Having suffered a mid-season slump, Leeds seem to have weathered the storm and are starting to look like automatic promotion candidates once more. After QPR inflicted Leeds’ fifth defeat in ten league games, the wheels were threatening to come off their promotion bid, but an emphatic victory over West Brom feels like a turning point.
Leeds have subsequently gone to Ashton Gate and won, albeit against a Bristol City side hopelessly out of form, and collected a convincing victory at Reading. These were games Leeds teams in seasons gone by would have lost, and there is a feeling that this Leeds team is different.
That’s not to ignore Sheffield United’s form. The Blades have been terrific all year and have bounced back from setbacks admirably; throwing away a three-goal lead at Aston Villa would have shaken weaker teams. They have consistently exceeded expectations to maintain their automatic promotion push and are clearly in for the long haul here.
However, having already suffered a narrow defeat at the hands of their Yorkshire rivals in Bramall Lane, this one feels like a bridge too far. A win for Leeds would be a hammer blow in their bid for the top two and would almost definitely consign the Blades to the play-offs.
Saturday will see two of the Championship’s most impenetrable defences go head to head and, with so much at stake, it is bound to be a tight affair. Only West Brom (28) have conceded fewer goals in England’s second tier than Sheffield United (34) this season, with Leeds (38) occupying third place in that category.
Both defences have been miserly as a general rule this season, but that has been even more prevalent in recent weeks. Sheffield United have not conceded since their 3-3 draw with Aston Villa at the beginning of February – a run stretching over six games – while Leeds have not conceded in each of their last three outings.
Both teams are more than capable of scoring goals, as recent games have shown, but this game is bound to be cagey and they may just cancel each other out. The reverse fixture in Bramall Lane was a cagey encounter decided by a late goalkeeper error, and a similarly close meeting looks likely here with so much at stake.
In such a significant game, there is bound to be a period where both sides size each other up. Neither will be keen on exposing themselves too early, so the first half is likely to be tense and void of real clear-cut chances.
Factor in that 40 of Leeds’ 63 Championship goals have come after the break and it becomes even more likely that we will see more goals in the second period.
Leeds have a tendency to come up with hugely significant goals in the latter stages of games, particularly in big games, and that trend could easily continue on Saturday afternoon.