AS the possibility of promotion to the Premier League looms ever larger on the horizon for Leeds United, Ezgjan Alioski has described his first season under head coach Marcelo Bielsa as being “like a gift”.
The Elland Road club head to Bristol City tomorrow sitting second in the table, two points ahead of Yorkshire rivals Sheffield United, who host Rotherham United in the lunchtime kick-off.
With leaders Norwich City in action tonight at home to Swansea City, the race to join the elite of English football could be in for another intriguing twist or two this weekend.
Alioski, for his part, admits that promotion feels “close”. But the Macedonian, who has netted twice in the last three games, is also quick to stress that no one in the Leeds squad is looking any further than Ashton Gate.
“To feel it is good, the season is long,” said Alioski about the prospect of ending United’s 15-year absence from the top flight.
“But for 11 games we must only feel it game by game, not to feel what we might do if we win three or four.
“The most important thing now is to only think game by game because we are close. It would be a mistake to think we are too near because it (the club’s form) can go so quick.
“I am never nervous and the bigger games are important. It is good to have pressure, but not to be nervous. This year with this coach it is sensible to enjoy the season. To work hard, but also enjoy it. It is like a gift.”
Bielsa’s impact on Leeds cannot be overstated. Having only tweaked last summer a squad that finished 13th last term, the Argentinian has inspired a remarkable turnaround in fortunes.
Central to that has been a strong bond between manager and players.
“I love my players,” said Bielsa, who expects to see Jack Clarke return to action with the Under-23s next week following his worrying collapse at Middlesbrough on February 9.
“If I didn’t love the players it would be difficult for me to do my job well. But the closer someone is to you the better he gets to know you and sometimes it is better if we don’t see each other too clearly.
“If the players were closer to me they would respect me less. They would see how I really am. That doesn’t mean I am putting on any of my behaviour.
“But it is better for them to see me from a certain distance.
“My goal is to maintain the relationship between 20 players who are looking for the same thing.
“In professional football behaviour is very important.
“Sometimes when you criticise a player you get better results from him than when you praise him. The work of managing people is an art.”
United will head to the West Country buoyed by the 4-0 demolition of West Bromwich Albion in their last outing.
Alioski said: “After a good performance it is not easy to repeat. But I think it is good to watch the highlights again, to see how we played.
“People also thought the 3-2 win at Aston Villa (before Christmas) was the best performance and it is nice to beat every performance.
“But now we must continue like this. It (the win over West Brom) was good, but maybe not the best.
“If we go to Bristol City and concentrate there then we know what to do. The pitch is big, which is good for football, and I hope like last year we win 3-0. It’s another final for us.”
Bristol City manager Lee Johnson has solved a possible goalkeeping crisis by signing one-time Hull City trialist Stefan Marinovic until the end of the season. First-choice goalkeeper Niki Maenpaa is a major doubt for tomorrow’s Ashton Gate clash with a calf strain, while Frank Fielding is already out with a fractured hand.