After Leeds United failed to get the win they needed to keep their play-off hopes alive head coach Garry Monk admitted his players were not quite ready to handle the pressure of fighting for promotion this year.
The Whites have made big strides and will finish in seventh place barring a football miracle on the last day of the season, but they have effectively blown a great position by collecting just five points from their last seven matches.
Inexperience has played a part in the collapse according to Monk, who saw his attempt to deliver promotion to the Premier League at the first attempt for the Whites realistically ended on Saturday with a 3-3 draw in an amazing game with Norwich. That left United three points behind Fulham in the EFL Championship and a much inferior goal difference that would require Leeds to win by as many as 12 goals in their final match at Wigan Athletic while Fulham would also have to lose at Sheffield Wednesday.
Ironically, Leeds have a good comparable goal difference to all their other play-off rivals and their tally of 74 points would be enough to clinch a top six finish in many other years. But the fact is they have missed a golden chance to extend their campaign beyond next Sunday.
“It’s difficult to be critical of the group because of how much they’ve given the club and how far they’ve improved, but the reality is that the majority aren’t quite ready for this situation right now,” said United boss Monk.
“At this moment in time, maybe the group aren’t quite ready to deal with this or face it. That’s not a criticism of them. It’s just a fact, I think. A lot of the young players here have never been in this situation.
“It’s just one step too far –handling high pressure and fighting for something so big at a massive club with huge expectations.
“That’s natural. They’ve done their best with it, but it’s a bit too soon.
“In the future, with the things they’ve improved on, it’ll allow the club to fight again.”
Monk is proud of the way his team have conducted themselves for much of the season and the way they went down fighting, coming from three down to get their draw with Norwich and almost nicking it at the end to keep the hopes alive.
He added: “In this crucial period you have to be able to play like we did in the second half – under pressure, but from the start of a game, rather than in adversity or when you’re losing.
“That will be the lesson to be learned and that’s the way it is.
“But (the way the team fought back) typified this group. It’s something we’re all proud of and it’s something we had to address here, where mentally players could deal with being at a big club.
“Our only objective was to improve football matters and improve what we felt was a fragmented relationship between the club, the fans and the players. We’ve done that.
“We could have had an empty stadium a half-time, which I wouldn’t have blamed them for, but you could see on the lap of honour how many stayed and supported us.”
Monk has certainly been backed by the fans and now wants to reward them by finishing the season properly at Wigan this Sunday.