Preston North End v Leeds United: Whites are keen to apply pressure on Blades

Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips duels with Gareth Barry, of West Bromwich Albion, in last month's Championship game at Elland Road (Picture: Bruce Rollinson).
Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips duels with Gareth Barry, of West Bromwich Albion, in last month's Championship game at Elland Road (Picture: Bruce Rollinson).
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LEEDS UNITED’S Kalvin Phillips is adamant victory tonight would pile the pressure back on Sheffield United in the race for the Premier League.

The Elland Road club travel to Preston North End looking for three points that would be enough to wrestle back second place from the Blades.

With Chris Wilder’s side not in action until tomorrow night at Birmingham City, Phillips believes this gives Leeds the opportunity to strike a telling blow in what now appears to be a two-way Yorkshire scrap to join leaders Norwich City in clinching automatic promotion.

“It would be nice to get a win and put a bit of pressure on Sheffield United,” said the 23-year-old midfielder.

“We did it last week. We put pressure on them and they had a bad result (when losing at home to Bristol City).

“Now it has flipped over again this week, but this is going to be one of them that goes right down to the wire.

“We have got to keep doing our bit. Hopefully after Preston we can chill, relax and then watch Sheffield United get beat.”

The two Uniteds have been engaged in the footballing equivalent of pass the parcel in recent weeks. Second place has changed hands no fewer than five times since the second weekend of March.

Just who will be in possession of the final automatic berth when the music pauses again shortly after 9.30pm tomorrow remains to be seen, but Leeds need a response against Preston following the disappointment of Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Birmingham, a setback that allowed the Blades to leapfrog their rivals via victory over Alex Neil’s men at Preston.

“There is no reason why we can’t go on and get promotion automatically,” added Phillips, honoured on Sunday at the annual Football League awards night as a member of the Championship team of the year.

“We have been playing really well and it is just the results that have not come our way, especially in the last game against Birmingham. If we keep playing like we are then we have got a really good chance.

“It is all about handling the emotion. Last week we were all buzzing because we had taken second spot again (after beating Millwall). This week we lose against Birmingham.

“But that is part of the game and it is part of the Championship. It is exciting times and whether there are highs or lows it is always a good thing that you are fighting for second place.

“I know a few people (at other clubs), like Billy Sharp at Sheffield United. You speak to them, but it is just about how they are doing, as a family and so on not really talking about football. The time when you can talk about football is after it is finished. Hopefully I can speak to Billy and say, ‘All the best in the play-offs’.”

Asked what missing out on the top two would mean, Phillips replied: “Obviously it will be tough, but we have not really thought about that.

“We just think about getting the win every game we play. We will see at the end of the season who goes up and who doesn’t.”

United make the trip to Deepdale with talisman Pablo Hernandez a doubt. He left Birmingham on Saturday in a protective boot after suffering an ankle injury.

Kemar Roofe, the club’s top scorer, will come in if the Spanish playmaker fails a fitness test on a night when Bielsa is expected to revert to a 4-1-4-1 formation after starting with a back three at St Andrews.

Phillips, having come through the youth ranks at Leeds, appreciates more than most what ending the club’s 15-year absence from the top flight would mean to the city if Bielsa’s side can pip the Blades to runners-up spot.

“I always feel the buzz,” he added. “Everyone feels a bit of pressure, but my family are Leeds mad so after Birmingham they were saying, ‘What happened? How did you lose?’

“It is part of the game and it is part of Leeds. I will always be proud of what we are doing. We have had a really good season.

“I am more Leeds than anyone you can get, really. But the foreign lads who have come in, they have understood what type of club this is. There is no tension, really. We are a good group and we never really have any tension.”

United head to Deepdale almost a year to the day from their last visit. A 3-1 defeat left the club 14th in the table and continued what had been a miserable 2018, Leeds having won just one of 18 games under Thomas Christiansen and then Paul Heckingbottom at that stage.

“We have done really well this season,” added Phillips when asked about how much things have changed in the intervening 12 months. “As a team, we have been brilliant. I don’t think anyone expected us to do as well as we have. It is an exciting time to be involved.”

Last six games: Preston North End DWWWLL Leeds United WWWLWL.

Referee: R Jones (Cleveland).

Last time: Preston North End 3 Leeds United 1; April 10, 2018; Championship.