Two victories might be all that stands between Leeds United and the Championship play-offs and defeat at Reading will only encourage the club to cross the line as quickly as possible. After an unbeaten run of seven matches, Saturday’s result reminded Garry Monk’s players not to feel too comfortable.
Pablo Hernandez does not want Leeds to feel comfortable even if a top-six finish is guaranteed with games to spare. The midfielder spoke of a lack of intensity in the first half at the Madejski Stadium and was pleased to see Leeds ask more questions of Reading after half-time, albeit without snatching a point. “That is the way for our next game,” Hernandez said, with one eye on tonight’s trip to Brentford.
Brentford have little left to play for after clearing 50 points in the past few weeks but their form is impressive and the club are turning in some eye-catching wins this season, in amongst some abject defeats. The pressure will rest on Leeds at Griffin Park this evening but Hernandez is not looking for an opportunity to relax before the play-offs start next month.
“It’s a mistake when some teams don’t play because they are safe or they have their place in the play-offs,” Hernandez said.
“When you relax and play one, two or three games not at 100 per cent, after that it’s difficult to change your mentality again. In all of the games you need to keep a strong mentality and always give 100 per cent on the pitch.”
The league table will keep Leeds honest in London after the club dropped to fifth place on Saturday. United are two wins short of 75 points – a tally which has been sufficient for a top-six finish in nine of the last 10 seasons – and Sheffield Wednesday’s late concession of an equaliser at Barnsley left Monk’s side six points clear of seventh, but Wednesday visit relegated Rotherham United this evening and are still in the running.
The table is such that no side beneath the top seven is likely to mount a late bid for a play-off position. Results on Saturday saw to it that Newcastle United and Brighton are now on the finishing straight for automatic promotion. Leeds were always an arm’s length from the division’s top two, despite their recent form, and Hernandez said: “We know it’s difficult.
“When you have a chance to win a game and close the gap on the first two teams you have that motivation but we know it’s going to be very difficult now. What’s important is that the team focus on the next game and not think about the next seven games. To take it game by game is more important.
“We have confidence and it’s true that if we’d won (at Reading) it would have been a bigger step forward but in the second half the team played good. We were all at 100 per cent and that was the right thing.”
Leeds paid for a passive first half at Reading, in which errors came at the cost of Yann Kermorgant’s 21st-minute goal.
United were flattered by a 1-0 scoreline at half-time but more aggressive after it, without seriously threatening to turn their pressure into an equaliser. Hernandez, whose pass completion rate was down at 61 per cent, exerted more influence in the second half but was not able to pick Reading open.
If Monk starts him at Griffin Park tonight he will have a more porous defence to work on. Brentford have conceded 57 goals this season, more than Wigan Athletic in the bottom three, but their attacking prowess has kept them out of a relegation fight. Sergi Canos and Lasse Vibe scored in a 2-0 win over Bristol City on Saturday and Brentford are one of only four sides who have amassed more than 60 goals so far.
“I’ve seen some of their games and they’re a team who play some good football,” Hernandez said. “I know some of their players, two or three Spanish players in Sergi Canos and Jota, and they are quality.
“But we know it’s not only the next game that will be difficult. All of the games are difficult now because Leeds United are one of the top teams in the table. For the other teams that is a motivation.”