ASSISTANT head coach Paul Raynor has refused to rule out a late Leeds United play-off push but admits the Whites can ill afford to assume they will automatically steer well clear of the bottom three.
Leeds are without a win from their last five league games and will look to stop the rot at Elland Road tomorrow with the Championship visit of third-bottom Bristol City. Raynor believes a home victory would be particularly valuable both to get 17th-placed United closer to the top six (Leeds are currently 13 points adrift) and to boot further clear of the dropzone, which they are currently eight points clear of.
The Whites’ no 2 admits United face a tall order to resurrect their play-offs push which has been all but derailed by back-to-back defeats to promotion hopefuls Ipswich Town and Sheffield Wednesday, but the 49-year-old is reluctant to abandon all hope.
Raynor is also aware that defeat at Elland Road on Saturday, combined with a a win for fourth-bottom Rotherham at Cardiff would leave Leeds just five points clear of the dropzone.
Asked what United’s aims were for the rest of the season, Raynor admitted: “We’re not going to shout from the rooftops ‘we’re going to make the play-offs’. But you’ve got to be optimistic and see where it goes.
“If we can string a run together you never know, but it’s going to be a tall order.
“We want to try and have the best run-in towards the end of the season and see where it takes us and, if we’re lucky to get in touch and we can get a bit of momentum going, especially with the crowd that would be behind us at Elland Road, then you never know. Let’s say ‘never say never’ but it will be a tall order.”
Admitting that United also needed to look over the shoulder at present, Raynor stressed: “You have got to be aware of it. You have got to be aware of where you are in the table and where these games affect you and the points tally. But we’ve just got to accumulate as many points as we can, take it game by game and see where it takes us.
“Saturday is a big game. It’s a home game at Elland Road and every game is massive game at Elland Road and what we’ve found is that teams really raise their game.
“It was something when we were at Rotherham - we looked for the Leeds game, we looked for the big games, we looked for your Derby County and your Leeds, and Bristol City will have done the same.
“Coming up into the Championship, that will be one of the games they will have looked at and thought ‘can’t wait to play at Elland Road.’
“You find that with the players, that they can’t wait to get out there.”
Tomorrow’s opponents currently sit in the relegation zone but the Robins showed their capabilities by producing a 1-0 victory against Middlesbrough last weekend at Ashton Gate under caretaker boss John Pemberton.
Raynor also felt City were unlucky to lose 1-0 at home to West Brom in Tuesday night’s FA Cup clash and is adamant tomorrow’s fixture will be no walk in the park.
“I’ve watched the Middlesbrough game over the last couple of days with the gaffer and an analyst and they played very well,” said Raynor.
“It wasn’t a smash and grab type of performance, they played very well, they dominated for large periods of the game and anybody that can do that against Middlesbrough shows they are a good side.
“They have got a new caretaker/interim manager whatever you want to call it who is an experienced man and obviously did a good job last week.
“And having watched the game in the cup as well against West Brom, they were unlucky really not to take that to extra time as well. On another day they might have got something out of that game.
“We’re under no illusions, it’s going to a tough game, they’ve got a new manager or an interim manager or a prospective new manager to impress so we know they are going to come here all guns blazing.
“Bristol City are a good side. They are a young, energetic side and they have added a couple of new faces this week to freshen it up as well. It will be a tough game for us.”
United will also have to bounce back from the disappointment of last Saturday’s 2-0 loss at Sheffield Wednesday but Raynor insisted United’s performance at Hillsborough was definitely a step in the right direction.
Raynor reasoned: “We were very disappointed with the Ipswich performance, that was probably the worst we have played in the last few weeks and we were disappointed.
“But we thought we put on a real response at Sheffield Wednesday in the manner of which we played and but for the result we are hoping to take that level of performance into Bristol City on Saturday.”