Leeds can fight back from doom and gloom, says Pugh

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DANNY PUGH has known difficult times before at Leeds United.

For a start, when becoming Kevin Blackwell’s first signing during the summer of 2004 he joined a club in turmoil as the after-effects of relegation from the Premier League rocked Elland Road.

Then, as United’s hopes of a return to the Premier League were dashed by Watford in the play-off final a couple of years later, Pugh was a frustrated spectator in the crowd after being frozen out.

This sense of being the forgotten man at Leeds grew even further once the squad returned to pre-season training later that summer when the midfielder was left behind by mistake on a ferry in Norway as the rest of his team-mates drove off on the team coach.

So, as Pugh surveys an admittedly difficult week for the club he returned to just last September, the midfielder is perhaps able to bring some perspective to the travails that have left supporters despairing.

“It has not been the best of weeks,” said the 29-year-old when talking to the Yorkshire Post ahead of today’s Yorkshire derby at home to Doncaster Rovers. “Anyone can see that.

“To lose twice (to Brighton and Coventry) in the last minute was a real sickener, particularly as they were both games that were winnable. There is no other way of describing that than as ‘disappointing’, especially after the way we beat Bristol City at their place the previous week.

“But we shouldn’t get carried away with any doom and gloom. There is still a lot to be happy about at the club, certainly compared to when I first signed (from Manchester United in the deal that took Alan Smith to Old Trafford).

“Back then, all sorts were going on. Leeds had just gone down and no-one knew what was happening. It was unbelievable at times. On my first day (of pre-season), there were still a few of the Premier League lads here but it was clear they wouldn’t be here for long.

“Most left and, day to day, there were about three or four new faces. There were lads on loan, trialists, you name it.

“Basically, it was a case of starting afresh as a club. Players, new manager, new staff – it was a massive overhaul of everything.

“The main thing was establishing ourselves in the Championship before kicking on the following season, which is what we did only to lose the play-off final.

“It was a decent achievement to finish where we did that season (14th) with all that was going on.

“For the club, that first year (in the Championship) was difficult but I still loved it. Those first few months were certainly a time when I didn’t get bored.

“I was a young lad so didn’t really know what to expect as the transfer to Leeds was the first of my career. It was the first time I had been away from my home comforts.

“It was an exciting time and even better that I was playing regularly. We were always kept on our toes by the changes and I loved that.”

Pugh made 38 appearances for Leeds during that first season at Elland Road and scored five goals, just two less than eventual top scorer David Healey.

The following campaign was, however, rather different with Blackwell instead turning to experience as Leeds reached the play-off final. Pugh made just one start with another 11 appearances coming from the bench but, even so, he looks back on his first stint at Elland Road with only fond memories.

He said: “I haven’t got a bad thing to say about the first two years. The camaraderie and team spirit of that squad was great and probably caused by the turmoil we went through.

“It got everyone pulling together as a squad and that is maybe what we can look at now. When things aren’t going well, that is when the characters have to come to the fore.

“That is what we have to do here after what has been a disappointing week. Everyone wants the same thing, which is to get Leeds in the Premier League.”

Pugh was brought back to Elland Road from Stoke City by Simon Grayson in a loan deal that was made permanent for £500,000 once the transfer window opened in January.

He has since become a fixture in the side and has 23 appearances to his name along with two goals.

He said: “I have enjoyed being back. The last few weeks have been difficult with changing manager and so on. But I am still thoroughly enjoying my time at Leeds.

“I believe we can get back into the play-offs. The Championship is a crazy league so nothing is decided yet. There are 15 games to go and plenty of points to play for.

“If we can kick on then there is no reason we can’t get in those play-off positions again. It will be a good atmosphere against Doncaster with it being a local derby and we are all looking forward to it.”

At the age of 29, Pugh is now one of the senior professionals at Elland Road and someone for the younger players to look up to – just as he did with the likes of Paul Butler, Neil Sullivan and Sean Gregan after joining Leeds for the first time.

He said: “We have quite a few young lads in the dressing room but if you look at the lads then it is an exciting team. There are some top, top players here.

“It doesn’t matter how old or young you are then these are players who can play. It is still exciting times.

“The last two games have not been great but there is no reason for as much doom and gloom as some are making out.

“If we get back-to-back wins now then it is all change. We have to kick on. We play a few sides in the top six (in early March) and we can pull them in. To come out with nothing was vastly disappointing.

“Doncaster is now a massive, massive game for us. Now it is up to us to show our mettle and pick things up to go again.

“It was disappointing not to follow up the win at Bristol City. Our training after that game was really good but then we lost against Brighton and it knocked us.

“We have to sort that out.

“The belief is still there in the squad and we know we can get out of this dip in form.”