THOMAS CHRISTIANSEN warned the Championship that Leeds United had reached a new level of confidence after their fightback at Burton Albion left a five-point gap to the league’s second automatic promotion position.
Leeds are on the shoulder of Bristol City and Cardiff City, the clubs who share second place in the table, following a fourth straight win and a telling recovery at the Pirelli Stadium yesterday.
Christiansen’s side ended a record of losing every game after conceding first this season by responding to Tom Naylor’s 30th-minute opener and claiming a 2-1 victory with quick strikes from Pablo Hernandez and Kemar Roofe.
Hernandez struck with a free-kick on 61 minutes after a peculiar episode in which Burton goalkeeper Stephen Bywater was booked for pulling down Eunan O’Kane’s shorts. Roofe then buried another chance three minutes later to leave Burton facing up to an eighth successive home defeat.
Leeds topped the Championship in mid-September after an unbeaten run of seven matches, a streak halted by a severe dip in results, but asked if his squad had regained that level of confidence, Christiansen said: “I believe it’s better.
“I believe it’s better in the sense that we have more experience now. Everyone knows each other better - what I want from them and what I can expect from them - and we’ve lived through a situation of a bad run.”
Leeds have so far taken 13 points from 15 on offer in December and will end 2017 away at Birmingham City on Saturday. Birmingham are bottom of the Championship and lost 2-0 at home to Norwich City yesterday.
United, in comparison, have six wins in eight and have closed to within five points of the league’s last automatic promotion slot.
Christiansen, however, refused to discuss Leeds’ chances of finishing second, saying: “I will go to the next game against Birmingham, trying to get a good result. After that game I will look at Nottingham Forest (on New Year’s Day).
“We’re doing well and I’m very satisfied. It was the wish to do this but it’s not always given to you in the way you would like. We had an example of that in the first half here. We played very well and created more opportunities but at half-time we were 1-0 down.
I believe it’s better in the sense that we have more experience now. Everyone knows each other better - what I want from them and what I can expect from them - and we’ve lived through a situation of a bad run.Leeds United head coach, Thomas Christiansen
“We dominated completely but the ball didn’t go in and we conceded in one of the few times that they approached our goal. But we got the chance for the first time to turn a result and take three points.”
Hernandez’s free-kick - a sweet, right-footed finish from 20 yards - was converted after referee Darren Bond took Bywater to task for pulling down O’Kane’s shorts as the midfielder stood in front of him while Hernandez stood over the ball.
United, whose players are working with a specialist set-piece coach in Italian Gianni Vio, congested Bywater’s box with a makeshift wall and placed two other players, O’Kane and Ronaldo Vieira, in his line of sight. O’Kane and Vieira sprinted to play themselves onside as Hernandez prepared to shoot.
“It was good and very well executed,” Christiansen said. “Everyone did their job in that one. It brought us into the game and from that moment the confidence grew, believing we could turn it.
Asked about Bywater’s actions, which appeared to stem from frustration at having his view obstructed, United’s head coach joked: “That was not part of our side! It’s a new experience.
“He took the decision to do that but at least we did what we had to do to provoke the goal.”
Burton manager Nigel Clough conceded that the joke had been on Bywater, saying: “I said to him he should be concentrating on setting up his wall and nothing else.”