This is the time of the season for sides with ambitions for bigger and better things to kick on, not retreat into their shell which is, unfortunately, what happened to Leeds when Wolves came to Elland Road on Easter Monday.
An expectant holiday crowd of 32,351 turned up hoping to see Leeds cement their place in the play-offs. Instead, their heroes lost 1-0 in the lamest of fashions. Few before the game saw that result coming. It was a head-scratching performance from Gary Monk’s men who could have lost by more than Nouha Dicko’s strike and have now just picked up just four points from five games.
When they needed to take the game by the scruff of the neck, Leeds just let it pass them by particularly in the first half – the worst 45 minutes of football seen for a while. The desire was there, Leeds fans wouldn’t let them have it any other way, but a lack of quality was evident in everything they did.
Victories for Sheffield Wednesday and Fulham confounded their problems and, with three games of the regular season to go, Leeds find themselves out of the play-off positions on goal difference. But all is not lost. United’s remaining three games are against sides who are all beatable: Burton (away), Norwich (home) and Wigan (away).
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In any case, matching the seven-point return that Leeds managed the first time they met these sides this season is well within their capabilities and that should be enough for them to edge out play-off rivals Sheffield Wednesday or Fulham.
Dicko’s match-winner was only the fourth goal Leeds had conceded at Elland Road since November. But with two of their final three league games away from their fortress, United need to find answers, and quick, to the reasons why they have been so fragile on the road.
The lack of goals from sources other than star striker Chris Wood has handicapped the team all season. Their return of 46 is the lowest of any of the sides in the top 10 and Kiwi hitman Wood has contributed 25 of them - 54 per cent. No player in the Championship has a bigger proportion of his side’s goals than Wood and none of his team-mates are close to double figures in the League.
Wood bagged one of United’s two goals, from the penalty spot, when Burton were beaten 2-0 at home back in October. The Midlands side proved a tough nut to crack then – it was 83 minutes before United went ahead – and there’s no reason to suggest Saturday’s return game will be any easier.
It will be important to see what sort of response Monk gets out of his players. To drop out of the play-off places after 25 consecutive matches inside the top six at this point of the season won’t have done anything for confidence within the camp, And, unless Monk can get his players up for the fight again, it may be close but no cigar for the Yorkshiremen in terms of the play-offs.
The saving grace might yet be the fact that Wednesday and Fulham meet at Hillsborough on the final day.
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