LEEDS UNITED head coach Paul Heckingbottom is only too happy to talk about his side’s chances of finishing in the top six.
Indeed, Heckingbottom hopes questions about United’s play-off prospects extend right up until May.
“The longer people are asking me that question and there’s interest in this season the better,” he said. “I want us to stay in the hunt.”
The grass would clearly be greener on the other side in the Premier League and Saturday’s win against Brentford could yet prove pivotal in helping United get there.
But the grass was too long in the eyes of Brentford chief Dean Smith, who bizarrely complained about the surface after Liam Cooper’s headed goal settled Saturday’s Championship encounter at Elland Road.
Smith’s claims were met with quizzical looks and his words provided further fuel to the fire in some ongoing jesting between the two clubs on social media.
Brentford, whose fans had been charged £44 each if paying on the gate, had first moaned about the Elland Road wifi.
“Apologies for the lack of updates so far, you’d have thought at £44 a ticket, the wifi might work,” Tweeted the club’s official account.
Smith’s claims provided United’s social media team with the perfect opportunity to post a photograph of three lawn mowers alongside the caption “well played lads”.
Crucially, United also won the battle on the pitch to rescue the club’s play-off bid following a horrible run that had seen the Whites claim just four points from a possible 27.
A return of just two points from a potential 18 within that period put paid to former head coach Thomas Christiansen.
Following a 2-1 defeat at Sheffield United and draws at home to Bristol City and at Derby County, Christiansen’s replacement Heckingbottom approached Saturday’s encounter still seeking a first win in charge with United’s previous win coming on Boxing Day.
With the Whites 11th and eight points off the play-off spots, Heckingbottom admitted victory in the game was “vital” with his team’s prospects already “slim” with 13 games remaining.
Whatever Smith thought about the grass, the long and short of it is that United kept their top-six aspirations alive with their captain getting the only goal of the game.
The longer people are asking me that question and there’s interest in this season the better,” he said. “I want us to stay in the hunt.Leeds United manager, Paul Heckingbottom
Saturday’s contest was no classic and Heckingbottom was denied the services of classy midfielder Adam Forshaw, whose wife went into labour earlier in in the day.
United’s Pablo Hernandez and Kemar Roofe also missed the game through injuries, joining Tyler Roberts, Luke Ayling and Conor Shaughnessy on the sidelines.
Heckingbottom was able to welcome back Spanish play-maker Samu Saiz for his first start since his six-game ban for spitting, but Brentford looked destined to take an early lead.
The Bees would have gone in front in the 12th minute but for a brilliant save from Felix Wiedwald, who spectacularly tipped over a powerful volley from John Egan. Florian Jozefzoon was then released one-on-one, but sent his lob over. As the Bees dominated, they did not appear to find anything wrong with the length of the grass.
But 16 minutes later Cooper was sliding to his knees in celebration on it after beating goalkeeper Daniel Bentley with a neat glancing header from Gjanni Alioski’s free-kick.
United nearly doubled their lead three minutes later, but Bentley denied Pierre-Michel Lasogga at a tight angle. Lasogga also went close to bagging a fine individual second shortly after the hour, but his effort was cleared off the line.
For Brentford, Ollie Watkins curled wide an attempt from the edge of the area and Wiedwald kept out a stinging free-kick from Alan Judge with two minutes to go. Smith also wanted a penalty for an apparent push on Neal Maupay.
Leeds, though, dug in to net a first win in 11 games though they were not helped by some awful refereeing decisions by Oliver Langford, who twice failed to play advantage with United through on goal after shirt pulls on Saiz. Langford also felt the wrath of Smith, who had various gripes.
“It looked like it was going to be one-way traffic and unfortunately the lad scores from an offside position,” said Smith, who added: “They left the grass longer to make it a slow game.”
Those claims were laughed off inside Elland Road as victory allowed questions about United’s play-off prospects to at least continue for another week. Heckingbottom, and Leeds, also had the last word. Asked if Cooper’s winning goal was offside, Heckingbottom replied: “It looked fine to me. I’ve not seen it again, but I’m not bothered.”
Leeds United: Wiedwald, Berardi, Cooper, Jansson, Anita, Phillips, O’Kane, Alioski, Saiz (Vieira 90), Dallas (Sacko 83), Lasogga (Ekuban 73). Unused substitutes: Peacock-Farrell, Denton, Pennington, Cibicki.
Brentford: Bentley, Dalsgaard, Egan, Bjelland, Barbet, Mokotjo (Marcondes 69), Woods, Jozefzoon, Sawyers (Judge 69), Watkins (Canos 59), Maupay. Unused substitutes: Daniels, McEachran, Clarke, Mepham.
Referee: O Langford (West Midlands).