AS a title-winner in his native Sweden, Pontus Jansson knows all about the pressures that can accompany a run-in.
The 26-year-old was part of the Malmo side that held its nerve in 2013 to clinch what was just the club’s third championship success inside a quarter-of-a-century.
There were wobbles along the way, as was perhaps to be expected considering the squad’s average age of just 23, but the most decorated club in Sweden finally achieved their goal with a game to spare.
Three or so years on from pipping IFK Gothenburg to top spot back home, Jansson is again embroiled in a hard-fought tussle for success in the English second tier.
Leeds United have spent the past four months in the top six and look increasingly likely to extend their campaign beyond May 7 with a tilt at the play-offs. No-one at Elland Road, though, is taking anything for granted, even though United boast an eight-point advantage over the chasing pack.
“We are in a good position but there is a lot to do,” Jansson told The Yorkshire Post. “After Tuesday’s game, everyone was disappointed to have conceded the late equaliser. But, later, we realised it was a good point.
“If someone had offered to me before Fulham (on Tuesday night) that we would draw 1-1 then I would have said ‘yes’. It was a tough away game against a good team and we were missing Chris Wood and Luke Ayling, who are two big players for us.”
Fulham, considered by many seasoned Leeds watchers to be the most impressive team to visit Elland Road this season, needed a stoppage-time equaliser from Tom Cairney to rescue a point.
But the Londoners once again underlined their potential threat in the play-offs if any of the sides sitting above Slavisa Jokanovic’s men can be reined in during the final two months of the campaign. In that respect, avoiding defeat at Craven Cottage was a must for Monk’s men.
“The pressure is similar,” said Jansson when asked if this season’s push for the Premier League could be compared to his title success back home. “At Malmo, when we won the league the team was very young. And, like at Leeds, we just focused on game by game.
Every game is treated like a final and QPR is our next final.Leeds United defender, Pontus Jansson.
“By doing that, we did not feel under pressure. No-one spoke of winning the league, just the next game. The manager here is like that and our results show this is the right way to do it. Every game is treated like a final and QPR is our next final.”
United’s draw at Craven Cottage was notable for perhaps the first time an entire back four had been eulogised in song.
The 7,000-strong travelling army of fans who descended on west London chanted ‘Luke Ayling and Berardi, Pontus Jansson and Kyle Bartley’ over and over again on the Putney End in recognition of a defence that has provided the backbone to this season’s promotion push.
That Ayling was absent due to the birth of his daughter with Charlie Taylor playing in his place mattered not a jot, though if the Academy graduate retains his place then a re-working may be required in the near future.
Either way, the chant was a very public appreciation via what are usually the preserve of the more glamorous attacking players or cult heroes such as Jansson.
“I heard the song on Tuesday and thought it was brilliant,” added the Swede.
“Everyone plays a part here. Look at Charlie Taylor, he had not played for three months before Fulham but no-one could have guessed that. This is a team but it is good that the defence has a song. I like it very much and the others feel the same.”
Even allowing for Chris Wood’s 25 goals, the defence has to be the biggest improvement at Elland Road under Monk. A glance back to the opening day, when Leeds were all over the place at QPR, is ample illustration of that with the back four looking so horribly porous at Loftus Road that a repeat of the last few seasons’ struggles seemed on the cards.
Jansson’s arrival on loan from Torino in August and the understanding he immediately struck up with Bartley changed all that, as Leeds will hope to prove today when attempting to avenge what remains their heaviest loss of 2016-17.
“QPR are our next opponents and they are one of the teams I have not played,” added Jansson. “The away game happened before I had joined.
“I knew Leeds were interested a few weeks before I signed so I did watch a few games. But not the one against QPR.
“The first I watched on TV was Fulham at home, the 1-1 draw. I also followed the results because Marcus Antonsson was already here. So, I knew the result (at Loftus Road).
“Although I have not played against QPR, I know it will be tough – as they are on a good run and were in the Premier League a couple of years ago.”
Monk first noticed Jansson’s potential in August, 2013, during a Europa League game between Swansea City and Malmo.
The Leeds head coach was sitting on the bench that night and hugely impressed by Jansson, who, on the back of his appearances at Elland Road, earned an international recall last November.
“We have one (World Cup) qualifier (at home to Belarus) and one friendly against Portugal,” added Jansson about the upcoming international break. “It is always nice to play for your country.
“I will go away for the two games, you do not turn down your country as it is a big honour for any player. But then I will be back and totally focused on Leeds.”