It’s easy to get drawn into reactive worry after 2 defeats on the bounce, losing 1-0 to Reading in a dull game of few chances on Saturday and then being unequivocally routed by Brentford last night. On the one hand, wherever we end up this season it has been a charming exercise in re-affirming our love of the sport. For too many years we’ve watched lacklustre football and been resided to a 15th place finish shortly after Christmas – for it to be April and us to be treating every game as “critically important” is something we’ve missed. On the other hand, we’re so close to having a shot at the playoffs and the fans are understandably anxious at throwing it all away.
I believe Leeds will make the playoffs; we’ve proven that we can beat anyone in the league on our day and we’re just experiencing a temporary blip following an International break. We managed to beat Brighton before it, we’re not the lower-mid-table joke that we’ve been known as in previous seasons. But I do think that should we dig our heels in and hold on to this playoff spot, our chances of climbing out of this league are slim. The reason is simply down to how we’ve achieved many of our victories.
The gulf between the Championship and the Premiership is vast. In both money and quality. Teams who thoroughly dominate the Championship still struggle to survive in the promised land and the point I’m labouring to make is that Leeds haven’t really dominated anyone this season, at least not consistently. We were thoroughly brilliant against Derby that one time, but otherwise our victories have been tactical battles reliant on a sturdy defence and an incisive counter attack (or a well executed set-piece).
Leeds haven’t “done a Preston” and trashed anyone 3-4-5 to nothing. We haven’t outplayed someone so savagely that their fans were taken aback with the brutality of the game they’d just seen. We’ve won a couple of games 2-0, 3-1, etc. But even these were tense affairs where we were often as likely to score a second as concede an equaliser. That’s not to say this Leeds team cannot get promoted, because we’ve demonstrated that we’re capable of beating practically anyone, but consistently you’d struggle to argue that we could reliably beat the teams around us.
It’s this lack of dominance that makes me wonder if this is seriously something that we can do. After all, the last few games have been crucial games and we’ve wildly missed the mark in terms of desire and performance. But then again, if we win our remaining 6 games we’d be perfectly teed up to win the playoff games too. I guess it was just rather humbling being so roundly outplayed by a hungry Brentford side when we have aspirations of beating the likes of Huddersfield, Reading or Fulham in a high-stakes situation such as a two-leg playoff or the final at Wembley.
But then we’re fortunate to be even having these conversations, because for many years in a row we’ve been frustrated with seasons ending in February when we’re told we’re already “planning for next season”. It’s refreshing to be in Spring and still fighting every game for a prize. Can we get promoted? I don’t see why not, but this dip in form needs to end immediately. With only 5 points between us and 7th there’s not much margin for error at all.