Mateusz Klich insisted Leeds United had been worthy of automatic promotion and said the disappointment of falling short would drive them in the play-offs with the end-of-season knockouts looming.
Klich claimed Leeds “deserve to be in the top two” despite Norwich City and Sheffield United sealing promotion from the Championship over the weekend in the wake of an Easter collapse by Marcelo Bielsa’s side which ended their own challenge.
Leeds are five points short of the top two with one game to play and their involvement in the play-offs was officially confirmed by a 1-1 draw with Aston Villa on Sunday.
Klich, whose second-half goal against Villa sparked extraordinary scenes in which Villa were allowed by Bielsa to score an unopposed equaliser, admitted all prospects of an automatic spot had gone after Sheffield United beat Ipswich Town on Saturday evening.
The Poland midfielder, however, admitted to feeling aggrieved to be heading for the play-offs after a campaign in which Bielsa’s squad competed for a top-two finish throughout and were in control of second place with four matches left.
“Last week wasn’t nice,” Klich said. “It was very hard for everyone and I think we all still feel the pain. It maybe sounds weird but we deserve to be in the first two.
“We didn’t make it, that’s football and we have to recover our confidence and go strong for the play-offs because it’s still doable. We’re able to be promoted to the Premier League but we’re going to do it the harder way.”
Sheffield United’s win on Saturday gave them a six-point advantage and a vastly superior goals difference, leaving Leeds with no chance of overhauling the gap.
Bielsa has two weeks to prepare for the start of the play-off semi-finals but Klich denied that it was a significant advantage to know their fate already, saying: “The pain would be the same. We would just have less time to recover.
“We knew already before the (Villa) game when we saw Sheffield United winning. It was game over already for us and we knew we were going to the play-offs.
“In the dressing room obviously everyone feels the pain but we all know we’re able to win the play-offs. We’re going to do everything to recover our fitness and our strength and go again.”