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Improving mentality of players is key for Leeds United boss

Caleb Ekuban reacts to a missed opportunity in Leeds United's game against Sheffield Wednesday.
Caleb Ekuban reacts to a missed opportunity in Leeds United's game against Sheffield Wednesday.

The Latest international break will give Leeds United boss Paul Heckingbottom time to work with his players, but it is improving their mentality he reckons is the most important improvement to be made in the next fortnight.

Heckingbottom is particularly concerned at the Whites’ habit of conceding first and will hammer home the message that consistently having to chase games is an underlying cause of their horror run in 2018.

With only one win since Boxing Day and only six points picked up in eight games under Heckingbottom United’s season has fallen apart and they go into the final run-in down in 14th place – a far cry from the top six position they held after their last away win at Burton on December 26.

Only bottom of the table Sunderland have a worse record in 2018 than Leeds and it is only because of their excellent start to the season that the Whites do not find themselves embroiled in a relegation scrap.

The break has clearly come at a good time, although Heckingbottom admits he has plenty of work to do ahead of the next game, which is at home to Bolton Wanderers on Good Friday.

Asked what he needed to focus on most during the break, he said: “That mentality to stop goals going in. It has to be that. It makes the game so much easier. “People can talk about styles of football, but if you’re going behind in games it makes it really difficult, really difficult. Because teams can change.

“Look at the percentages of wins when you’re going in front. It’s vital. So that’s a big thing from us.

“We’ve got a lot of players away now on international duty, which is not ideal. I’d rather it be normal week where we play Tuesday night. I want them to go away and be good with their national teams, have good experience, represent themselves well or whatever. My bigger concern is making sure they’re still focused on us, so when they come back they know exactly what’s expected.”

There were some positives to take into the break with more chances created in the 2-1 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday than in recent home games and some decent football played at times despite having to play in blizzard conditions at times.

Young striker Jay-Roy Grot finally got off the mark with his first senior goal for the club and Heckingbottom hopes that will give him more confidence.

He said: “He’s a young boy, only just turned 20 this week. As with the other young boys we’ve got in Bailey (Peacock-Farrell) and Tom (Pearce), they’ll see the difference. The Championship is unforgiving, they’re at a big football club. It’s a big jump in level for all of them and we have to keep working them and pushing them because they’re not going to stay in the team unless they perform.

“So credit to Jay, he’s taken the opportunity, he’s scored a goal.”

Heckingbottom hopes to have playmaker Samuel Saiz back for the Bolton game after he missed out last Saturday due to a hamstring injury. The same injury also ruled out left-back Laurens De Bock, but he is less likely to make a speedy return.

“Samu and Bocky have both got totally different hamstring injuries,” explained the Leeds head coach.

“Samu felt his against Reading last week in the first half, but he just thought it was tight and he carried on. But in the following days he was still feeling it and we had him assessed and he’s got a little tear in his hamstring in the tendon so we are hoping we can get him back involved for the next game.

“Bocky’s slightly different. His is more damaging, he’ll be out for a while.”