Pontus Jansson said he was confident that “this is the year” for Leeds United but admitted the Championship promotion picture was still wide open with 15 games to play.
The Sweden defender spoke of firm belief at Leeds about their chance of ending a 15-year absence from the Premier League but warned that Marcelo Bielsa’s squad would come under heavy pressure as the finishing line approached.
Leeds required two injury-time goals - one for Aston Villa against Sheffield United and another which earned United a 1-1 draw at Middlesbrough - to hold onto their place in the division’s top two over the weekend and stay on course for automatic promotion.
The club have dropped two points behind league leaders Norwich City having been at the front of the field for two months around Christmas but Jansson insisted he was focused on a top-two finish rather than the Championship title.
Leeds play Swansea City at Elland Road tomorrow on another night when the upper end of the table could change dramatically.
Jansson said Leeds were carrying the expectation of a “city who have woken up” but backed the club to hold their nerve in the final third of the campaign.
The centre-back said: “People are relying on us to get back to the Premier League now. This city has woken up and there’s going to be more pressure on every game that comes.
“It’s going to be like that for all of the teams who are fighting for promotion. The pressure is going to get bigger and bigger, especially in a club like Leeds.
“We’ve been at the top for almost the whole season and it feels a little like people think ‘okay, this is the year.’ We also think this is the year we go up but there’s going to be more and more pressure the closer we get.
“The closer we get it’s going to feel like a final in every game we play and there’s still 15 games to go. A lot of things can happen. Some of the teams who are not in the play-offs will fight for the play-offs, and maybe some for the top two as well.”
Leeds finished last weekend with a three-point lead over Sheffield United in third and have held a top-two position since the start of December.
Norwich, however, earned a 3-1 win in a meeting of first and second at Elland Road 10 days ago and have taken control at the top of the division.
Jansson said: “I prefer to be first, to be fair. It’s always nice to be the first team, the team who people hunt, but you have to be one of the top two teams. That’s the most important thing. I don’t care if we come second after the season is over. The most important thing is to be one of the two.
“I think it’s going to be a race until the last game. Norwich are good now. We’ve come from not a bad run but from a run where we could do better so the late goal (against Middlesbrough) was important for us. Hopefully it gives us extra energy for the game tomorrow.
“It’s still 15 games to go and this league is competitive. Yeah, we realise that we’re getting closer but people are going to lose points and we’re going to lose points, for sure. The only thing you can do is focus on the next game which is Swansea for us.
“It’s a really important game and if we win that then the league will look good again.”
Swansea held Leeds to a 2-2 draw at the Liberty Stadium in August and despite their position outside the play-off zone, Bielsa hinted that they were among the sides who could yet claim a top six finish.
“For me, Swansea are a big team,” United’s head coach said. “They’re a team who haven't used their full potential so far.
“They’re a team who have counter-attacking culture, they have players who are very good with the ball and I like how Swansea play.”