AFTER seeing his side fail to score for a third successive game Leeds United manager Neil Warnock has described the next match at Middlesbrough as a must win if the Whites are to get up among the play-off teams in the Npower Championship, writes Tony Harber.
United have shown improvements in some areas, but are frustratingly yet to find the back of the net since Warnock officially took charge and with just two points from his three games they have fallen behind their rivals.
With a finishing total of 75 points usually the guide for a top six finish Leeds now need to win eight of their remaining 11 matches and cannot afford to lose further ground against any of their play-off rivals.
A goalless draw at Hull City on Tuesday night at least made sure they did not drop further behind the team one place above them in ninth, but following on from the unlucky 1-0 defeat to Southampton and another 0-0 draw at Portsmouth it has clearly not been the start Warnock wanted.
He has tightened the team up, however, and the effort shown by the players is pleasing the new boss and getting fans to respond.
After Tuesday night’s game, Warnock said: “They can’t work any harder that they did. I thought the attitude was super.
“We just need a bit more quality to get more points.
“We defended well and we just have to make better decisions in the final third.
“It was frustrating in the second half because we got in some good positions, but did not pick out the right pass. I can’t fault the effort of the lads, though.
“Hull is a tough place to come, they have a good record, they don’t concede many and you can see why, so I was pleased.
“The fans turned out in force again and that whets you the appetite to build a team for them.
“It’s going to be a tough ask for us now, but we’ve got Middlesbrough on Sunday before the minor situation against West Ham.
“I think we’ve got to win on Sunday now. But whatever happens, we are learning more about the players.
“The players are enjoying the work and the challenge. They have an opportunity to prove to me that they want to stay at Leeds United, which is a fantastic club.”
Another live TV game beckons for Leeds on Sunday when they travel to play a Middlesbrough team suddenly flying again with four wins from their last five matches lifting them back up to fourth in the table – nine points above United.
Middlesbrough can complete a rare double over Leeds after winning the first meeting of the two teams back in August when they took advantage of United having two men sent-off.
The two players in question, Max Gradel and Jonny Howson, are no longer at the club and it says much about Leeds’ season since that neither have been properly replaced.
However, a few players who were out in the cold under Simon Grayson are now being given a chance by the new manager and his first signing, Danny Webber, had a promising debut after coming on as substitute against Southampton.
On another day he could have had a hat-trick, but his pace certainly gave the side a new threat up front.
He was in the starting line-up at Hull on the wing and won praise from the manager for his performance and for being able to play 78 minutes despite his previous lack of match action this season. He looks set to continue in the team at the Riverside Stadium.
Warnock’s second signing, Paul Robinson, comes into contention in defence as he can play anywhere across the back four, but the clean sheet at the KC Stadium would indicate that he would be likely to stay on the bench.
Warnock has declared that he is pleased with the central defenders who have so far helped in only one goal being conceded in this three games in charge.
He said: “Young Lees has improved in every game and apart from the goal on Saturday Darren O’Dea’s done everything I’ve asked of him.
“I was after a centre-half , but when I look at the two I’ve got at the moment I don’t think I could get much better than that.”
Leigh Bromby and Aidan White missed the trip to Hull through injury and are both rated doubtful for Sunday’s game.