Teams who have the hunger and desire to succeed stand up to the occasion during the latter stages of the season when every point is crucial. Unfortunately, Leeds appear to have lost their bottle and crumbled under the pressure of holding onto a play-off spot that they had worked so hard for.
Spending twenty-five games in the top six appears to be all for nothing as Leeds now find themselves facing the daunting reality of missing out on the play-offs altogether. The insipid performance against Wolves at Elland Road was made all the more disappointing by the fact that Garry Monk and his team had worked so admirably to get themselves into a fantastic position up until that point, only to hit the buffers when it required calm heads all round to ensure that Leeds could not be caught.
That result made it just four points from a possible fifteen prior to the trip to the Midlands to face Burton who proved in the reverse fixture that they are a tougher nut to crack than their league position suggests, as although Leeds eventually ran out 2-0 winners, it took until the 83rd minute for the recently-crowned EFL Championship Player of the Season Chris Wood to break the visitor’s resilience. It should have been enough for Monk to know that his men would have to put in a strong performance to get past a team who also need the points, albeit for contrasting reasons, but it appears that they forgot all about the previous meeting back in October. Footie Live were unconvinced that Leeds could arrest their worrying slide out of the play-offs prior to the Burton game, particularly with Sheffield Wednesday and Fulham all hitting good form, and they may, sadly, be proved right.
Fans travelled in their numbers to the Pirelli Stadium in the hope that Leeds had learnt the lessons from the Wolves game and have the fire in their belly to make amends for the hugely disappointing performance. Although there are no official figures for the away following, it is unlikely that anyone felt optimistic after a lacklustre first half in which Leeds only looked a threat from set pieces and failed to find any rhythm in their passing game. Aside from pressing Burton and having a goal questionably chalked off in the 11th minute for perceived impeding on Stephen Bywater as Kyle Bartley headed in Pontus Jansson’s directed header across the box, it was flat.
It felt like a moment of magic or a mistake was the only thing that would decide the game in either team’s favour, and while Leeds began to play in the second half, a costly error in the 75th minute led to a crazy period in which the players lost all concentration and focus. Marvin Sordell capitalised after the ball was carelessly given away mid-way in Leeds’ half, and it took just two minutes for Burton to double their lead as Michael Kightly raced onto a through ball to finish past Rob Green. Bartley did eventually get himself on the scoresheet in the 80th minute, but despite Kemar Roofe having a shot cleared off the line and Hadi Sacko failing to squeeze the ball home right near the line, Leeds paid the ultimate price for starting slowly and making the one mistake that let Burton in.
Losing the game 2-1 is disappointing enough, but doing so against a team that wanted it more is just criminal, particularly at this stage of the season. It appears that the campaign is simply fizzling out towards a sad conclusion that sees Leeds miss out on the play-offs, and with destiny now out of our hands, that feeling is stronger than ever. Anyone who feels brave enough to back Monk’s men to still finish in the top six should check out the free bets bookmakers listed on Footie Live, but given how deflated and disappointed the players were at the full time whistle against Burton, it will take considerable character to lift themselves off the ground and get the results needed against Norwich and Wigan.
Unfortunately for Leeds, even if they do pick up six points in the coming fortnight, it will still not be enough if Fulham, Huddersfield, Sheffield Wednesday and Reading all do what Monk’s men have failed to do – hold on to what they have got.
Have Leeds lost their nerve at the worst possible time?