GARRY MONK readied himself for “nine huge games” and said Leeds United would “fight like hell” to book their place in the Championship play-offs after his side struggled through a tough 0-0 draw with Queens Park Rangers.
Leeds held onto fourth place in the table but saw their cushion over the chasing pack drop to six points as QPR threatened a rare away win at Elland Road on Saturday.
The London club saw the clearer chances in a game where Leeds failed to create a shot on target and Monk was indebted to goalkeeper Rob Green who marked his 600th league appearance with a crucial save to deny Conor Washington early in the first half.
United rode periods of pressure to secure a point and remain on course for the play-offs with nine games of the season to go but Monk admitted his players had toiled against Ian Holloway’s men and offered “no excuses” for a flat display.
Leeds’ head coach, however, said the club remained in a “fantastic position” in their pursuit of a return to the Premier League for the first time since 2004 and a first appearance in the Championship play-off since 2006.
“We’ve got nine huge games now and what we’ll do is what we’ve always done – stick together, fight hard and keep pushing,” Monk said. “We’ve been united at this club and everyone’s bought into what the players are doing.
“Yes, there are frustrations at times because we’ve set such a high standard. We want to adhere to it every time we step onto the pitch but everyone realises how well this group are doing.
“We’re in a fantastic position with a good opportunity in front of us to have a really good season. We’re fighting like hell for it and we’ll need everyone in these last nine games to keep pushing each other, to be as good as we can be.”
Monk paid tribute to Green after the 37-year-old goalkeeper reached a notable landmark by turning in another solid performance against his former club.
Green has been ever-present in Leeds’ Championship matches this season, consigning former first-choice Marco Silvestri to the bench following his summer arrival on a free transfer from QPR.
We’ve got nine huge games now and what we’ll do is what we’ve always done – stick together, fight hard and keep pushingLeeds United manager, Garry Monk
Silvestri, who was sent home from Leeds’ pre-season tour of Ireland last July amid concerns about his attitude, deputised impressively in cup fixtures earlier in the season and Monk said: “We have other good goalkeepers. Marco’s done well behind the scenes. When I spoke to him in pre-season he went back from the (tour) and he had a choice to make – whether to respond or not and he responded exceptionally well.
“They push each other and it’s a good environment. Everyone’s competing but Rob’s got the shirt, he’s held onto it and his performances have deserved it. I expected a high level of performance from someone so experienced.”
Monk, meanwhile, stood by his decision to play Luke Ayling despite the right-back incurring a two-match ban for his 10th yellow card of the season.
Ayling, who had missed Leeds’ midweek draw at Fulham to attend the birth of his daughter, was recalled on Saturday and penalised for a first-half foul. He will now miss United’s meetings with top-six teams Brighton and Reading.
He and Kyle Bartley were on nine bookings ahead of the QPR clash but Monk fielded both despite the Football Association’s cut-off point for 10 cautions leading to an automatic ban passing yesterday.
Asked if he regretted using Ayling, Monk said: “Not at all. It’s not an underlying factor for us. It’s part of football management and it’s what a season can bring. Certain situations will always crop up but you have to deal with them and we’ve shown all season that whoever steps in is ready to do the right job. We’ve overcome injuries and suspensions and I’m confident we can do that again.”