By most accounts, October 2016 was a rousing success at Elland Road. Leeds United continued its rise up the Championship table, collecting 10 from a possible 15 points in the league. We end the month sitting comfortably inside the top 10, with a mouth-watering League Cup quarter final against Liverpool over the horizon; a tie that we can all dream about. The Leeds family can fantasise about the improbable once again.
In short, the magic has returned, and its origin can be pin pointed to one night in particular: Tuesday, 25 October 2016. This was the night a feeling of enchantment returned to our footballing fandom. Well, to my fandom anyway.
A comeback victory over our biggest modern-day rival (reminder that we explored why every United fan should hate Norwich here) was the highpoint of Garry Monk’s stewardship. It was also the single greatest victory by a Leeds United side since Jermaine Beckford sunk Manchester United six years ago.
The victory last Tuesday was the highlight of a month where United rose up the table, only lost one game and had a moment for the ages. October was superficially a great month.
The Norwich tie aside, here are the sides United played during October, with their current league position in brackets: Barnsley (12th), Derby (19th), Wigan (22nd), Wolverhampton (17th) and Burton Albion (18th). Is ten points and six goals a sufficient return from such a run of opponents?
I actually have my doubts. Given we suddenly see ourselves as a top ten side, shouldn’t we expect United to defeat each of these sides?
The performance against Derby was disappointing, simple as that. Whether you put it down to not playing competitive football for two weeks, believing the hype too much after a publicised winning streak or simply a bad day at the office, too many United players had off games.
We sat back for 70 minutes, allowing an inferior side to dictate terms and control the tempo. Johnny Russell’s goal brought United to life, yet it was too little, too late. We only played proper football for 20 minutes and rightfully got nothing from the game.
As for the draw with Wigan, two points were thrown away with this unlucky goal.
For 60 minutes we held the lead and kept Wigan at bay. But one moment undid it all. Call it bad luck, misfortune, a fluke or whatever you like; it is ultimately the danger of the game style Leeds adopt at the moment. Defending one goal leads are fraught with danger because one moment can undo everything.
Lacking a killer touch definitely cost us two points against Wigan and arguably more against Derby in the days before. This is the peril with not having enough consistent and reliable striking options.
We have graduated from hopeless to excitable, and that’s an accomplishment that cannot be underestimated. But as we all start dreaming about that magical ‘P’ word, it’s time to raise the bar.
In August, we predicted what was needed for Cellino’s promise of playoff football to become a reality. Beyond all calls for stability and tweaking game plans, there were two things that stood out above the rest.
First was a dire need for more goals.
Second was 73 points in the league.
The discussion around goal scoring has been a personal crusade of mine. For all the positives flowing around, our ability (or lack thereof) to consistently find the back of the net is the bucket of cold water which must temper expectations around Yorkshire.
The obligatory Chris Wood conversation is not an issue for today. Rather, we need to focus on those around him. United are still averaging only one goal a game in the league, the exact same rate as last season.
Consider that for a second. We are on track to score the same amount of goals, yet how much happier do we all feel? The backline is fixed; a more potent front half is now required.
As for 73 points, this has been the average points tally of the sixth placed Championship side since 2009. In other words, if you hold dreams of competing in the playoffs, you better get up to that level or get damn near close. 68 points was the lowest tally during that period.
With 15 games in the books, United sit in ninth place. But current league position is largely irrelevant. We have 23 points after the season’s first third. Extrapolate that performance over the course of a full season and Leeds are on track for 70 points, close, but just short of my cut off line.
Yes, we are close. Considering the state of things six months ago (or even two), we are in a fantastic position. Managerial stability is now a reality, not a pipe dream. The revolution of this football club is underway and now is time to accelerate the campaign.
Because there are some challenging times ahead.
November is a month that features only four games, but they might be the 360 minutes of football that define this campaign. Leeds will play league matches Norwich City (away), Newcastle (home) and Rotherham United (away), plus the EFL Cup quarter final against Liverpool.
The trip to Anfield is gravy at this point. The simple fact that we’re playing a side like Liverpool is enough. The confidence gained from this cup tie will be a welcome boost for the entire playing roster. We may need a miracle to progress, but anything is possible. If Mark Viduka and Jermaine Beckford have a lovechild, now would be a good time to sign him up!
As for the league, we are about to put our promotion credentials to the test. Despite being a quality side, Norwich is not infallible. We proved as much last week. Going into Carrow Road and leaving with a result may require the very best version of Leeds United. But it can be done.
Up to ninth, one point off sixth. 19 points from last nine games. Sets us up perfectly for two very difficult months ahead. #lufclive— Phil Hay (@PhilHayYEP) October 29, 2016
Then we have Newcastle. The clear class of the division. Defeating this side will require a performance not yet seen this season. Elland Road will be rocking on November 20th for what may be the biggest league contest at the ground since our Premier League days, a match that’s on pace to sell out. It would be the win of the season should we send that crowd home happy.
October was good, but the month ahead is a referendum on quality and sustainability. If we can tread water, maintain our league standing and put forth a gritty performance at Anfield, we will be in position to assault the top six in the New Year.
(Editor’s note: Our October TIAT Player of the Month and Reader Player of the Month will be announced later in the week. Please stay tuned.)