Leeds United claimed their biggest scalp of the season Saturday and in the process, breathed life into dreams of earning automatic promotion into the Premier League. Victory over Brighton & Hove Albion, a side who has looked destined for a top-2 finish all season, punctuated United’s March resume and reminded everyone that anything is possible as we head into the final stretch of a throwback season.
United remain entrenched in the top six after collecting another valuable three points, sitting a comfortable eight points ahead of seventh placed Fulham. We are now also eight points back of second place Brighton with eight games to play. The play-offs now appear a formality, with greater achievements still obtainable.
But lets not get too ahead of ourselves! Here are three takeaways from the latest magical afternoon at Elland Road.
Talking point 1: Chris Wood does what he wants!
Chris Wood is enjoying the footballing season of his life. He continues to be the reason why United’s point tally approaches levels unseen in years. As Jack wrote earlier this month, Wood’s ability to score when he is needed the most is beyond uncanny, it’s a repetitive masterpiece.
Every aspect of Wood’s first goal was outstanding. Charlie Taylor’s ball in was extremely juicy, and that laid the foundation for our favourite Kiwi to go to work.
Wood’s movement in the penalty area has been his best skill this season and this was on display again. The way he drew his opponent to the ball, only to sneak out the back a split second latter was a thing of beauty. It created a sliver of space and that is all a man in the midst of his footballing nirvana needs.
I have long fought the temptation to praise Chris Wood over and above everything else. I have emphasised winning the midfield battles and maintaining clean sheets at the back as being more vital than the big Kiwi. Not anymore, those days are over.
Talking point 2: Where was Pontus Jansson?
Pregame, the headline news was that Pontus Jansson had been dropped to the bench, with Liam Cooper taking his place in the middle of defence. While victory will deflect attention away from this surprising decision, it must be asked what this means for the squad as the season winds down.
Garry Monk was at his cryptic best post game and refused to elaborate on the topic. Monk confirmed that Jannson was a healthy scratch, and while he alluded to something greater, the gaffer simply reinforced his faith in the entire squad over commenting specifically on Jannson.
@GarryMonk "I decided my team tonight and I always put the group first, I don't have an explanation, but I trust all of my players"— Leeds United (@LUFC) March 18, 2017
For what its worth, Charlie Taylor was also selected in the starting XI at Elland Road for the first time this calendar year.
Talking point 3: What can Leeds really achieve over the final eight games of the campaign?
We alluded to this earlier, but United are all but guaranteed a place in the play-offs after Saturday’s big win. Back in August, we looked back at every Championship season this decade and found that 73 points is the average tally of the sixth place team at seasons end. United now sit at 69 points with eight games to play - the Whites are going to easily clear 73 and play-off football is returning to Elland Road this May.... or is it?
A spot in the top six is going to happen but what about the top two? Is it even possible? Probably not is the answer: if we feel top six is secured with an eight point lead, Brighton must feel the same about us catching them. But we will find out very soon. United need to be near perfect over the final two months if they dream of catching Brighton or Newcastle.
On the positive side, Leeds close the season with four games in which they will be the bookies’ favourite to collect all three points (Wolverhampton, Burton Albion, Norwich and Wigan). But there is one big gauntlet to run before we even think about the season’s dying moments.
Reading, Preston and table topping Newcastle are on the docket in early April. If United dream of a stress free May, it must collect results in every contest. An unlikely outcome maybe, but as Liam Bridcutt said postgame, “Anything can happen in the Championship,”.
It is almost impossible to find any negatives from Saturday’s victory. United defeated a side who has led the league at times this season and now enters the international break full of confidence.
We return to action in two weeks with a trip to Reading. A repeat performance could prove the stimulus for a very good season developing into a legendary one. MOT.