Daniel Farke admits Leeds United 'embarrassment' but retains hope of Championship drama repeat

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Leeds United’s fate may no longer be in their hands but Daniel Farke has no interest in discussing the play-offs until Leeds are mathematically consigned to them - and for good reason.

Farke chose not to speak about the play-offs in the wake of Leeds’ 4-0 defeat by QPR last Friday, but did acknowledge the result was an ‘embarrassing’ episode for his side. Damaging as it was to automatic promotion hopes, last weekend at Loftus Road was a perfect example of why the league Leeds find themselves battling to get out of is so revered.

The Championship is widely regarded as one of the most entertaining leagues, season in season out; this year has been no different. High drama during the regular season, like last Friday’s meeting in West London, is often exceeded at the play-off stage, such is the nature of what’s at stake - a place in English football’s heralded top flight and annual sums surpassing £100 million in broadcast television revenue and centralised league payments, let alone the merchandising, gate and commercial income opportunities.

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For all of its faults, modern football has one thing right: the play-offs - agony and ecstasy side by side, so perfectly juxtaposed. Leeds fans are likely to disagree on account of that familiar agony, five times out of five they’ve suffered, but there is much to be said for the neutral. Often, the Championship’s season finale at Wembley Stadium goes to extra time and penalties, where one kick can be worth hundreds of millions. It’s the kind of lottery teams with automatic promotion ambitions strive all season long to avoid.

Sometimes, though, much like this season, the drama of the play-offs plays second fiddle to that of the regular campaign. Three teams, occasionally four, going hammer and tongs for 46 matchdays, all coming undone at the same time, all likely to finish on points tallies north of 90, is something the Championship has never seen before, at least not in the last 25 years.

Leeds’ current predicament relies on two teams doing them favours and getting the business done themselves on the final day - it is admittedly a long shot, but by no means impossible.

Take the 2016/17 season for example, when Brighton and Hove Albion squandered a seven-point lead on title challengers Newcastle United after 43 games. The Seagulls lost two of their three remaining fixtures, while Newcastle with promotion secured and an unrealistic shot at the title, won their 44th and 45th games, setting up a tantalising final day, but one Brighton still had the upper hand in with their one-point lead.

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Veteran striker Glenn Murray converted a spot-kick for the south coast club shortly after the hour mark, while their opponents Aston Villa had a man sent off. At the same time, Newcastle were 2-0 up on Barnsley but still finishing second.

Enter Jack Grealish, the Villans’ poster boy, on minute 89. Squeezing a shot underneath Brighton stopper David Stockdale, Villa Park celebrated while Brighton were left shell-shocked. News broke at St James’ Park as Dwight Gayle was applying the finishing touches to a 3-0 win, a peculiar second wave of celebrations reverberating around the ground as the players returned to the centre circle for kick-off.

Newcastle’s squad remained on the pitch at full-time awaiting the whistle in the West Midlands, which duly arrived to confirm the Magpies Championship winners.

If Coventry City do not get a result against Ipswich tonight, Leeds’ chances of automatic promotion diminish further but they will not be extinguished, and that is why Farke keeps faith. Leeds will still be in touching distance of Kieran McKenna’s men on the final day due to their superior goal difference, no matter the result at the CBS Arena.

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Following Newcastle’s defeat to Ipswich on matchday 43 back in 2017, the gap to first place opened to seven points, a surely insurmountable tally given there were only nine on offer. Leeds’ deficit on the final day could be one, it could be zero but it will not be greater than three, and for that, hope remains, even if it is the faintest slither.

Drama is what this league does best and given the way this season’s promotion race has gone, there is every chance one final twist in the tale is reserved for Saturday afternoon.

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