IN his first full season as Leeds United manager, Brian McDermott has made a point of stressing that the teams who prosper in a division as competitive as the Championship are invariably those who seize the initiative at key moments.
The past fortnight for the Elland Road has backed up such thinking. Had United won at Brighton a week last Tuesday, for instance, they would have been just two points adrift of the play-offs.
Instead, McDermott’s men lost 1-0 and now the gap between the Yorkshire club and Reading in sixth place is eight points.
No wonder, therefore, that the Leeds manager admits that if his side are to force themselves into the promotion race this term, time is now of the essence.
He said: “I just feel that with 16 games to go, we need to really attack games and not wait for things to happen, especially when we have the ball. We need to get more crosses into the box and more action in the goalmouth.
“Middlesbrough is the first of those games and we are going there to try and win. That’s it, the long and short of it. You can’t do any more than that.
“We talk about trying to win the next game. Everyone else can talk about top-six finishes and whatever but it does make sense that you have to get a run of results at some point.
“With 16 games to go, there is no better time to start than now.”
United travelled to the Riverside almost exactly a year ago. As with this lunchtime’s fixture, Leeds were sitting in mid-table and looking for a victory to kick-start their season against a side badly out of form.
Boro have again hit a sticky patch in recent weeks with it being more than five games since the Teessiders found the net. That came in a 1-0 victory over Charlton Athletic on January 18, meaning Boro have now gone more than eight hours without scoring.
With England international Jack Butland likely to start in goal for Leeds following his loan switch from Stoke City, the visitors will be hopeful of continuing Boro’s goalscoring problems.
Due to being knocked out of the FA Cup by Rochdale in the third round, United’s last action was that defeat at Brighton 11 days ago.
McDermott said: “The players would rather be out there playing but the timing of the break was quite good. I was pleased with it, to be honest.
“We lost the last game, but we had won the previous two and we want to get back to winning ways.
“We want to push up that league. Players being players – and I was the same when I was a player – you want to talk about where you are going to end up.
“But, for me, you have just got to concentrate solely on what is next – and that is Middlesbrough. If we win this game and put on a performance, then we move on to the next one.
“We want to play on the front foot, create more chances and make things happen. Someone could come from the pack and get themselves into the play-off position.”
Sam Byram (hamstring) is a doubt for Leeds.