AFTER a defeat as chastening as the one Leeds United suffered in front of the live Sky cameras on their last outing, tonight’s visit from the runaway leaders hardly seems like good timing.
Paul Heckingbottom, however, insists that tackling Wolverhampton Wanderers in front of another live TV audience is just what the Elland Road club needs.
“For me, it is the perfect fixture because I want to see a response,” the Leeds chief told The Yorkshire Post. “If there is not that response then there are lots of questions to be answered. That is the way I look at it.
“I want to learn as much as I can as quickly as I can because in terms of long-term decisions, I will know more and I will be able to make better decisions.
“It is the perfect fixture without a doubt. I want three points, I want the roof to come off Elland Road, I want goals and a clean sheet. But it is going to take a really big performance to achieve that.
“Sometimes a result hides the performance so I want both. Long-term, you want to perform well every week, to get results week in, week out. Three points are what it is all about but if you are neglecting to put things right and relying on luck, you are not going to keep picking up points.”
Leeds were soundly beaten at Molineux in December, Ronaldo Vieira’s red card on the hour coming amid a 4-1 defeat for the Yorkshire side.
Heckingbottom also lost in the Black Country when at the helm of Barnsley, albeit in heart-breaking fashion as Alfred N’Diaye netted the winner for the hosts in the ‘93rd minute’.
The Reds had equalised in the first minute of stoppage time through Adam Jackson in the September 23 tussle, which ended with Wanderers having joined Leeds at the top of the Championship with 20 points from nine games.
Those heady days seem a long way away now for Leeds, whose abject 3-0 defeat at Middlesbrough last Friday night surely killed any lingering hopes of gate-crashing the top six.
I have been watching the Championship for a lot of years. Wolves are one of the best teams I have seen in this league.Leeds chief Paul Heckingbottom
“Wolves are a team we know well,” added Heckingbottom, whose last point as Barnsley manager came from a goalless draw at home to the leaders in mid-January.
“They have got talented players but they are up there because they are the best team without the ball, they are the best team on the counter-attack in my eyes and they are a threat from set-plays as well.
“Add into the mix the quality they have got on the ball, especially when they go in front, and that is why they are such a good side. They have got a bit of everything.
“I know what they are going to bring and there is no reason for them to change anything.
“I have been watching the Championship for a lot of years. Wolves are one of the best teams I have seen in this league.”
Felix Wiedwald, whose struggles in goal for Leeds have been a feature of this season, will keep his place tonight despite another poor display at the Riverside.
Back-up goalkeeper Andy Lonergan, another who has not convinced between the posts this term, has a neck injury so will miss the televised game, as will Kemar Roofe (calf).
Pablo Hernandez has returned to training after missing the last two games with a muscle strain but Heckingbottom will not take any risks with the influential Spaniard.
The Leeds chief’s first five games have yielded just one win and five points. The 40-year-old has, though, been given a crash course in the failings that have made this another wasted season at Elland Road.
This and what happens in the final 11 games will make up Heckingbottom’s mind as to what needs doing in the summer to make United genuine promotion contenders next term. Tonight’s game with the leaders, therefore, will be the ideal time for those players who do want to stick around to buck up their ideas.
The United chief said: “Wolves are the best team in the league so far, plus there will be a big crowd and a big atmosphere. Put it this way, there is no reason why you wouldn’t be 100 per cent up for this game, looking forward to it and excited about it.
“It is one of the games you’d love to be playing in. There couldn’t be a better game for us than this one.”
As to whether changes in personnel are planned following Friday’s disappointing showing at Middlesbrough, Heckingbottom replied: “When you win, sometimes the easy thing to do is to keep the same team but it’s not always the right thing.
“Sometimes the easy thing to do is make a lot of changes because you would be justified in doing that but that won’t be the reason. It will be about how we see players react (to Friday’s result) and how they bounce back.”
Last six games: Leeds United DLLDDWL, Wolverhampton Wanderers WWWDDL.
Referee: T Robinson (West Sussex).
Last time: Leeds United 0 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1; April 17, 2017; Championship.