PAUL HECKINGBOTTOM has warmed up for a run of five consecutive games that pits Leeds United against opponents with all to play for in the Championship by urging his side to “demoralise” a few teams.
The Elland Road club head to Fulham tonight for a clash that offers the Londoners an opportunity to put pressure on second-placed Cardiff City in the race for automatic promotion.
After that, clashes with relegation-threatened Sunderland and Barnsley sandwich a double-header with Preston North End and Aston Villa as the season heads towards its climax early next month.
After a dreadful run that has brought just 11 points from 15 league outings, Leeds are playing for little but pride in these final fixtures but that is not the case for the likes of Fulham.
“We are playing against teams who are all fighting for points for different reasons and we can use that to our advantage and for motivation,” said Heckingbottom. “We can go and upset teams, demoralise teams. We have got to have that sort of mindset. The last thing we want to do is float through the remainder of the season.
“They are a really good side and I like watching them. But I would like beating them more.”
Getting the better of Fulham is easier said than done. Their last defeat was in mid-December, while their 14 league outings since the turn of the year have yielded 11 wins and three draws.
That impressive run includes a 3-1 win over Heckingbottom’s Barnsley at Oakwell – his penultimate game in charge before moving to Leeds.
“A win at Fulham would be a big statement,” he added. “Any team in the league, to go there and get a result you would be delighted and we are no different.
They are a really good side and I like watching them. But I would like beating them more.Leeds United boss, Paul Heckingbottom
“They are in a patch of form now, which they have been in since the turn of the year, where they have been the best team in the league.
“It is going to be difficult but it is something we are looking forward to. We can go there with that mindset - this is a real scalp if we take it.”
United head south with the same squad that beat Bolton Wanderers 2-1 on Good Friday.
It means there is again no place for Tyler Roberts, the West Bromwich striker who is still waiting for his debut despite moving to Elland Road in January.
He suffered a shin injury in training just a few days after completing his £2.5m switch and it could be next season before supporters get a glimpse of the striker.
“It is pointless us rushing him,” said Heckingbottom. “It is probably touch and go about when he is fit with regards the end of the season but I would like for him and Luke Ayling to be back with the players before we break up for the summer.
“For their peace of mind and my peace of mind. I have been in their position where you are injured towards the end of a season.
“You just want to be back playing before the end because if you are not, in the back of your mind you are still injured all the way through June.
“Forget minutes on the pitch, that is my goal with them. It is something I have spoken to them about, and Luke in particular.”
Last six games: Fulham WWWWDW, Leeds United DWLLDLW.
Referee: P Bankes (Merseyside).
Last time: Fulham 1 Leeds United 1; March 7, 2017; Championship.