Coming up to Christmas, it appeared Leeds could do no wrong. Seven wins in a row propelled them to the top of the Championship, and there was a feeling that there was no game they couldn’t win. Even the games they looked like losing, like Aston Villa away and Blackburn at home, they somehow managed to pull something dramatically out of the bag. The end of their 15-year Premier League exodus seemed inevitable.
Fast forward two months, though, and there is a completely different feeling around Elland Road. That feeling is one of anxiety as Leeds continue to stumble through games and struggle for any kind of consistency. It all started with a home game against Hull as the New Year approached.
Three points clear at the top of the table and enjoying seven wins in a row, Leeds realistically should have swatted mid-table Hull aside at Elland Road. But they didn’t.
Instead, the Tigers came away with a 2-0 victory and Leeds went on to suffer January defeats to Nottingham Forest and Stoke City. Yes, Leeds were reduced to 10 men in both games, but that isn’t an excuse either. Kelvin Phillips’ red card at the City Ground was fully justified and almost certainly cost Leeds three points on New Year’s Day.
Pontus Janssen’s dismissal at Stoke was far more controversial, but Leeds were 1-0 down with just 15 minutes remaining when he was given his marching orders. A 3-1 humbling at home to promotion rivals Norwich at the start of February followed those two away defeats, before Tuesday night’s defeat at Loftus Road made it five losses in their last 10 Championship games.
That form might not be such an issue in normal circumstances – peaks and troughs are commonplace in a Championship promotion campaign after all – but Leeds are not a normal circumstance. Returning to Championship football in 2010 after their League One exodus, Leeds are still yet to make the play-offs and have passed up excellent chances to do so in the last two seasons.
In 2017, Garry Monk’s side held an 11-point advantage over seventh-placed Fulham with just eight games remaining. They somehow allowed themselves to be caught by the Cottagers, missing out on the top six by five points. That’s a 16-point swing with just 24 points available. Last season, under the tutelage of Thomas Christiansen, Leeds looked well-placed to challenge for automatic promotion as they set the pace in the early months of the season.
They even recovered from a mid-season blip to hold a play-off place after 26 games. But a run of nine games without a win effectively put paid to Leeds’ play-off hopes. Consequently, Leeds’ poor form is all the more worrying, and it is imperative that they win on Friday night against West Brom. Another defeat will simply make whispers about Leeds bottling promotion all the more deafening and give both Norwich and Sheffield United an opportunity to open up a significant gap in the race for automatic promotion.
A win, however, would silence a lot of the doubters around Elland Road and put Leeds back into the automatic promotion places. It doesn’t matter that both Norwich and Sheffield United would have a game in hand.
The only thing of any significance at this stage of the season is points.
West Brom represent a formidable obstacle, however, and need the win almost as much as Leeds do. The Baggies are clinging on in the race for automatic promotion and have endured equally patchy form since Christmas, winning just four games.
West Brom demolished Leeds in the reverse fixture at the Hawthorns and if they can produce a scoreline that somewhat resembles the 4-1 drubbing they inflicted on their opponents in November, they will make a real statement in the race for promotion, and confirm to many that Leeds are going to do it again.