LEEDS UNITED must learn to thrive on the responsibility of trying to end the club’s 15-year absence from the Premier League, according to playmaker Pablo Hernandez.
Head coach Marcelo Bielsa’s side tonight have a second opportunity in three days to return to the summit of the Championship when hosting West Bromwich Albion.
Victory will help make amends for Tuesday’s disappointing 1-0 defeat at Queens Park Rangers, a result that means Leeds have taken just 13 points from the last ten games.
Over the same period, leaders Norwich City and Sheffield United have claimed 18 and 23 points respectively, while only Derby County of those currently in the top half of the table have bagged fewer (12) since Boxing Day.
United’s relatively poor haul has led to accusations that the club are feeling the pressure.
“We know the importance for everyone,” said former Spain international Hernandez to The Yorkshire Post, “for the club, players, staff and the fans.
“After 14 or 15 years we have a real chance to get back to the Premier League. This is football.
“Not just at Leeds do people want this. You have 24 teams in the league. But at the moment we have five or six teams who have a good chance and in a position to fight for the same goal.
“It is not easy for us, but we know we have a good chance. We know we have pressure, but we are professional players. We have a salary and the club play us for this, and to take this responsibility.”
Bielsa will name the same XI for a third time inside seven days as Leeds look to avenge their 4-1 hammering at West Brom in November.
Darren Moore’s men are also smarting from their last fixture, a 1-0 home defeat to the Blades, and head into this third versus fourth encounter four points adrift of the Yorkshire duo.
Hernandez added: “I played a lot of years in the Spanish league and the Champions League with Valencia so I know what it is to play for something.
“You have a pressure to get results. I think it is good for us and we need to use this pressure in the right way.
“Sometimes when you have pressure you do not want the ball, you do not want mistakes. I think that we need to take this pressure, but in the opposite way.
“All the players need to show on the pitch what they can do. I am sure we can win games. I think we have shown we can beat any team in this league and we have a good chance to show this.
“We know that we have lost points in the last month. We analyse the games and we know we deserve more points, but the table is the table.
“We are in third position and, obviously, if someone told us in August that we were in this position then everyone would have said that it is a good position.
“It can be better, but we are in a great position to fight to go to the Premier League. We need to fight for this chance because in football it is difficult to have success like this in your hands (very often).
“We need to be positive and continue with the same line. We have worked for seven months and we have two and a half left. We must work the same and keep our identity.”
Bielsa, for his part, cut a desolate figure in the wake of Tuesday’s defeat at Loftus Road. He was pictured lost in thought while crouched in one of the corridors under the main stand.
By yesterday, however, the Argentinian’s spirits had been revived.
“It is completely natural to be sad after a loss,” said the 63-year-old, who has worked marvels to cajole a squad that lacks the firepower of others in the Championship into such a promising position with a dozen games to play.
“What is strange is when you are not sad after a defeat – and to be full of hope when you are playing another game soon (after) is also natural.”
Victory for Leeds in front of the live Sky cameras would mean a return to the summit for a ninth time this season.
It would also put pressure on Norwich ahead of tomorrow’s trip to Millwall, which is followed on Monday night by the Steel City derby at Hillsborough.
Asked about the race for automatic promotion, Hernandez said: “In football until the maths tell you the opposite everything can happen.
“You see the league and you know anyone can lose to bottom teams because in this part of the season they are playing to not be relegated so play with power. There are no easy games for any team.
“The important thing is to not think about anyone else.
“The key for us is to be strong at Elland Road and win our home games. That will help us reach our goal.”
Last six games: Leeds United WLDWWL West Bromwich Albion LWLWWL.
Referee: T Robinson (West Sussex).
Last time: Leeds United 2 West Bromwich Albion 3; January 20, 2007; Championship.