Back to back games against struggling sides this week are set to give Leeds United a chance to finally put to bed any fears of relegation from the Sky Bet Championship.
The point gained from a battling display against in-form Nottingham Forest last weekend inched Neil Redfearn’s men closer to safety and they can go past the much sought after 50-point barrier with a victory tonight at Fulham or a win at Blackpool this Saturday.
With a 14-point advantage over third from bottom Wigan following the weekend’s games and plenty of teams between them and the relegation zone United are in reality all but safe already, but will want to put any lingering doubts behind them as soon as possible so they can begin planning for next term.
Head coach Redfearn also wants to see his team finish the campaign strongly to take some momentum into next season – and it will not do his chances of still being in charge any harm either.
Leeds are looking for some revenge in tonight’s game after being mugged a little by Fulham at Elland Road in December when the London team went away with a 1-0 win.
Surprisingly despite their array of star names from their Premiership days and several expensive signings since Fulham have not kicked on after their win over United and remain in a battle against the drop, being just six points ahead of Wigan last Saturday night.
But they do possess two strikers Leeds need no reminding of with Ross McCormack a key player for them all season and Matt Smith now establishing himself in their side after an initial struggle and a loan spell at Bristol City.
The former’s craft and the latter’s height and power will present big problems for a United defence that currently contains only one player who was a team-mate of McCormack and Smith at Leeds last season.
The back four did come in for praise for the way they dealt with Nottingham Forest’s threat, however, and appear to be over the blip of the poor displays at Brighton and against Watford last month.
Head coach Redfearn is likely to stick to the same defenders tonight and looks to be lacking options for change elsewhere in the team with a number of players injured, although he may find an alternative to Steve Morison, who worked hard but struggled in a right wing role against Forest with Mirco Antenucci maybe preferred this time.
The Italian striker has not scored since December 6 and has found himself mostly used as a substitute in recent weeks, but Redfearn said he had no intention to sell him to Norwich, who have been linked with a move for the forward.
Redfearn does not expect any of his injured players to return for the Fulham trip, but hopes to have Sam Byram and Rudy Austin available for Saturday’s game at Blackpool when he could also include January loan signing Granddi Ngoyi for the first time after he played 86 minutes in the under 21s game against Crystal Palace yesterday.
Redfearn, meanwhile, is expecting a tough match at Fulham and will be happy if his side remain as competitive as they have in the last two months.
He said: “It’ll be a difficult game tonight because Fulham have good players, players who can hurt you on their day. But they’re in a difficult situation and we’re well aware of that as well.
“If we can win, great. If we can’t win, we don’t get beat. That’s been the motto for the past couple of months. It’s brought us rewards.”
Redfearn thought the draw with Forest and the way his players matched an in-form team showed how far United have come.
He added: “The disappointment was that we filled the stadium with our supporters and we wanted to send them home happy with a win. But it wasn’t for the lack of trying.
“I thought we played well and perhaps lacked a cutting edge in the final third, but the performance was sound enough.
“We defended well, a clean sheet against a free-scoring Forest side that have been getting threes and fours against people.
“We’ve kept a couple of clean sheets back-to-back now and we’ve tightened up at the back. It’s a measure of how far we’ve come that we’re disappointed that we haven’t beaten Forest.”