KALVIN PHILLIPS does not hold back in assessing Leeds United’s ambitions under head coach Marcelo Bielsa this season.
“We obviously want to win the Championship,” admits the 22-year-old midfielder.
Those hopes were dealt a blow at Ewood Park on Saturday as Bielsa’s Whites fell to a second Championship defeat of the season with Blackburn Rovers joining Birmingham City in conquering United.
Top after eight games, a second defeat of the season left United fourth but still only two points off top spot with seven of the division’s top eight also falling to losses.
In any case, there is no panic on the part of Phillips who remains confident in United’s promotion push and believes the Whites were toppled by an “underrated” side in Blackburn who are up to seventh.
Having notably dazzled in early-season victories against Stoke City, Derby County and Norwich City, Leeds were unable to hit their free-flowing stride at Ewood Park, except for when netting a delightful equaliser in first-half stoppage time.
In true Bielsa fashion, a move that started with ’keeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell ended with Mateusz Klich slamming the ball home from close range following an exquisite pass from Samuel Saiz to Gaetano Berardi who laid on the assist.
Leeds, though, were twice undone from corners with headers from Danny Graham and Darragh Lenihan winning the day for Blackburn and condemning Leeds to a second defeat. Having taken 12 points from their first five games, United have now amassed just eight points from a last possible 24. But Phillips says confidence in United’s promotion charge has not been dented with the midfielder declaring that dips in form are inevitable and he’s now looking forward to righting the wrongs in Wednesday night’s clash with Ipswich at Elland Road.
“We’re always confident of doing that,” said Phillips, asked about United’s prospects of recapturing their early form and returning to the top of the pile.
“It’s only the early stages. We’ve had a dip in form but that happens in football and with the more work we do and the harder we work, we will get better and better. I can’t wait to get going on Wednesday.
Morale is great. We’ve got a good set of lads, a good set of leaders, and there’s never one time where we think we’re not good enough to go out and win a game. We’re never not a team, we’re always connected and that will show throughout season.Kalvin Phillips
“Morale is great. We’ve got a good set of lads, a good set of leaders, and there’s never one time where we think we’re not good enough to go out and win a game. We’re never not a team, we’re always connected and that will show throughout season.”
In front of nearly 8,000 travelling Whites fans, victory at Blackburn would have sent United top and Leeds were boosted by the return of Kemar Roofe, Gaetano Berardi and Pablo Hernandez from injury though the latter only made the bench.
Hernandez had barely sat down before the Whites were undone in the second minute when Graham outfoxed the Whites’ defence to head home Harrison Reed’s corner.
Further Rovers chances were then squandered through Bradley Dack and Alan Armstrong with Pontus Jansson and Saiz going close for Leeds before Klich’s equalsier.
But United were ultimately undone from a corner for the second time in the 70th minute when Lenihan this time headed past ’keeper Peacock-Farrell.
Leeds were asked to respond for a second time and would have done so but for a fine save from David Raya to deny Klich as Blackburn held on to move just two points behind Leeds.
“I think they are very underrated,” said Phillips. “The way that they play is very direct and it put us on the back foot in the first half. They have got very good players and they defended really well which made it tough for us so give credit to them.”
Blackburn Rovers: Raya, Reed (Conway 69), Smallwood (Rodwell 58), Armstrong, Graham (Brereton 63), Mulgrew, Bell, Dack, Lenihan, Evans, Bennet. Unused substitutes: Leutwiler, Williams, Rothwell, Conway, Palmer.
Leeds United: Peacock-Farrell, Berardi (Shackleton 86), Jansson, Cooper, Dallas (Clarke 76), Phillips, Roberts, Saiz, Klich, Alioski, Roofe (Hernandez 70). Unused substitutes: Blackman, Pearce, Forshaw, Baker. Referee: D England (S Yorkshire).