Leeds United: Next game is always the most important

Kyle Bartley.
Kyle Bartley.
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Central defender Kyle Bartley stresses that it will be just three points at stake as Sheffield Wednesday head to Elland Road for a crunch encounter on Saturday lunchtime. Lee Sobot reports.

HERE is no hiding the magnitude of Saturday’s Elland Road Yorkshire derby against Sheffield Wednesday.

A fixture which would carry a significant amount of spice whatever the occasion could reach boiling point given the Whites and Owls’ presence in the Championship play-offs.

Saturday lunchtime’s fixture will pit fifth against sixth in a tie between two clubs who are level on points and playing in a possible rehearsal of a play-off semi-final or even final in May.

Leeds, though, know their top-ix berth is far from guaranteed and there can be little doubt that Saturday’s fixture at Elland Road is United’s biggest game of the season so far.

Whites centre-back Kyle Bartley is in agreement – but only because the club’s biggest game is their next game with the defender determined to keep a cool head and take a step by step approach to potentially sealing a place in the play-offs in May.

Bartley’s Whites have 13 more games to seal their place and fifth-placed United have a seven-point cushion back to seventh-placed Norwich City.

But eighth-placed Fulham are only two points further behind and with two games in hand.

The Cottagers will take in the first of those two spare games at fourth-bottom Bristol City tonight and the London side’s other game in hand will be at home to second-bottom Blackburn Rovers on Tuesday, March 14.

One week earlier, Leeds will visit Craven Cottage for a potentially pivotal game in this season’s race to finish in the play-offs.

Quite what United’s standing will be by then could be decided by Saturday’s Elland Road showdown with Wednesday and next Friday’s trip to 14th-placed Birmingham City.

Three points against the Owls would be the perfect tonic for Garry Monk’s men, who remain odds-on to finish in the top six in spite of Fulham in particular breathing down their necks.

Carols Carvalhal’s Sheffield Wednesday, though, had won their last four league games heading into last night’s home encounter with Brentford.

Irrespective of how the Owls fared against the Bees, victory at Elland Road would put Leeds ahead of Wednesday on the same number of games played but defeat or even a draw would leave the door ajar for Fulham.

There is, therefore, so much to think about ahead of an enormous Yorkshire derby.

Bartley, though, is refusing to worry about the various permutations, admitting the Owls game is, indeed, United’s biggest game of the season so far purely and simply because it is the latest assignment in which his team-mates will be bidding for another crucial three points.

“We have said it all season long that our biggest game is our next game so that is our next game,” Bartley told the YEP, asked about the size of the Owls encounter.

“We will prepare well in the week and go into that match wanting the three points and expecting the three points as well.

“We are just looking at ourselves at the moment and just taking it game by game.

“We are trying to get as many points as possible and we will see where we end up.”

Asked about the atmosphere at Leeds with the club in the play-offs, Bartley added: “It’s fantastic.

“It’s a really special place to be at at the moment but it’s important for us not to get fixated on that and to take it game by game as everyone keeps saying.

“We can only get three points per game and that’s just what we have got to do.”

Bartley led the charge to do just that at Ipswich Town on Saturday when the 25-year-old donned the captain’s armband with Liam Bridcutt having to make do with a place on the bench.

Bridcutt then took over the captaincy after coming on as a half-time substitute for Ronaldo Vieira, at which point Leeds were level at 1-1.

Honours finished even as United picked up another point in their quest but still left the door slightly ajar for Fulham, whose odds to finish in the top six were shortened into 6-4 as a result.

“I think before the game you go to Ipswich wanting the three points,” admitted Bartley.

“But, as the game progresses, we realised it’s a tough game. It’s a tough place and the manager there has got the team really well set up and I think a lot of teams will go there and struggle.

“In the end, I think we look back and think of it as a good point.”

Bartley is also proving to be a very good signing and he is now nearly eight months into his season-long loan from Swansea City.

As far as United’s summer recruits have been concerned, there ‘Ain’t Nobody like Kyle Bartley’ as they sing on the terraces to the the tune of Chaka Khan’s 1983 pop classic.

With United already having songs for the likes of Bartley’s defensive partner Pontus Jansson and his ability to ‘head back bricks’, ‘a song for Bartley’ movement gathered pace on social media, a fact that the defender was alerted to by his mum.

Asked what he thought about his theme-tune, Bartley said with a smile: “Most of the time I am screaming or shouting at someone and to organise stuff at the back.

“I don’t hear it too much but it’s a great honour for the fans to be there singing my name.

“I am just really enjoying my football at the moment.”