As we sprint towards the end of this league campaign, Leeds’ consistency leaves them in a very healthy position within the Championship. I mean, we are in the top six with only a few weeks left!
Yet despite holding our highest April league standing for almost a decade, are we slightly fortunate to be there? Don’t get me wrong, it’s been an incredible breath of fresh air to look at the table this season and not see our great name next to the number 16. But I feel somewhat...unfulfilled.
CHRISTMAS CHEER OUR SAVING GRACE?
Now, we are all well aware of the recent few weeks. This aside, however, have Leeds’ performances really been ‘at it’?
There’s a reason that for 90 minutes on Saturday my Twitter feed frequents the phrase ‘Derby at home’. For many of us, the post-Christmas performance that brought the 1-0 ‘hammering’ of a typically hard-to-beat side for the Whites, was the pinnacle of our campaign.
Slick, ruthless, compact, organised and spirited...it was a game that had fans of many other clubs in awe, with the only injustice being the scoreline.
Prior to January 13, there’s no denying that Leeds were putting more points on the board than they were used to. We were a team on the up, a team to be feared.
The tail-end of 2016 was an incredible run of results for the Whites. We looked good, strong, and derserving of our league position.
November and December brought clean sheet wins over Villa, Reading and Brentford, as well as impressive performances away at Preston and Villa once more.
In fact, over those two months in the league, Leeds recorded six wins in nine, (including an away victory at Norwich) and a draw. The two defeats being against the Championship’s top-two. Not a bad return.
Throw in January’s three wins in four, and you’ve got nine wins from 13 games. Then Leeds went to Sutton United in the FA Cup...
POST-JANUARY PERFORMANCES LACKING
Of course, you can’t win every game. Fans however, have often attributed the loss at Sutton to any loss of momentum that was gained over a fruitful winter.
Since the defeat, there has been a noticeable change in the manner of Leeds’ performances. ‘Limping’ to narrow wins, and holding on to slender leads.
12 league games have followed since our embarrassing removal from the FA Cup. Leeds have won five, lost four, and drawn two.
It’s not necessarily a record to be scoffed at, however this sort of outlines my original point: are Leeds somewhat fortunate to still be where they are?
Let’s start with February. The defeat at Huddersfield was probably deserved. The Terriers overran the Leeds midfield, and pressure was invited all-too-often. The defeat at home to Cardiff much the same. No bite, no control, lack of desire.
A laboured, hard-fought point at Portman Road was sandwiched by wins, that on the whole, were probably deserved.
The inconsistency followed suit in March. An impressive ‘job done’ at St. Andrews was followed by somewhat of a battering at Craven Cottage. Leeds were dominated in West London, and as much as the very late equalizer by Tom Cairney hurt, three points would have been an absolute robbery.
Then the toothless, unimaginative display at home to QPR where Rob Green preserved another hard-fought point for Garry Monk.
A week later, the winter Leeds were back with a well-drilled victory over Brighton. Normal service resumed, right?
Well, not really. A deserved loss at the Madejski was followed by arguably the worst performance of the season at Griffin Park. Leeds looked less-than-average in both defeats; well beaten.
LIMP TO THE FINISH LINE
I think we’ve all realised that the next few matches are going to be a struggle. There’s a strange aura at the moment that says our position is vulnerable. Therein lies the problem.
There’s a feeling that we could be caught and potentially drop out of the top six. Now, a team that deserves to be where they are don’t fear their next matches. We should be confident that we’ll dispatch the next sides we face and comfortably make the playoffs.
Teams are now looking at Leeds and realising that we’re there for the taking. We aren’t playing well enough to be feared.
If we take our natural biased positions away, I don’t think many sides can say that they’ve played Leeds and been thoroughly beaten. Perhaps Derby, Brighton and Preston are an exception to this.
The is no worse feeling than looking back over 90 minutes of football and asking yourself, “how the hell did we lose that?” or “how have we not won this game?”.
If we’re truly being honest with ourselves, I don’t think there’s many times this season that we’ve felt this way. On the flip side, though, our opponents probably have. Fulham both games, Ipswich away, and perhaps even QPR at home to name a couple.
The recent slide and lack of match control and dictation needs to stop, and fast.
Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing Leeds up there as much as the next fan, but based on recent turnouts, do we deserve it...? Of that, I’m not so sure.