Thursday, 14 April 2011

Elland Road holds key to play-off hopes – Kilkenny

NEIL KILKENNY admits Leeds United must win all three of their remaining home games or risk missing out on a place in the play-offs.The Yorkshire club return to Elland Road this Saturday when Watford are the visitors for a game that, thanks to back-to-back defeats on the road, has taken on huge significance for Simon Grayson’s men.With seventh-placed Nottingham Forest, who are one point behind United in the table, in action on Friday night at Norwich City, it is conceivable that Leeds could kick off the following day against the Hornets occupying a place outside the play-offs for the first time since November.Kilkenny, who returned to the starting line-up in Tuesday’s disappointing 2-1 defeat at Derby County, said: “We have three hard home games coming up in the last five against Watford, Reading and Burnley.“All three are tough opponents who are fighting for the play-offs. But if we want to get in the play-offs we have to win all three.“It doesn’t matter how we get there, just that we do.“There is always a team that comes from nowhere (to finish in the top six) and usually one that drops out after being up there all season. We have to make sure that is not us.”
Leeds are unbeaten at Elland Road in the Championship since late October, a run that stretches back 13 games.With six of those having finished as draws, however, it means every other side in the top nine have collected more points on home soil than Grayson’s side.Kilkenny added: “Our home form has, largely, been good this season, though I did think we got a bit of luck in our last home game (against Nottingham Forest).“They were a good team who played well in the first half but the sending-off (Chris Cohen was dismissed at 0-0) changed the game (as Leeds ran out 4-1 winners).“We need to get back to doing what we have done best this season, where everyone knows their jobs and gets on with doing them.“There is going to be pressure for us now that the end of the season is approaching.“A lot of teams are pushing for the top six.
“We have to handle it and, hopefully, we will. If we can go on a run now and win all five then everyone will say that Leeds have the momentum going into the play-offs.”

With United’s run-in completed by trips to Crystal Palace, who have an identical record on home soil to Grayson’s men, and runaway leaders QPR, it is clear the Yorkshire club have a tough fight on their hands to finish in the top six.

Looking at the run-ins of the chasing pack, Forest also have a tough schedule with visits to Carrow Road, Bristol City and Palace sandwiching home games against Leicester and Scunthorpe.

Millwall, however, face four sides in the bottom eight along with Swansea City, while ninth-placed Leicester have daunting trips to Reading and Forest to contend with before rounding off the campaign against Watford, Doncaster and Ipswich.

For Leeds, the priority is keeping all three at bay along with Hull City, who are four points adrift of the play-offs and have home games against Doncaster, Middlesbrough and Palace to come along with visits to QPR and Bristol City.

Kilkenny, who was part of the Leeds squad who won automatic promotion from League One on the final day of last season, said: “Our strength of character is going to be important, as will how we handle the pressure. I think we have players who can do that.

“Last season, we went through a similar situation. We had setbacks like what happened at Derby but bounced back. We need to do exactly what we did at this stage last season.”

Manager Grayson has plenty to ponder ahead of Saturday’s visit by Watford, not least the make-up of his side with Barry Bannan having failed to prove an adequate replacement for the injured Robert Snodgrass on the right at Pride Park.

Likewise, fellow loanee Jake Livermore has not impressed in either of the two games he has started since joining from Tottenham Hotspur.

Kilkenny, whose start at Derby was his first in a month, said: “I was back in the side but may be out again this weekend. After a defeat, no one knows where they stand.

“But I hope I can stay in because it hurts to be out of the team. I want to do well, I want to play games and I want to win.”

No matter who makes the starting XI against the Hornets, manager Grayson is adamant his players have what it takes to bounce back.

He said: “It is about keeping our nerve. There is more pressure on those teams in and around us because no one anticipated us being in this position. Certain clubs need to go up.

“We have given ourselves a platform and the situation is that if we win all five games, we are in the play-offs.”

The 2-1 defeat at Pride Park took United’s goals against tally to 60 in 41 games this season, the joint fourth highest in the Championship.

Grayson added: “We were difficult to beat earlier in the season. But we have gone away from doing those things. That has to change.”

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