Excitement building as Leeds United target finish line

Leeds United's Kemar Roofe.
Leeds United's Kemar Roofe.
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IF Kemar Roofe needs further proof as to just how much difference a year can make in the often turbulent life and times of Leeds United, it comes the moment the striker steps outside his front door.

“People want to stop and talk to you,” says the 26-year-old with a smile. “They want to say how amazing it is. It is refreshing.

“Last season, we got to the point where we were not fighting for anything and everyone kind of just lost interest around the city. But now the excitement is building every week.”

Roofe, with 14 goals the top scorer at Elland Road despite missing two lengthy chunks of the season, is right to embrace a feelgood factor fuelled by United potentially standing just four games from ending a 15-year top flight absence.

Twelve months ago, the mood surrounding the club where Roofe has plied his trade for the past three years was very different.

Not only were results poor, Leeds having slid from likely play-off hopefuls at the turn of the year to the very epitome of mid-table mediocrity.

But, off the field, United had also become something of a political football as everyone from the city’s MPs to human rights campaigners lined up to give the club a kicking over a controversial end of season tour to Myanmar.

Coming on the back of the botched badge relaunch that had supporters up in arms a few months earlier, Leeds looked to be a club that had totally lost its way.

Fast forward to today, however, and the picture could not be more contrasting with Elland Road once again a happy, if slightly nervous, place to be.

‘Marching On Together’ is no longer just the club’s anthem, with the bond formed between Marcelo Bielsa’s side and supporters so strong that it may well carry Leeds all the way back to the Premier League.

First, though, is a final quartet of games that scream ‘potential banana skin’. Wigan Athletic, tomorrow’s visitors, are fighting for their Championship lives, while the Easter Monday trip to Brentford takes United to a ground where they have not won in five visits.

Then comes Aston Villa, the second tier’s form team, before the curtain comes down on the regular season with a trip to already relegated Ipswich Town.

Ten points from those final fixtures and Leeds are up, no matter how Sheffield United fare during the run-in. Roofe, again expected to be on the bench against the Latics, admits it is a tantalising prospect.

“Everyone is under the same umbrella,” he said. “We are always focused on the next game. But, obviously, we all dream about promotion and promotion is our aim.

“There are times where we have lost a game and we have dropped down a place in the league. But nothing changes, in that we just move on to the next game.

“We have changed places with different teams many times throughout this whole season but our mentality and our work ethic has never changed.”

Amid the air of excitement that only grew last weekend after Leeds extended their advantage over the Blades from one point to three via a derby win at home to Sheffield Wednesday, Bielsa has urged his players to remain calm.

Whether this proves easier said than done in front of another expectant sell-out crowd tomorrow remains to be seen but Roofe is confident the players will heed their head coach’s call.

“The characters we have got in the building help,” added the forward. “The squad we have got and the team chemistry, everyone is just on it.”

Asked if there was a belief among the squad they can beat anyone in the Championship, Roofe replied: “Yes, definitely.

“That belief comes from what we have done throughout the whole season, starting from pre-season. We work so hard during the week in training that, sometimes, the games are easier than the training. Those are the times when we can actually enjoy it.”

On the challenge posed by a Wigan side who are just two points clear of Rotherham United in the final relegation place, Roofe added: “At this time of the season, results are important for everyone.

“Everyone is fighting for different things – for automatic, for the play-offs or for survival.”

Liam Cooper is a major doubt after suffering a muscle injury in the warm-up last Saturday that prevented the club captain from facing the Owls.

Gaetano Berardi stands by to again deputise as Leeds go in search of a win that would keep the promotion push on track.

“This is what dreams are made of,” added Roofe, who is two goals ahead of nearest challenger, Pablo Hernandez, in the race for the Elland Road golden boot.

“Just walking my dogs in the evening and getting stopped, everyone is just loving it.

“The vibes you get from people, it is something special. Hopefully, we can just do it – not just for us but for the whole city.”