HEAD COACH Paul Heckingbottom is keen to stress the importance of tomorrow’s Yorkshire derby against visiting Sheffield Wednesday, admitting: “bragging rights are at stake and we are desperate for the points.”
Both sides appear destined for mid-table finishes with 13th-placed Leeds 11 points off the play-offs with nine games left and 18th-placed Wednesday eight points clear of the drop zone.
Heckingbottom also readily admits that derby games can now have a different feel to them compared to those of yesteryear due to changes to the game including increased scrutiny on tackles and fouls from match officials.
But Yorkshireman Heckingbottom is keen to stress the significance of taking on Yorkshire neighbours Wednesday at Elland Road should not be lost, especially with the Whites having picked up just one win from their last 13 league games, a run which this week prompted criticism of the players from owner Andrea Radrizzani.
“I think you have to acknowledge the fact that it’s a derby,” said Heckingbottom.
“Although they have changed a hell of a lot in the last 10 years and even more so in the 10 years previous in what is allowed in a derby and what they look like, the way that the game has changed, there’s not too much difference that I noticed.
We want the points, we’re desperate for the points but so are Sheffield Wednesday for a different reason so it adds an extra edge to the game, definitely.Paul Heckingbottom
“But that detracts from the atmosphere as well, there’s fewer tackles, fewer things you get away with so it does take away from what a derby is.
“However, there’s pride at stake, bragging rights, Wednesday fighting for points.
“We want the points, we’re desperate for the points but so are Sheffield Wednesday for a different reason so it adds an extra edge to the game, definitely.” Wednesday themselves have won just one of their last nine league games with the Owls having lost four of their last five.
Former VfB Stuttgart boss Jos Luhukay was brought in to replace the axed Carlos Carvalhal at the beginning of January and like Heckingbottom, Luhukay is still seeking only a second league win in charge. The Dutch manager says he is particularly wary of United’s threat in attack.
“I think they are a very strong team,” said Luhukay.
“They have unbelievable offensive quality. All four strikers are very effective. We have a lot of work on Saturday to stop their quality.
“Leeds, in the last weeks, have also not had good results, so they also will look for success. It will be an interesting game.
“I think in a derby you must have the passion and a winning mentality to get a good result. Both sets of fans will give 100 per cent support, so we must give everything we have.
“We have spoken with each other, we know what we have done, what we must do, and what we can do better. There’s no problem with motivation. The position in the league does not lie.
“We must work 100 per cent in every game to get in a better position.” Leeds look set to still be without Liam Cooper (leg), Kemar Roofe (calf) and Andy Lonergan (neck), joining longer term absentees Luke Ayling (ankle), Tyler Roberts (shin) and Conor Shaughnessy (ankle) on the sidelines.