CAPTAIN Jonny Howson insists Leeds United’s promotion dream is very much alive despite their derby horror show.
The Elland Road promotion hopefuls produced arguably their worst display since losing 5-2 at Barnsley in September as Sheffield United coasted to a comfortable win.
Little passion, no quality and a surprising lack of heart just about summed up Leeds’ efforts as their record of not having won at Bramall Lane since April, 1992, was extended.
Such a poor display inevitably led to questions being asked over the weekend as to the ability of Simon Grayson’s side lasting the pace in the promotion race.
But Howson, pictured right, said: “The last time we lost against Swansea, we responded by winning our next two games. We have to do the same now.
“A lot of people wrote us off then (after losing 3-0) because we had fallen eight points behind second place. But, within 10 days, that gap was back down to two. It shows how quickly things can change.
“There have been a lot of freak results with teams around us dropping points. After beating us, Swansea didn’t win any of their next three games.
“It shows there will be twists and turns along the way. We just have to focus on our own jobs.”
As important as concentrating solely on their own fortunes is to Leeds, no doubt Grayson’s players were cheered by results elsewhere on Saturday.
Due to the derby at Bramall Lane kicking off at 1pm, it meant they could only sit and hope for a few favours from other sides during the return coach trip to Elland Road
In the end, the damage inflicted on Leeds’ promotion push was not too bad with just Swansea and runaway leaders QPR winning.
Nottingham Forest lost to the Swans, while both Norwich City and Cardiff City were held to draws at Hull City and Millwall, respectively.
Below the top six, there was further good news as Burnley lost at Bristol City and Leicester City were beaten at home by Portsmouth.
Only Reading, in fact, of the sides hoping to break into the play-offs won – meaning fifth-placed Leeds are still four points clear of the chasing pack.
What United can not do, however, is afford too many more performances like the abject one they put in against the Blades.
Manager Grayson said: “I am hugely disappointed and frustrated. We got out of the game what we deserved and that was nothing.
“I told the players beforehand it was going to be a horrible pitch and the game would be a scrap. But they (Sheffield United) seemed to want the result more than us. That is hugely disappointing because we are fifth in the table. Three points against Sheffield United would have put real pressure on the other teams around us. Too many of our players played as individuals and not a team. We didn’t do the chasing and harrying.
“The game was lost all over the pitch, not just one area. We just didn’t compete. You have to earn the right to play.
“It doesn’t matter who the opposition are, that is a basic part of any game. We defended sloppily as a team and that disappoints me.”
On the incident that led to substitute Billy Paynter being sent off in the closing stages, Grayson hinted Leeds would not be appealing.
He said: “The red card rounded off a bad day. The referee said it was a head-butt. Billy is adamant he didn’t. We have looked at the DVD and it is a bit inconclusive so it may be one of those we just have to put up with.
“If you don’t have the footage then it is a waste of time appealing as the FA don’t change decisions too easily.”
A bad day at the office for Leeds was, by its very nature, an excellent one for Sheffield United – even allowing for the pre-match mix-up that saw six loan players initially named on their team-sheet, in contravention of Football League rules that state only five are allowed.
The mistake was spotted before the game, however, and Marcus Bent was withdrawn to leave the Blades with just six substitutes.
On his side’s win, manager Micky Adams said: “The doubters and the cynics will have had a field day after last week (when the Blades lost 3-0 to Watford) but I sat the players down and told them that we can turn that into a positive. I said that we had done enough talking and now we just had to go out there and do it. That is what we did today.
“I am excited because I want to see a confident Sheffield United side and I haven’t seen that since I have been here.
“There is a togetherness and a spirit about the place. In fairness I have never had to question their commitment.”
The Blades received a further boost after the game when it was revealed the knee injury that saw Nick Montgomery forced out of the action is not serious as the midfielder should be available once the Championship resumes in a fortnight.