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Leeds set for final hurdle

Article by Stephen Barry

Just like the 2010/11 season when Leeds were in firm contention for a play-off spot, April has not been a kind month to Leeds. Ironically, between games 36 & 43 in each season, United have the same record of 2 wins, 3 draws and 3 defeats. This suggests that the players feel a heavy burden on their shoulders, tasked with ending a 13 year exile from the Premier League. While Leeds may have an illustrious history which leads to huge expectation, they cannot compete with the extortionate Premier League parachute payments which clubs like Newcastle have used heavily in their favour. It is hoped that whatever division Leeds find themselves in come May new owner Andrea Radrizzani will have the financial clout to help close the gap. Leeds find themselves outside the play offs on goal difference with just 3 games to go. However, their destiny remains in their own hands as 5th placed Sheffield Wednesday take on 6th placed Fulham on the final day. 3 wins from 3 will guarantee United’s involvement in the Championship play offs for the first time in over a decade.

The month started badly for Leeds with successive away defeats to Reading and Brenford. Leeds were far too passive in the defeat to Reading and were fortunate to only be one goal down at half time. Ali Al-Habsi was rarely troubled in the Reading goal as United succumbed to a disappointing defeat. Worse was to follow in London 3 days later as Brentford ripped Leeds apart and found themselves 2-0 up at the break. It could have been a far bigger defeat had it not been for the performance of Rob Green, who has come on leaps and bounds since the erratic start to his career at Elland Road and is illustrating why he was England’s Number 1.

Preston North End were up next at Elland Road, a venue which has been a major success in Leeds’ season so far. Just like the reverse fixture at Deepdale, United ran out winners by a 3 goal margin. Clinical finishing proved to be the main difference between the sides and it was a result which virtually extinguished any hopes Preston had of securing a play-off spot. By this stage it seemed certain that it was 4 teams from 5 to join Brighton & Newcastle in finishing in The Top 6.

Leeds then headed to the raucous arena of St James’ Park to face Newcastle, a Premier League fixture in all but name especially given that it was the highest Championship attendance of the season with 52,301 observing proceedings. Leeds started the game well but Newcastle gradually began to take over before they penned Leeds back for almost the entire second half. A succession of corners eventually resulted in a goal, Newcastle skipper Jamaal Lascelles planting a header a yard over the line before Green could palm it away. It looked like being a 3rd successive away defeat for Leeds but their fighting spirit and resilience kept them in the game. A 95th minute equaliser from Championship top scorer Chris Wood salvaged a point and sparked scenes of jubilation amongst the travelling army. The point was an excellent result if not performance and it was expected it would help Leeds push on against Wolves on Easter Monday, who had relatively little to play for.

Inconsistency has blighted Wolves’ season but they do have some impressive away results, including the scalps of Premier League sides Stoke and Liverpool in The FA Cup. They came to Elland Road on the brink of survival but it was Leeds who looked under intense pressure, producing the worst first half performance of the season according to Garry Monk. Nouha Dicko gave Wolves a first half lead, just the 3rd goal Leeds have conceded in the first half at Elland Road this season.  Leeds exerted heavy pressure on Andy Lonergan’s goal in the second half but didn’t have the guile to unlock Wolves’ defence as they had done in the final minute at Newcastle. It was a damaging result which dropped Leeds out of the play offs but it also meant that Leeds will finish the season in 7th at worst, a great achievement for a side that has languished in mid-table for 5 consecutive seasons.

What will the Month of May hold for Leeds United? We wait and see.

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