booked at Huddersfield – Jansson for his part in the touchline brawl which followed Hefele’s winner – but the Leeds boss was as keen as Bartley to promote a positive message afterwards.
“Its imperative that we all put it in perspective,” Monk said. “Yes, we don’t want to lose a derby game against a rival so we can’t be happy with that. With the high standards we have we don’t accept it.
“But we’re on the journey we’re on and we’re doing very well. We’re on the right path for sure. Everyone sees that.”
One bright spot for Monk at the John Smith’s Stadium was the substitute appearance of Alfonso Pedraza, the winger signed on loan from Villarreal last week.
The 20-year-old came close to beating Town goalkeeper Danny Ward with his first effort on goal and caused right-back Tommy Smith trouble with a couple of slippery runs.
Pedraza and Mo Barrow, who also joined Leeds at the end of the transfer window and played the final 14 minutes at Huddersfield, are both in contention to start against Cardiff as Leeds return to Elland Road this weekend after three successive games away from home.
Bartley, who like Barrow is on loan from Swansea City and played with the Gambia international at the Liberty Stadium, said: “They’ve looked very lively and they’ve settled in well. They’ll be great additions and they’ll give us a massive lift for the rest of the season.
“I worked with Mo before. He’s very direct, he’s got great pace and he’s electric. He can definitely have a massive impact. Alfonso’s looked very sharp in training and he’ll bring something similar on the opposite wing.
“It just gives us a bit more strength in depth. There are a lot of young boys here who’ve been fantastic but as the season goes on you can’t be relying on them or the same 11 week in, week out. This gives us freshness, it gives us more options and it helps bring competitiveness back into the squad.”