Saturdays victory against Rotherham wasn’t pretty but it was vital. A run of seven victories in a row after defeat to West Brom in November had left Leeds top of the table come Christmas but as the second half of the season began the run came to an end against Hull City and signalled the start of a tricky few weeks. Further loses Nottingham Forest and QPR, brief respite with a win against Derby, and a further loss away at Stoke weren’t good for the nerves. But everyone one else was faltering too, Norwich, West Brom and Sheffield Utd have all had their moments and Leeds remain in top spot.
With Norwich breathing down our necks the game at New York Stadium went much the same way as recent matches, in defiance of the possession statistics Rotherham scored and Leeds struggled to create space and opportunities. The second half brought more chances for Leeds and a scrappy goal from Mateusz Klich brought the scores level and gave him the confidence to shoot and score from further out later which would clinch the three points. A game with ups and downs, much like our season in recent weeks, Leeds are not making this easy. But any promotion will have those ups and downs, we only have to look to the last time Leeds were promoted to the top flight, 1989-1990, to see that.
In 1989 after losing the first game away to Newcastle, a 15 game undefeated run including 10 victories saw Leeds well up with the leaders, and a 2-0 win at Middlesbrough in early December saw Leeds proudly top of the table. The arrival of Lee Chapman and Chris Kamara proved to be the final pieces in the promotion jigsaw for United as a three-way fight developed for the two promotion places between Leeds United, Sheffield United and Newcastle United. Quick exits from the Cups left Leeds with no distractions able to concentrate on the Second Division title race.
But there were a few signs of nerves to come. Having lost only three times in the first half of the season Leeds had a bit of a wobble in the new year. Ahead of the crucial the Easter Monday local derby with rivals Sheffield United Leeds had lost five times (Against Barnsley, Swindon, Watford, Wolves and Oldham). But Leeds blew away the Blades 4-0 with two goals from Gordon Strachan, one from Lee Chapman and another from the young Gary Speed. United’s strength had been the way they dominated sides at Elland Road and so it came as a total surprise when Barnsley became the first team to beat Leeds on home territory with a 2-1 win. This left Leeds needing to win both their remaining matches to be sure of promotion.
32,597 crammed into Elland Road for the visit of Leicester City, who had brought Leeds 15 game unbeaten run to an end earlier in the season by winning 4-3 at Filbert Street. Mel Sterland thumped United into an early lead but the second goal just would not come and there was despair when Gary McAllister (Who played for Leicester) scored with a spectacular long range shot to make the scores level. With nerves of the crowd showing, Gordon Strachan saved the day with his 16th League goal of the season to send the fans home in raptures with a 2-1 victory. The win did not ensure promotion, but left United in the box seat. A win at relegation threatened Bournemouth would bring not only promotion but also the championship.
On the final matchday of the season with Middlesbrough already beating Newcastle, a point would have been enough to secure promotion, but Sheffield United's early goals at Leicester put them in command in the title race. Then with 41 minutes of the season remaining Chris Kamara crossed for Lee Chapman to rise and head the winner, and United had little difficulty in hanging on to their lead to win the championship with 85 points and with it promotion to the first division.
Promotions are nerve-wracking, even the faint prospect of winning promotion ups the stakes producing extreme highs and lows of emotions. Heck, anyone who was at Elland Road on Saturday 8th May to see Leeds beat Bristol Rovers to secure promotion to the Championship will tell you what a roller-coaster 90 minutes can be, never mind 17 games. Between now and 5th May will not be easy, there will be highs and there will be lows. But whatever they put us through, it will be absolutely worth it if we are back in the Premier League next season.
Promotions are stressful, 1990 taught us that