HEAD COACH Garry Monk last night urged his Leeds United side not to lose their focus amid what seems certain to be a crackling derby atmosphere against promotion rivals Sheffield Wednesday.
The two Yorkshire clubs are odds on to finish in the play-off places with a little over a quarter of the Championship season left.
Both boast 58 points from 33 games and enjoy a six-point cushion over nearest challengers Fulham, underlining the importance of tomorrow’s derby meeting.
“The focus has to be on the football,” said Monk, who became embroiled in an angry touchline clash with counterpart David Wagner towards the end of United’s defeat at Huddersfield Town earlier this month to spark a melee involving players and coaching staff from both clubs.
“With it being a derby game, both teams being on the same points and both fighting at the higher end of the league, all of those ingredients make it a little bit more interesting.
“But what we have to do is remain focused on ourselves and our mentality. We have to put our best football on the pitch.
“When you strip it back, it is 11 versus 11, it is a grass pitch, there is one ball and you have to focus on your jobs while you are on there.
“No matter whether a derby game or a team that is 300 miles away, the games are very competitive and it is very hard to win games.
“Our mentality is the source of what we have done so far. I think we have improved immensely (since the start of the season). This is another chance for the players to show how far they have come in terms of their mentality and the way they want to go about it.”
If further proof were needed as to how these famous old foes have restored a sense of pride after years punching below their one-time heavyweight status, it comes via tomorrow’s likely attendance.
United expect a crowd of around 35,500 for the meeting between the sides sitting fifth and sixth in the Championship table.
It will be the biggest attendance at a Leeds-Wednesday fixture since 39,437 packed into Elland Road to watch Leeds under David O’Leary beat Wednesday in October, 1999, and the second highest for a fixture between the two rivals in almost 50 years.
“It (the likely attendance) is fantastic and shows the growth we have achieved this season and what has been happening,” added Monk, who is still waiting to discover a date for the FA hearing into the fracas against Huddersfield that saw him hit with a misconduct charge.
“Speaking to people who have been around this club for a long time, some of the atmospheres this season have been unbelievable.
“Those guys saying that shows how well things have come together and how well connected things are. That will play a vital role both this weekend and for the rest of the season.
“This game will not define the season, but there are three very important points available. All derbies are different, but they mean a great deal to everyone and our mentality is to try and win the game.”
United beat Wednesday when the two sides met in August thanks to goals from Chris Wood and Marcus Antonsson.
Considering the Owls had gone so close to winning promotion just four months earlier, and that during the build-up to the Hillsborough clash there were suggestions Monk’s job was already under threat, Leeds’s first victory of the season at the fourth attempt came as something of a surprise.
United then lost their next two games either side of the international break to slip briefly into the bottom three, but, five months on, Monk has transformed his side into genuine promotion challengers.
Wednesday also had a slow start, but a 16-game run that has yielded 10 victories means Carlos Carvalhal’s men are firmly on course to reach the play-offs for the second consecutive season.
“There possibly are parallels between ourselves this season and Sheffield Wednesday last season,” added Monk ahead of taking on last season’s beaten play-off finalists.
“That is probably for you guys (in the media) to decide. I just look at our group and where we are now compared to the start of the season, we have done incredibly well. There are big improvements.
“We have moved forward (since the August win at Hillsborough), but so have Sheffield Wednesday. Nothing can be taken out of that first game and put into this one.
“Sheffield Wednesday are a very good side. Their whole squad is very experienced and they have added after a successful season last year.
“More players arrived in the summer and even more in January. They will come here after a defeat in midweek (to Brentford) and be even more determined to correct that.”
Monk will be without Lewie Coyle and Charlie Taylor tomorrow for a derby that will see Kyle Bartley and Luke Ayling once again walk a disciplinary tightrope due to being just one booking away from a two-game ban.
“I never tell a player to back off,” said Monk when asked if he would speak to either defender.
“They have to play their game. The only time I will speak to players is if it is a silly booking, like dissent or kicking the ball away. We don’t like them.
“But competing is part of the game and if a yellow card comes for that, then that’s that.”