Lewis Grabban’s 29th-minute header was enough to give the hosts victory at Villa Park as Leeds fell to their 10th defeat of 2018.
Villa, who at the very least are guaranteed a play-off spot, have played one game more than second-placed Fulham, while Cardiff City – a point better off than Steve Bruce’s side – have played two games fewer.
Whites boss Heckingbottom, whose tenure is coming under increasing pressure, suffered his seventh defeat in 13 games since taking over as Leeds manager, while Villa boss Steve Bruce extended his managerial record of never having been beaten at home by Leeds to eight games.
Heckingbottom, who has now tasted victory only twice in 19 games since his arrival from Barnsley, believes he is getting a “better idea” of his players all the time.
“We learned a lot about the players and I am reluctant to make any negative judgements on the youngsters,” said Heckingbottom. “We need a hunger and drive and for the players to earn their place.
“Whatever changes are made we want to produce a stronger squad and I am getting a better idea of the team every day.”
Regarding his side’s performance at Villa Park, where Leeds slumped to a third loss in four games, Heckingbottom added: “We gave away the ball too cheaply in the first half and it cost us. That is what was disappointing in the first period.
“We generally defended well but we should have been tighter to have prevented the goal. We lost the ball too cheaply.
“In the second half we had more possession and needed to score in our best spell in the first half hour of this spell when we chased the game.”