Will Leeds United rollercoaster ride end of a high?
It’s been 10 long seasons for Leeds United in the second-tier of English football, but even longer when you look back at the glory days of the Premier League. Their best season in the top flight came in 1999-2000, when the Whites finished third and ultimately, qualified for Champions League football. While this season’s Championship may have taken a short hiatus, due to the coronavirus pandemic, Leeds are often there or there-abouts when it comes to promotion football bets.
Just last campaign, the promised land looked likely, and for long periods, they topped the table. Most notably, at the turn of the year, the Whites remained in pole-position for eight games, but a four-point margin at the top does not give enough room for error and two defeats in five saw them slip to third. Continuing to flirt with automatic promotion as runners-up in the table, their downfall would come in the final stretch to occupy the first play-off place by sitting in third. With four games left to play, the wheels on the promotion race fell off, and Leeds were unable to win any of their matches. Already relegated Ipswich Town, and Wigan Athletic in the table’s lower reaches were among those losses and while Leeds finished in the play-offs, just three games stood in their way of entering the promised land – but they wouldn’t make it to the final.
After recording a 1-0 win over Derby County in the first leg of the Championship semi-final, at Elland Road, it was a different story and Frank Lampard’s youthful side dominated, winning 4-2 to reach the final against Aston Villa. It’s certainly a case of what might have been for Marcelo Bielsa’s Whites, had form been on their side. It was a very steep learning curve for the Argentine in his debut season of coaching in English football, and it’s another very close season at the top end of the table, but hopefully harsh lessons have been learned.
As things stand, Leeds are top of the table, one point ahead of West Bromwich Albion, but with a seven-point cushion over Fulham in third. When the campaign gets up and running again, their run-in sees the Yorkshire club face three of the bottom four, hosting Luton City, Barnsley and Charlton Athletic.
While the Whites continue to dominate headlines, whether it’s manager Bielsa and ‘Spygate’, any of the contentious or controversial decisions or remarks, or the recent eight-game ban from the FA for goalkeeper Kiko Casilla, performances on the pitch are drowning out the negativity. Leeds are currently on a six-match unbeaten streak, having won their last five games on the bounce and doing their best to keep the Boing Boing Baggies from reaching the summit.
The squad will be all too aware of counting their chickens, after last season’s exploits. A three point-booster over Sheffield United was never enough, as Leeds tailed off in the campaign’s final stages. But as long as the distance between second and third in the standings remains as large as it currently is, Leeds will know that fate is in their hands and they are in with a chance of promotion. A runner-up finish would not be as emphatic as winning the division as champions, but a return to the glory days is what the fans at Elland Road have been longing for, and while for some time, it’s looked like a pipedream, after a decade consolidating Championship football, it’s oh-so-close to becoming a reality.