Leeds United not safe yet, warns Noel Whelan, ahead of Steve Evans' return to Rotherham United
LEEDS United pundit Noel Whelan has warned his former Whites side to forget about any thoughts of being automatically safe from relegation.
The ex-striker says United cannot rest until a bottom-three finish is mathematically impossible ahead of Saturday’s showdown at Neil Warnock’s Rotherham United.
Thirteenth-placed Leeds are 10 points clear of the Championship dropzone with just nine games left to play and eight teams between United and the division’s bottom three.
But one of that octet, Huddersfield Town, walloped the Whites 4-1 in the club’s most recent fixture a week last Saturday at Elland Road and victory for fifth-bottom Rotherham this weekend would take the Millers just five points behind Leeds.
With a game in hand, relegation remains a distinct long shot – United are 250-1 to go down with Marathon Bet – but Whelan nonetheless insists it is dangerous – and the wrong attitude – to merely assume Leeds United are now safe.
Assessing whether there was any danger of United being dragged into a late relegation dogfight, Whelan admitted: “There’s always a danger while there’s points there and it’s mathematically possible that you can drop in there.
“I don’t think anybody should be resting and thinking they are safe until it’s actually mathematically sealed that you can’t go down.
“You’ve got to keep playing for every single point until the end of the season and it’s about where we can finish as well.
“You want to finish as high up the league as possible and that should be the aim for the Leeds United players – where can we finish the season? How good are we?”
Despite the disappointment of the recent West Yorkshire derby, United are actually only one point off the division’s top half and would jump above 12th-placed Wolves if they win their game in hand.
Club captain Sol Bamba summed up the predicament Leeds in the aftermath of the club’s impressive win at Blackburn, admitting: “one week we talk about the play-offs, the next week we are going down.”
Saturday’s opponents Rotherham looked every inch booked for relegation following five losses from their last seven games in February but former Whites boss Warnock looks like masterminding another great escape act with the Millers unbeaten in their last five games having picked up 13 points out of a possible 15.
Leeds are next and Whelan admitted: “It now becomes a very, very important game for both clubs.
“Once again we can understand what Rotherham are playing for but Leeds are playing for their pride and to get back into a good mental state after taking a bit of a battering by Huddersfield.
“But Rotherham are in a good way at the moment with the results and turnaround in performances and they are fighting for survival.
“It now becomes a very, very important game and it puts something on the game rather than it being just a nothing game.
“This is a game where the two teams have got to gain something from it.
“Leeds have got to show a performance to prove that the players deserve to play in that shirt and then there’s the professionalism and the money they are getting paid.
“And Rotherham are fighting for their lives. They want to stay in this Championship and at the moment they are doing a good job about giving themselves half a chance.
“It turns out to be a really, really interesting game and a difficult one for both sides.”
An away win would also be a much-needed tonic for Whites head coach Steve Evans whose position remains under scrutiny with chairman Massimo Cellino set to decide the Glaswegian’s fate at the end of the current campaign.
Whelan says the bulk of United’s players are also playing for their futures.
Whelan reasoned: “Coming to the end of the season they are playing for their pride and they are playing to see if they can fit in next season at Leeds United.
“If not then they will be on their way and there’s not many bigger clubs around than Leeds United.”