Burton Albion v Leeds United: Hernandez and Ayling united in belief that Whites can atone

PABLO HERNANDEZ believes Leeds United are much better equipped to maintain a push for promotion compared to last season, writes Richard Sutcliffe.

Pablo Hernandez, left, is congratulated after scoring what proved the only goal of the game as Leeds United defeated Hull City (Picture: Bruce Rollinson).

They sit fifth in the table at the halfway stage, an identical position to a year ago albeit with Thomas Christiansen’s men having accrued two points fewer this time around.

United maintained that top-six placing until the final few weeks of last season when a collapse in form allowed Fulham to pip the Yorkshire side during the run-in.

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“Everyone knows we lost our chance of the play-offs last season, but I do believe we have had a good year,” said Hernandez, fresh from his sublime chipped goal that was enough to beat Hull City.

“There have been some changes in the place and maybe that made us improve on last year. It is more of a squad. We had 41 points last year and this time 39. But the most important thing is we are in the play-off positions.

“We learned from last year, that is the most important thing. The experience of what happened is good for the players and I think the same will not happen this year. If the team continues in this way and with this confidence, I am sure we will finish in the top six.”

United head to Burton Albion, one of the teams who inflicted serious damage during last Spring’s run-in with a 2-1 triumph at the Pirrelli Stadium.

“Last year we do not have good memories, but we forget last year,” added Hernandez. “It is very important now to win some points because there are a lot of games in the Christmas period.

“If you win two or three in a row, I think you can open a little gap between the other teams. After Saturday’s win (over Hull), the team have good confidence and a good feeling.”

Another player who can vividly recall not only last April’s Burton defeat, but also the agonising slide out of the play-off reckoning is defender Luke Ayling.

“Last summer was horrible after what happened,” said the full-back about a run-in that yielded just one win from eight games and saw United slide from fourth to seventh in the table.

“All season, we were always there and thereabouts. There was a little gap (between Leeds and the chasing pack) so you do start to prepare for the play-offs a bit.

“We thought we were going to be in it. I had no holidays planned and I thought May was going to be play-off month.

“Then ‘bang’ and within the space of three weeks it was all gone. It took me the whole of May to get over it. I went away and I didn’t watch any of the play-offs.

“It hurt not being there. I tried to switch off and then start pre-season. It was a real disappointment.

“Every player wants to play in the Premier League and that was a massive chance right there. And if you look at the play-off games, it was all so tight. Who knows what would have happened if we had qualified?”

Nigel Clough’s Brewers moved out of the relegation places on Saturday courtesy of a 2-1 win at Reading.

Nevertheless, United having taken 13 points from their last five outings means Christiansen’s men will travel today full of confidence.

“We have to go there with a lot of respect and forget about the first game we had against them,” said the Dane, whose side thrashed Burton 5-0 at Elland Road in September.

“We cannot go there under-estimating this team because they will, for sure, create more problems than other games we have had.

“We have to go there and make our game. Take it as seriously as we did in the first game. We went 2-0 up quickly that day, but this is a new game.”

Last six games: Burton Albion DLLLWW Leeds United LWDWWW.

Referee: D Bond (Lancashire).

Last time: Burton Albion 2 Leeds United 1; April 22, 2017; Championship.