Paul Heckingbottom warned Leeds United’s squad that they were playing for their futures as he looked to today’s clash with Brentford to prolong the club’s “slim” chance of making the play-offs.
Heckingbottom admitted that a nine-game winless streak in the Championship had left Leeds with only faint hopes of a top-six finish and said he would use their final 13 matches to decide which players would be part of his plans for next season.
United carried out a major recruitment drive last summer and spent a further £7m in January, including the £3m purchase of midfielder Adam Forshaw from Middlesbrough, but the squad has struggled since Christmas and the sacking of former head coach Thomas Christiansen earlier this month opened the door for Heckingbottom to take charge.
Leeds have yet to win under their new boss and were denied by an injury-time equaliser in a 2-2 draw with Derby County on Wednesday night, leaving them eight points back from Bristol City in sixth.
Brentford, meanwhile, are one place and four points better off than Leeds in 10th and Heckingbottom described this afternoon’s meeting at Elland Road as “must-win in terms of this season.”
The 40-year-old, however, said he was taking a longer view and wanted to quickly establish the positions in his team were signings were needed.
“You want to get the information across,” Heckingbottom said. “It’s pointless just waiting, if you need to change and bring players in. We have to work and get information across so we’re very certain come the next window: do we need players or don’t we need players?
“We’ll keep on working and while I’m working on it I’ll see who can take information on board and who can get good at it. Come the end of the season I’ll know exactly who’s up for it and who’s not. We know where our frailties are and we know where we’ve been shooting ourselves in the foot. It’s plain to see.”
Heckingbottom insisted he had not ruled Leeds out of reaching the top six but conceded their prospects were meagre after a winless run stretching back to Boxing Day.
He took control at Elland Road in the middle of a difficult run of fixtures against clubs at the top end of the Championship, and Leeds face back-to-back meetings with Middlesbrough and league leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers after today’s clash with Brentford.
“It (the club’s chance of a top-six finish) is slim because you look how far behind you are and I know how good those teams above us are,” Heckingbottom said. “They’ve been showing more consistency through the season and you are where you deserve to be. But things change with every game.
“We’ll always fight and keep going. The Brentford game is vital for this season but also because we want the win and we want to keep improving. I said that my first six or seven games, because they’re all teams above us, would give us a really good benchmark of where we are. We want to be competing with those teams.
“Come the end of these games we’ll have played all the teams above us and in my eyes, when I reflect back, I’ll have a really good idea of where we are in comparison with those teams. Because that’s where we want to be.”
Leeds lost 2-1 to Sheffield United during Heckingbottom’s first game as head coach and fought out a thrilling 2-2 draw with Bristol City in his second. The former Barnsley boss was on course for his maiden win at Derby in midweek until County substitute Kasey Palmer struck in the 92nd minute.
“The boys know how close they were to that win against a top side who’ve been very difficult to beat and we more or less did it away from home,” Heckingbottom said. “It’s very important we take all the positives.
“If we beat the team four points above us (Brentford) then we’ll reel them in, but who knows? I’m more bothered about where we eventually end up and getting a good benchmark against these teams is important. We’ve competed well in the three games but as yet not beat them.”