NEIL Redfearn last night predicted an increasingly tight relegation battle in the Championship and warned Leeds United not to take their survival for granted.
The club’s head coach admitted he was desperate to put more space between his side and the division’s bottom three but urged his players to be ready for an intense fight in the last third of the season.
Leeds have kept themselves clear of the Championship’s relegation places with a spurt of good form, taking eight points from their last four games, and their displays in January saw Redfearn shortlisted for the manager-of-the-month award and Luke Murphy included in a four-man list for player of the month.
The nominations acknowledged the club’s resurgence in the aftermath of a torrid run of results either side of Christmas, though Redfearn and Murphy were beaten to the January trophies by Middlesbrough boss Aitor Karanka and midfielder Lee Tomlin.
Leeds host play-off candidates Brentford at Elland Road tomorrow, aiming to record a third win back-to-back for the first time since November 2013, and Redfearn is optimistic that his team have turned the corner after struggling through the first half of the term.
But the 49-year-old is prepared for a challenging run-in, insisting Leeds should not expect to slip away from trouble easily.
“It would be great but I don’t think this division allows that,” Redfearn said. “If you look at the league, you’ve got half-a-dozen clubs above us looking over their shoulders. They’re thinking ‘Jesus, we need to start picking up some points here.’
“You saw the same last season. Everyone got bunched up and everyone thought they had a chance of getting in the play-offs or getting sucked into relegation. It’s the nature of the division - it’s unforgiving. But we’re getting better in adversity.
“It’s become very tight in the league table and there’s five points between us and 11th. That’s two wins. If we keep this run going and keep this consistency then we can climb up quickly but we can’t look past each game. We’ve got to respect each game.”
United have no new injury concerns ahead of tomorrow’s fixture, though centre-back Giuseppe Bellusci will serve the second game of a two-match ban against Brentford.
The Italian spent yesterday answering a misconduct charge in front of a Football Association disciplinary commission.
Bellusci is accused of racially abusing Cameron Jerome during a game between Leeds and Norwich City at Carrow Road in October.
He denies the allegations but faces a minimum five-match suspension if found guilty. The FA is yet to deliver its verdict.
Redfearn replaced Bellusci with Sol Bamba during last weekend’s win over Huddersfield Town and he is expected to field an unchanged line-up tomorrow after Bamba’s impressive debut at the John Smith’s Stadium.
MIdfielder Lewis Cook has been passed fit after a minor knee problem.
Brentford inflicted an comprehensive 2-0 defeat on Leeds at Griffin Park in September - United’s first game under former head coach Darko Milanic - and the London club have been in contention for both the play-offs and automatic promotion from an early stage of the season.
Redfearn said: “The most important thing is that we get something out of the game. With the way we’re playing, there’s no reason why we can’t win it.
“Every game in this division is tough. You get to this point of the season and the sides at the bottom of the division are desperate for results. Sides at the bottom will start winning and beating people so we need to try and take something out of each game.”