“BUSINESS as usual,” is how Luke Murphy describes life at Leeds United in recent weeks.
At a club where supporters have learned to expect the unexpected, such a claim is not necessarily a positive thing.
In this instance, however, the midfielder’s words are meant to reassure and not alarm. The chaos that hit Elland Road a little over a month ago has gone and the focus, among the playing staff at least, is very much on overhauling what looks, to the outside world, to be an insurmountable gap that stands between United and the play-offs.
Eight points separate the Yorkshire club from sixth-placed Wigan Athletic and Murphy believes March – which will see Leeds play four home games, starting with Saturday’s visit of Bolton Wanderers – can be decisive.
“It is an old cliche,” says the 23-year-old midfielder, “but until it is mathematically impossible, you have to believe you can get in the play-offs. Otherwise, there is no point trying to achieve anything. The club still believe. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have brought in two massive names (in Connor Wickham and Jack Butland on loan).
“They are international players and that was a statement that the club and manager are not settling for second best. We really want to push on and get promoted.”
Brian McDermott may not, as Murphy insists, be willing to settle “for second best”. But not so long ago the 52-year-old’s time at Elland Road looked to be over after a solicitor acting on behalf of prospective owner Massimo Cellino fired him on the eve of United’s home clash with Huddersfield Town.
McDermott was reinstated a couple of days after the 5-1 home win over the Terriers and, since then, a sense of normality has returned to the club.
That is not to say that the ownership saga is any clearer than it was over the first weekend in February. Cellino remains on the verge of taking over as the Football League continue to inspect his credentials as a prospective owner and the Italian’s financial plan for the future.
It means Leeds remain in limbo off the field with no decision again expected this week as the governing body continue to wade through the documentation provided by both Cellino and current owners, Gulf Finance House.
Despite that, Murphy – speaking at the launch of an initiative between the club and Network Rail to make youngsters aware of the dangers associated with the railway – is adamant that the players have a sole focus.
He said: “What has been happening off the pitch is not affecting us at all. We are staying well out of it. There was a lot going on a few weeks ago with the manager getting sacked and then reinstated.
“But since then it has been business as usual. It has been absolutely fine and normal and nothing has changed. Things are very calm, just like they were before what happened.
“There aren’t people watching training or anything like that. Everything is back to normal.
“That weekend was really weird. I was out for some food on the Friday night. I had no signal or wi-fi on my ‘phone where I was eating.
“So, I didn’t have a clue what was going on. It was only when I got out of the restaurant that I found out what had happened. It was all a bit strange.
“We were definitely glad to see the manager staying. He brought me in and I have huge respect for the manager. I owe him a lot.
“I was sad to hear he had been sacked but then when he was reinstated that was good news all round.
“It was a situation that no-one deserved to be put through. He deserves the utmost respect for what he has done through his career. The way he dealt with things was first class. His standards never slipped and he kept his head held high.”
As for a late promotion push, Murphy believes the presence of McDermott in the United dugout can make the difference.
“The manager has done late runs before,” said the midfielder of the back-to-back seasons when Reading reached the play-offs and then won the Championship title via a devastating late burst of form. He knows what is needed to get in the top six. That is what we work on every day in training. This is obviously a different team and he is putting his ideas across. We are trying to take on board what he knows to try and get the job done.
“We have a few home games coming up now and that gives us a chance.
“Our home form has been good so these four games could be crucial, especially with the way the fans get behind us.
“After Huddersfield, which was a great result, we were looking forward to having another home game but it hasn’t happened.
“The support that day was so good and I am sure it will be the same again on Saturday. And that we can then turn that into three points.”