By Mark Walker, PA
Leeds boss Sam Allardyce said it is “do or die” for his relegation battlers in Sunday’s Premier League game at West Ham.
The Yorkshire club, third from bottom and one point from safety, have just two fixtures left in their bid to retain their top-flight status.
Allardyce, halfway through his salvage mission after replacing former boss Javi Gracia with four games remaining, agreed Sunday’s trip to the capital was effectively a ‘cup final’.
The former England manager said: “That’s it. Do or die lads. Fight. Fight to the end.
“But fight with the right temperament and have the right amount of control and don’t lose control. And certainly don’t lose the game-plan.”
Victories for relegation rivals Nottingham Forest and Everton on Saturday, against Arsenal and at Wolves respectively, would leave Leeds under severe pressure to collect all three points at the London Stadium.
Allardyce said only time will tell if his players will cope with the pressure.
“I think that it is a difficult situation if you find that the teams down there on the Saturday have picked up three points and it’s almost a near certainty that you have to get three points to stay in the race,” he said.
“So when it comes around and whatever the situation is when we get to Sunday afternoon, we have to deal with it, we have to accept it and we have to make it spur us on to the best performance we can give.
“No matter what happens on Saturday we have to deliver a three-point scenario at West Ham to try and save our Premier League status and handling the pressure that comes with that is a big question of ‘can you?’”
Leeds sacked Gracia, who had only replaced Jesse Marsch in February, after a series of damaging, heavy defeats.
Performances have improved sufficiently in the two games under Allardyce – a 2-1 defeat at Manchester City and last week’s 2-2 home draw against Newcastle – to leave fans with some sense of hope.
Allardyce, who refused to be drawn on whether he will stay at Elland Road beyond the end of the season, said he could not fault his players for effort and has challenged them now to show more quality on the ball.
“I think confidence has grown, I think application has been applied. I think that possession could get better,” he added.
“I think we’ve been so up for it and so frantic to try and do well, and close the opposition down and make life difficult, that when we’ve actually won the ball back we’ve still been so hyper that we haven’t been able to calm down and control ourselves to play the right ball and the right pass more often.
“So the difference between those two is something we’ve talked about, about being calmer when we’re on the ball.”