GARRY MONK has thrown his support behind Leeds United’s nervy bid to snatch back a Championship play-off place, insisting: “I don’t envisage missing out”.
The Whites head coach has also been quick to bat away fresh speculation linking Pontus Jansson with clubs in the Premier League, declaring: “Every one of my players are fully focused for these next three games”.
Monk’s Leeds had been in the division’s top six since November but slipped from fifth to seventh through Easter Monday’s 1-0 loss at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers which left United behind sixth-placed rival Fulham on goal difference and two adrift of fifth-placed Sheffield Wednesday.
But a final day fixture between Wednesday and Fulham at Hillsborough means United would still seal a play-offs place with three victories from their last three games – even if Fulham and Wednesday win both of their fixtures leading up to the final day.
Fulham face a tough test at fourth-placed Huddersfield Town on Saturday when Leeds begin their crucial run-in with a trip to sixth-bottom Burton Albion. United will then welcome seventh-placed Norwich City to Elland Road a week on Saturday before visiting second-bottom Wigan Athletic on the final day.
The club looked destined to mathematically guarantee their play-off spot with games to spare when holding an eight point cushion to those teams outside of the play-off places.
But Monk is refusing to panic ahead of his side’s exciting and nervy end to the season, with the head coach maintaining full confidence that United will still finish in the top six.
“I don’t envisage missing out,” said Monk.
“I’ve got full confidence in my players and in what we have been doing here and all the hard work that everyone has done to put us in this position.
“All the hard work and those hours that we have spent on the training ground and with each other is done so that will pay off.
“That’s what we trust, that’s what we believe in and that’s what we will go forward with. You will see that in these three games starting on Saturday.”
The form of Swedish centre-back Jansson has been integral to United’s improved fortunes this term but the 26-year-old is reportedly attracting interest from a host of Premier League clubs including Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and in particular Southampton.
Jansson’s agent, Martin Dahlin, told Swedish newspaper Expressen: “He has set his sights on playing in the Premier League next season, that much I can say.
“But right now he focuses solely on Leeds… interest is high but you will not get me to say specific clubs.”
Asked if he had spoken to Jannson about the speculation, Monk insisted: “There’s absolutely no need. I don’t talk about speculation.
“If there’s any players that are not focused on what we are doing right now then that would be a problem but from what I have seen, from every single one of my players, they are fully focused and ready for these games starting with this game on Saturday. I am sure you will see in their performances how committed they are.”
Jansson has been booked 14 times this season and is walking a disciplinary tightrope whereby the centre-back will serve an immediate three-game ban if picking up one more yellow card at any stage between now and the end of the season, including in the play-offs.
Fellow centre-back Liam Cooper also still has two more games to serve of his six-match ban issued for stamping on Reading’s Reece Oxford.
But Monk has been boosted by the return of midfielder Ronaldo Vieira who has returned to training having suffered after a bout of tonsillitis.
Vieira was due to start Good Friday’s Championship clash at Newcastle United alongside Kalvin Phillips in midfield but dropped to the bench after Monk revealed the 18-year-old had been ill. The teenager was then missing altogether for Easter Monday’s 1-0 loss at home to Wolves
Young left back Tyler Denton has also returned to training after his knee injury, leaving no 2 goalkeeper Marco Silvestri and centre-back Cooper as United’s only absentees for the weekend trip to Staffordshire.
Silvestri has had an operation on his knee but could still be back before the end of the season.
Monk said of Vieira: “He had tonsillitis over the two games so obviously it’s very contagious as well and he was from ill it.
“You obviously can’t have him around the other players because it’s very contagious.
“It was unfortunate for Ronny, he was due to be involved in those two games and he wasn’t but that’s part of football and that’s what you have to deal with.
“He’s back in now, he’s been training well week like the others and Tyler is back out so the squad, all of them, they are raring to go and they have all been such a big part of it on a daily basis and in the games.
“They are very much together and determined to go into these three games and do their best.”