Leeds will have to win most of their remaining games to reach the top six, but Michael Brown says they can. Leon Wobschall reports.
MICHAEL BROWN insists it still remains possible, Brian McDermott is decidedly more circumspect and as for Leeds United’s supporters, it’s something that they probably aren’t contemplating at the minute.
What are we talking about? The Championship play-offs, with United’s hopes having taken a serious, if not yet fatal, blow given a horrendous run of winter form which has seen them go seven matches without a win in all competitions – losing their last five.
United find themselves exactly in mid-table in 12th place with 20 matches still to go and while they remain just six points behind the side currently occupying the final play-off position in McDermott’s old club Reading, a seismic upturn will be required to gatecrash the top-six party, the like of which few second-tier clubs have achieved since the play-offs came into being in the mid to late eighties.
McDermott at least has previous in storming finishes to seasons and in the final twenty games of 2011-12, he presided over a remarkable return of 47 points, which saw Reading, in fifth spot exactly two seasons ago and trailing Southampton by eight points, end the season lifting silverware.
Given the current situation Leeds find themselves in, finishing in the top six come early May would arguably stand up with McDermott’s accomplishments with the Royals. Perhaps even eclipse it.
Not that he is plotting anywhere near that far ahead, with McDermott’s immediate concern being breaking the sequence after the toughest of starts to 2014 before even starting to contemplate anything resembling a play-off push.
That said, he is confident that if Leeds replicate their showing against Leicester that tangible rewards will come in the shape of much-needed points.
He said: “I’m not saying I’m not looking at this season. But we need to build.
“I’m still saying: ‘look at that league, there’s nothing in it.’ But we have to find a way of getting a run of results.
“If we play like Saturday against other sides, we’ll start winning games.”
Offering a player’s perspective following Saturday’s unlucky loss, Brown, far more unequivocal on the prospect of the play-offs, ventured: “I think if you look at the history of the play-offs in the last few seasons, you can come late at any point with a run of victories and that’s been proven and so we are all in with a shot.”
That remains to be seen. Only once since 2000 has a side finished in a play-off spot with under 70 points, Leicester City finishing in sixth place last term with 68 points.
With twenty games left and with 35 points in the bank, Leeds are 33 points – or 11 wins – off that mark and with the mean figure for play-off participation being 70 to 75 points after 46 games, there’s a good chance emulating the Foxes’ tally won’t be enough to rubber-stamp an extension to their season either.
Back in Leeds’ last concerted play-off push in 2011-12, a haul of 72 points wasn’t even enough to finish in the top six, with United paying the price for a poor end-of-season return, which saw them pipped by Nottingham Forest for sixth.
Just over three years ago, with 20 games to go, all looked set fair on that front for Simon Grayson’s side healthily-positioned in fifth spot with 41 points, only for the club to effectively pay the price for an abject January transfer window which ensured United eventually lost impetus in the business end of the campaign and missed the boat.
The size of the task facing United is best exemplified by the last occasion they reached the Championship play-offs in 2005-06, when they finished fifth with 78 points.
With twenty games to go in that campaign, United were just two points off reaching a half-season of points on 48, 13 more than their current tally.
Neither is there too much solace to be found in Championship statistics over the years, with just two sides having accrued fewer points than Leeds with twenty matches of the regular 46-game season remaining and still managing to reach the end-of-season lottery.
The last team to achieve that being Ian Dowie’s Crystal Palace, whose haul of 31 points after 26 matches exactly a decade ago in 2003-04 saw themselves looking over their shoulders, in 18th place, as opposed to upwards.
A staggering renaissance saw them win 13 of their last 20 games to finish sixth, with Ipswich Town doing something similar in successive seasons under George Burley in 1996-97 and 1997-98.
The Tractor Boys, in 15th place with 32 points after 26 matches, took 51 points from their last twenty matches – winning 16 and losing just once – to finish fifth.
The previous campaign, a late charge saw them pocket 39 points from the same amount of games to move up from 13th to fourth.
Those sorts of turbo-charged runs aren’t exactly par for the course, but while it remains improbable for Leeds to emulate anything like those sorts of streaks, neither it is impossible. Unlikely, yes.
Pride, if not points, was at least salvaged on Saturday, with United at least getting back onside with supporters after the wretched performances at Spotland and Hillsborough.
But equally, the need to end what is has the potential to turn into a season-crippling run of results before too long is paramount.
Brown acknowledged: “I think occasionally if do lose a game and put a good shift and have been unlucky, then the fans accept that.
“The performances before were far from good enough, but we’ve got to get a win in the next few weeks to push on up the table.
“We’ve just got to get some results to turn things around and results change everything.”