Up, down, slightly up, down a bit, down a bit. These are simultaneously directions for hanging a picture straight and a summary of Leeds United’s 2017/18 campaign thus far.
They started of at a gallop, unbeaten through their first raft of games and tighter at the back than a duck’s derriere in a waterfall – and you never see ducks sinking! Millwall burst that bubble, dominating the Whites at the New Den and emerging 1-0 victors on the day.
Following that Leeds’ form dipped markedly, disappointing result after disappointing result tumbling one after the other. Performances weren’t up to that flashy, early standard and the Whites reeled around like a punch-drunk heavyweight up against the ropes.
A Rocky moment in mid-November saw Leeds land a huge punch on Middlesbrough to turn the tide and, a heavy defeat against Wolves aside, the Whites went on an unbeaten run of six games – five of these being wins. However, after the 1-0 loss to Birmingham, Leeds have only gained two points from a possible 18; these points coming via draws against Nottingham Forest and Hull City.
With 15 games left, Leeds United’s play-off hopes drop a little with every setback, with every lost point, with every loss. Whilst it’s still very much a possibility that they could make it, here’s three good reasons why they won’t.
Three reasons Leeds United will fail to make the play-off picture
1. Their own inconsistencies: the only things that have been consistent about Leeds United games since the turn of the year have been the following: a sense of underachievement that worsens and the almost inevitability of a red card being brandished. Starting with Samu Saiz’s spitting and six-game ban, Leeds United have lost Gaetano Berardi, Liam Cooper and Eunan O’Kane to reds and bans and Kalvin Phillips to accumulated yellows.
But it goes deeper than this, although having all those players out at the same time hasn’t helped one bit. The performances have been bitty to the point of gradual disintegration with Leeds often looking like sea-flung sailors clinging to the handrails in a violent storm. They’ve righted the vessel against Forest and Hull but have been unconvincing in those games – worse in the others.
2. Other team’s consistencies: whilst Leeds United are shedding points and can’t buy a stroke of luck, the teams around them are quite the opposite. Their results and performances are picking up, becoming more consistent and this, of course, places them in direct contrast to Leeds. Where Leeds have been dropping points and places, those teams around them have been doing the opposite.
Leeds sit currently in 11th place in the table, eight points shy of the last of the play-off places held by next opponents Bristol City. All the teams between themselves and Bristol City have at least two wins in their last six games and with points ranging from seven to 11 from a possible 18 as opposed to Leeds’ paltry two point return.
3. This is not the team for promotion: Leeds fans will gladly, between hoping they are wrong, tell you that this isn’t the team for promotion. Short of numbers and depth at the back, flimsy and weak in midfield and without an out-and-out goal threat up top, this is not the team to get Leeds United promoted. This season.
Next season, with a couple of tweaks and additions it could be. There’s quality in the side in players like Adam Forshaw, Laurens De Bock, Pontus Jansson, Pablo Hernandez and Samu Saiz. There’s promise also in players like Gianni Alioski (even forgiving his inconsistencies) and Caleb Ekuban, but there needs to be a full transfer window with Paul Heckingbottom in the transfer driving seat identifying what he wants to suit the style of play he wants to put in place next season.
Whilst the play-offs might end up beyond them this season, there’s plenty to suggest that Leeds United, with prudent choices made in the summer transfer market, could very well see next season as the ideal one to make that play-off and promotion charge.