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If Leeds lose to Middlesbrough, should we stick a fork in them?

The “Rule of 17” seems to indicate that the chances of Leeds being promoted would be very silm if the club loses on Sunday

Brentford v Leeds United - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

After a strong start to the season, Leeds have lost seven of nine matches, and the club sits in 10th place in the table on 23 points, three points away from Aston Villa, who are on 26 points and in 6th place in the table. Leeds United play Middlesbrough on Sunday, who are level with Villa on points, but have a superior goal difference.

Middlesbrough have enjoyed an opposite run of form, as they started out slowly this season, but they have won three matches on the bounce, while Leeds have lost three straight. And while November is typically not seen as a time for a “must win” game, the statistics show that being outside of the top six after 17 games means that a team is unlikely to go up. So does this mean that this is an absolute must-win match for Leeds? Do we stick a fork in them if they lose, and call them done?

The Rule of 17 says that after 17 matches, the likelihood of a team being promoted that is outside of the top six places is very small, and the likelihood of a team being promoted if they’re outside of the top half of the table after 17 matches is almost impossible. And while football is a funny old game, in which teams can go on unbeaten runs followed by winless runs, like Leeds have this season, the statistics don’t lie. The probability of Leeds being promoted seemed very good earlier this season, but if the team fails to gain ground on the top six, or at least do enough to stay in the top half of the table, the club and its fans might have to be waiting for another year for promotion. While Sunderland and Reading FC have been promoted after being outside of the top half of the table at this point in the season, they are the only two clubs to accomplish this in the past fourteen years of the Championship.

Does this add any additional pressure to the match on Sunday? Probably not, as this match is about as high-pressure a match as we’ve seen all season at Elland Road. Not only is Middlesbrough a local rival, Boro manager Garry Monk left Leeds after last season, in which Leeds were in the playoff places for months, only to slide out at the last minute. And while there has been spin on both sides, the point still remains that Monk walked away from Leeds to go to Middlesbrough and parachute payments, leaving new owner Andrea Radrizzani and new Director of Football Victor Orta without a manager at the beginning of the summer transfer window.

To add to the links between the two clubs, Victor Orta was at Boro last season, but was fired by the club after the relegation from the Premier League had already been determined. Orta has been instrumental in transforming the current Leeds side, but his recruitment is starting to be questioned, and Middlesbrough certainly did their best to trash the Spaniard on his way out of town, with rumours about inappropriate behaviour and a Spanish “clique” in the dressing room coming out after Orta and manager Aitor Karanka, another Spaniard, had been let go.

So this match against Boro might be one of the biggest matches of the past couple seasons at the club. Despite the good start, the odds against Leeds being promoted are pretty strong if the club fails to gain any ground this weekend. The club needs to start winning, or at the very least stop losing, very quickly if this season is going to end up in the top six.