The start of April and here we are again – eight games to go and so much to play for.
This time last year I believed that the final month of the season would be orderly; not a formality by any means but not the scramble it became either. On this occasion, I’m ready for drama all the way to the line.
The dynamics of the two campaigns have been very different but there’s plenty for Leeds United to take from the final weeks of the 2009-10 term. I hope they’ve learned from it. I look back on the last day with very fond memories but it has to be said that the club scraped into second place with nothing to spare. I don’t think for a minute that Simon Grayson expected the finish to be as nail-biting as it was.
As I saw it, there were times in the last six or seven weeks of the season when his team invited trouble on themselves. They were a bit too tentative and less dominant than they needed to be. You almost got the feeling that other clubs were beginning to sense a bit of uncertainty around Elland Road – a bit of doubt about whether Leeds had the bottle. The only way to prevent that and stop it from becoming a problem in the first place is to play every game as if it’s your last.
It is, I suppose, the old cup-final cliche. That comment gets rolled out every year by countless players and managers – “we’ve got 10 cup finals left to play” etc – but it’s actually true. At this stage of the year, there’s no such thing as a regular match. You have to treat every fixture as if something crucial is riding on that individual result. The teams who think they can pick and choose when to run themselves to a standstill are the ones who’ll never achieve anything. They’re also the ones who’ll see their destiny decided for them. At the business end of each season, standards need to rise. The mentality is different. A club who draw their first eight games might settle for that and feel they’re not a million miles away. A team who draw their last eight matches are dropping 16 points at a time when you simply cannot afford to do so. Consistency is obviously important but consistency for consistency’s sake can be costly. I’d gladly see Leeds lose three games in return for winning five.
In fact, I’d settle for victories in all of our home matches. If that happens, I’m sure we’ll be in the play-offs. Some people don’t believe in six pointers but I certainly do. The winners of tomorrow’s game between Leeds and Nottingham Forest will feel momentum swinging in their favour.
What a contest it promises to be. The fixture is steeped in history but you don’t need history to give tomorrow’s clash an edge. The crowd at Elland Road should pass 30,000 and Forest always bring a good following. I don’t see anything other than both sides going for the jugular from the off. And on top of all that we have Forest boss Billy Davies, a man who Leeds United’s supporters will welcome in their own unique style.
Many of us remember Davies’ part in the play-off semi-final between Leeds and Preston North End five years ago. I wouldn’t mind us rubbing a bit more salt in the wounds of a manager whose side are without a win in seven matches. Forest must be a little fragile at present – a bit unsure of themselves and somewhat under pressure. Leeds must offer them no quarter.