I’m writing this piece before the game at Nottingham Forest has kicked off on New Year’s Day. As it stands, in sweet 2018, Leeds United are top of the Championship by 3 points. While it’s utterly futile to even attempt to predict what happens in this league I, your humble narrator, will try and do just that using my head, you understand, not my heart. By the end of play tomorrow Brentford will have taken a point off Norwich City. Derby County and Middlesbrough will have cancelled each other out. Sheffield United will claim 3 points at Wigan Athletic, reaffirming the fact that they just won’t go away. And, most worryingly, West Bromwich Albion will be only 2 points off us and will have officially begun to breathe down our necks. Is tomorrow where the wheels start to fall off? Please, Marcelo, make it not so.
I read recently that every team who have been top of the Championship at Christmas in the last decade have gone on to achieve promotion. Every team. Last decade. Christ! The problem is, as every long suffering Leeds Utd fan knows, not every team is Leeds. We started off the season for most people as an outside, cheeky bet for a top six finish. At best. And , O my brothers, I would have taken that. We had a new coach, a genius of football theory who couldn’t speak English and had never manged in England before. Our squad, that performed fairly miserably the season before, remained relatively unchanged. A string of loan signings. Somehow we kidnapped Barry Douglas under the cover of darkness and the Lindbergian Wolverhampton Wanderers refused to pay the ransom. This season was seen as “a project” and the Championship is no place for that type of messing. Suddenly, Patrick Bamford cruised in to Elland Road. For 7 million quid! Promising.
And then, before the opening game of the season, Marcelo Bielsa was interviewed by Sky Sports. He had this guy, his wayward nephew perhaps, translating every sentence he uttered while just about avoiding a series of seemingly romantic advances from El Loco. The Sky pundits were having a bit of a giggle at that. I analysed the team that was selected for the game. Not too confident. And, by the way, we were only playing promotion favourites, Stoke City. This wasn’t looking good at all. And then, something miraculous happened. We became Barcelona. Brazil, 1970. The look of bewilderment on Gary Rowett’s chewing gum chomping face! We destroyed Stoke and Mateusz Klich conducted proceedings like the Chopin we never knew he was. Top 6! Forget it. We’re going all the way!
The feelgood factor at Elland Road has been off the charts this season. Marcelo Bielsa has been a revelation. The stadium is full, the results amazing, the football, at times, sublime but the defeat by Hull City has slightly dampened my own expectations. I hope tomorrow my predictions prove, which they usually are, massively misguided. I want, as much as anybody, to see Leeds kick on and secure promotion this season. Fatigue has, undoubtedly, kicked in. Injuries have been a nightmare. Pablo Hernandez is 34 next April. Jack Clarke is still 18 next April. We need, at least one quality, quality signing in January. And a slice of luck with injuries. Just to give Marcelo Bielsa’s project a sporting chance. Andrea? What’s it gonna be then, eh?