Adam Forshaw insisted the play-offs were still within reach after a 2-1 defeat to Sheffield United left new Leeds United head coach Paul Heckingbottom facing up to a critical clash with Bristol City.
Forshaw claimed Leeds had enough time left to turn their season around despite falling eight points behind the Championship play-offs and enduring a seventh successive league game without a win.
Leeds were picked off by two goals from their former striker Billy Sharp on Saturday, the first scored with a searing volley on two minutes and the second converted from the penalty spot 16 minutes from time, denying Heckingbottom a result in his first game in charge.
Heckingbottom was in danger of seeing his players slip 10 points adrift of sixth-placed Bristol City until Sunderland fought back from 3-0 down to snatch a 3-3 draw at Ashton Gate.
Bristol City’s visit to Elland Road this Sunday gives Leeds the chance to trim the gap to five and Forshaw attempted to rally United’s squad at the end of a frustrating Yorkshire derby.
“There’s 15 games left and there’s still plenty of points to play for,” said the midfielder, who won automatic promotion from the Championship with Middlesbrough in 2016. “We’ve got some really talented players, good young players mixed with good experience as well, so the ability is there, definitely.
“If we can get a little bit of momentum going and pick up some wins then let’s see where that takes us.”
Leeds made the worst of starts at Bramall Lane, falling behind during Sheffield United’s first attack, and were outplayed until the interval. Pierre-Michel Lasogga’s 47th-minute equaliser turned the game in their favour, however, until Sharp struck from the penalty spot after Eunan O’Kane fouled John Fleck.
Forshaw and Heckingbottom were both encouraged by the performance in the second half, despite Leeds failing to halt a long winless streak which stretches back to Boxing Day.
Heckingbottom insisted Sharp’s initial strike – a brilliant volley beyond Felix Wiedwald – had owed much to Leeds defending and Forshaw said: “There are always individual errors in goals. It’s something we’ll have to break down and look at but from our point of view we showed a reaction in the second half. That’s the positive to take from it.
“We were on the front foot, we had confidence and you could see that we were passing the ball better. We were moving it and getting balls wide and putting them into the box, playing to Pierre’s strengths. It was a sucker blow, the penalty, and it was unfortunate because I think it was a little bit soft. We had to keep going and keep probing and I thought we were unlucky.”