Jamie Shackleton warned the Championship that Leeds United were hitting top form at the perfect time after the club strengthened their hold on an automatic promotion place with a fourth straight win.
Second-placed Leeds opened up a five-point advantage over Sheffield United in third as two goals from Kemar Roofe sealed a 2-1 victory against Queens Park Rangers on Saturday.
United fought back from Nahki Wells’ first-half goal to see off Steve McClaren’s side, aided by their first penalty in 59 matches early in the second half.
The result kept the club a point behind Championship leaders Norwich and the second half of the season present a huge opportunity for head coach Marcelo Bielsa with Leeds attempting to end a 15-year stint in the EFL.
United have reeled off four victories since suffering a heavy 4-1 defeat at West Bromwich Albion on November 10, one of only three losses inflicted on Bielsa’s side this season.
Academy product Shackleton, who made his first league start at Elland Road on Saturday, said: “I thought it was very important that we bounced back from that and four wins on the trot is the perfect way to do it.
“It's a good time to do it too coming into Christmas and we’ll look to continue that now. It's all about keeping this run going and the longer it goes on at this time of year with games coming thick and fast, the better. It's a good time to be on a good run.”
Shackleton admitted that Leeds had been forced to “win dirty” by a QPR side who snatched a 26th-minute lead against the run of play and came close to earning a point late in the game.
Roofe, however, turned the match by equalising seconds before the half-time whistle and made no mistake from the spot after QPR defender Toni Leistner was penalised for handball on 53 minutes.
“I think it helped us going into half-time at one-all,” Shackleton said. “That gives us a real boost. It wasn’t the best of goals but Roofey's good at that. He's there to put it in and that's what he's done.
“It was tough in the end and we had to dig in but I thought we did that well. This is the type of game that sometimes you’ve got to win dirty.”
The penalty awarded by referee Peter Bankes was the first given to Leeds since their 1-0 home defeat to Reading in October 2017.
McClaren criticised what he called a “very, very poor decision” and said Leistner was adamant that the ball had not struck his hand.
“I was quite far away so I couldn't see,” Shackelton said. “It's a penalty, not something we’ve seen very often. We'll definitely take it.”