“Leeds are falling apart, again!” That famous chant rang around Championship grounds as the biggest club in the division looked once again to be pouring promotion down the drain. The turn of the year had not been kind to Marcelo Bielsa’s side as they won just one of their opening six league fixtures of the decade, a run that saw their 11-point cushion burst at the top of the table.
Now the promotion hunt is truly on. West Brom look to be clear at the top, but behind them just six points separate second-placed Leeds from seventh-placed Bristol City. With just 13 games to go, it truly is anybody’s race as we head into the pressure cooker that is the end of the Championship season.
With the top seven so closely matched, the games against each other from now until the end of the season become truly crucial. Third-placed Fulham remarkably still have six of the top seven left to play in the run-in, the most difficult fixtures of any of the promotion contenders, and they face a monumental March where they take on four of the current top seven in consecutive fixtures. Season-defining stuff for the Cottagers.
This is where Leeds truly have the advantage over their rivals. They play just one of their final 13 fixtures against teams currently placed in the top seven, that midweek game at Elland Road against Fulham. If they could have picked the fixture list themselves they would not have come up with something too dissimilar to reality and, with promotion in their hands, it really is now or never.
Aside from Fulham, the highest-ranked side they face at home is 15th-placed Reading. Basement boys Barnsley and relegation zone dwellers Luton along with the three teams currently placed 19th, 20th and 21st in the table (Charlton, Huddersfield and Stoke) all have to visit Elland Road and Bielsa’s men should be brushing them aside with relative ease.
Their travels will be more testing, with play-off hopefuls Blackburn and Cardiff still to visit, but even so trips to lowly Middlesbrough and Hull should provide few issues if the Whites are serious about sealing promotion this time around. The average position of the sides they have to face from now until May is just below 15th. It cannot be stressed how simple it is. By comparison, Fulham’s average opponent lies 9th. Tough.
The stats do not lie. Leeds, unsurprisingly, get better results against the poorer teams in the division. Against that top seven the Whites have recorded 17 points out of a possible 33, losing twice and drawing five against the big hitters of the division. That gives them a points-per-game ratio of 1.54. Respectable. However, when we compare that to their record against the bottom seven in the Championship you can see the difference.
Leeds have picked up 18 points out of 24 against the bottom seven, winning six and losing two of their eight fixtures to date at a rate of 2.25 points per game. If they can maintain that form during the run-in then they will be well set to end a 16-year absence from the top flight and secure a return to England’s elite.
This is the best run-in that the Leeds fans could have hoped for. Now it is time for them to finally seize the opportunity. It is now or never.