Premier League Promotion Race: Do Leeds, Sheffield United Or Norwich City Have The Easier Run In?
While Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa may have dominated the headlines in the Championship this season, it’s Chris Wilder who was smiling at the end of today’s top three clash at Elland Road.
Bielsa’s refreshing approach to football - and indeed life itself - has provided acres of coverage this season and that’s even without the Spygate incident. But the achievements of Sheffield United manager Wilder should not be underplayed either.
Chris Basham, playing in an unusually advanced role, scored the decisive goal for the Blades today which saw them move into the second automatic promotion spot at the expense of Leeds and a point adrift of leaders Norwich City who were at Rotherham.
Earlier in the week, Wilder described Leeds as “arguably the best team in the division” but he would have been confident in his side’s ability to take something from West Yorkshire.
With eight games remaining, there will be more twists and turns in the race for promotion but Sheffield United’s win at Leeds will give them a huge lift for the final furlong.
Unfortunately for them, the international break robs them of some of their momentum though it will offer the opportunity for some players to recover from injury after a testing few weeks.
The Blades have proved difficult opponents for Leeds in recent years; you have to go back to the 1991-92 season for the last time Leeds managed a league double against Sheffield United. This was the season when Leeds won the old Championship.
After the game, a prickly Bielsa surprised the Sky Sports reporter by asking for his opinion on Leeds’ performance. He said that he hadn’t got an opinion on the game and had to remain impartial but Bielsa did not accept his answer and repeatedly asked him before the interview was cut short.
It’s the first time we’ve seen Bielsa react in such a way and fans on Twitter chimed in with their views, saying it was a sign that the pressure was finally getting to the Chilean.
Saturday’s win was the first time that Sheffield United have won consecutive away trips to Leeds since March 1961 and while Wilder was delighted with the win, he accepted they had been second-best for large parts of the game.
Top three run-ins
Norwich don’t have to play any of the top three teams but they face potentially tricky trips to Middlesbrough and Aston Villa who are firmly in the play-off picture.
There are games against several teams battling relegation - at home to Reading and away to Wigan.
Wigan Athletic (A)
Blackburn Rovers (H)
Aston Villa (A)
Bielsa’s men still have to play Aston Villa at home but the majority of their games are against mid-lower table teams.
Leeds must face struggling Wigan at home and also Ipswich away on the final day of the league season.
Games at Birmingham, Preston and Brentford could also prove challenging.
Preston North End (A)
Sheffield Wednesday (H)
Wigan Athletic (H)
Aston Villa (H)
Ipswich Town (A)
The Blades meet play-off chasing Bristol City next before away games at Preston and Birmingham.
They also have to meet Ipswich who could well be relegated by that stage.
Bristol City (H)
Preston North End (A)
Nottingham Forest (H)
Hull City (A)
Ipswich Town (H)
Stoke City (A)