David Prutton: Why the time is now for Leeds United to seal promotion back to Premier League

Pablo Hernandez celebrates scoring the winning goal in the 1-0 victory at Sheffield United in December. Picture: Simon Hulme
Pablo Hernandez celebrates scoring the winning goal in the 1-0 victory at Sheffield United in December. Picture: Simon Hulme
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LEEDS UNITED’S performance in Tuesday night’s 3-0 win at Reading was fantastic as were their goals.

But now it’s all about tomorrow’s Championship derby against Sheffield United at Elland Road. It goes without saying it is a massive game.

The points on offer are the most important thing but, maybe psychologically, the blow that it would deal to whoever comes off worse could definitely be something to keep an eye on between now and the end of the season.

Either way, it is a really fascinating match between two sides that, at their best, have been the very best this year.

There is plenty of respect between the two sides, as we saw in the lead up to the first game at Bramall Lane back in December.

It is also great from an entertainment point of view to see three teams in the running for the two automatic promotion places, with Norwich City currently in the box seat.

RIVALS: Daniel Farke, Marcelo Bielsa and Chris Wilder

RIVALS: Daniel Farke, Marcelo Bielsa and Chris Wilder

It means that every single point is vital, starting with tomorrow which will be a real test of Leeds’ nerve coming in off the back of three terrific wins against West Brom, Bristol City and Reading.

At one stage, Leeds and Norwich looked set to pull away at the top but Sheffield United have done so well to keep up with the pace.

What Norwich have done is also phenomenal, really, with the players they have got and how they have managed to come together. There is still a long way to go but they are looking good for the title.

But that is where the extra motivation for Leeds should come in.

The immediacy of what football is and striking while the iron is hot means that this is something that they have absolutely got to see through. You could say there would always be next year but what a difference a year makes.

David Prutton

From a Leeds fan’s point of view, they will be hoping that all this excellent football that they have managed to produce and create won’t go to waste and that instead it will end up with one of those automatic promotion spots.

Because if a team misses out on the top two then there becomes a question mark about both their momentum and mentality going into the play-offs – that is what Leeds will be wanting to do their utmost to avoid.

Victory for Leeds would take them five points clear of Sheffield United with eight games left but that would only be a significant margin if Leeds manage to maintain that pace.

We saw a few weeks ago where Leeds had two very good results in beating Swansea and Bolton, but then they went down to QPR and lost.

Leeds United fans applaud Alan Smith and Ian Harte at Stamford Bridge on May 15, 2004 - Leeds' last Premier League game which Chelsea won 1-0. Picture: PA.

Leeds United fans applaud Alan Smith and Ian Harte at Stamford Bridge on May 15, 2004 - Leeds' last Premier League game which Chelsea won 1-0. Picture: PA.

They have got to be very wary of that but in the last three games we have seen three different ways of winning, blowing a team away in West Brom, rigorous and well thought out structurally at Bristol City and then being really expansive and expressive in the midweek win against Reading.

They have been superb but there’s absolutely no room for them to ease up, purely because of how Sheffield United are continuing to snap at their heels.

On the other side of the coin, defeat for Leeds would leave them third and one point behind Sheffield United meaning their automatic promotion destiny would suddenly be out of their hands with eight games left.

It would be Sheffield United’s to lose then.

Leeds have always been in and around the top two and you get the sense from Marcelo Bielsa that he would want Leeds to be making the running and, at the very least, keeping an eye on Norwich in front of them.

But, mentally, to slip out of the top two and be overtaken by the team behind you would present a huge test for them and that’s something which can be used as a motivating factor going into tomorrow’s game.

With Pontus Jansson asking fans to get there an hour before kick-off, the atmosphere will be amazing and Leeds have got to feed off that.

If you look back at the Norwich game at Elland Road, that was a strange game all round but when you talk about big atmospheres like this one it is something that the players have got to deal with and something they have got to handle.

As fiery as it is, it is much better playing in front of a lot of people than a few people. There is no question about that – it is where players want to be, both from a footballing ego point of view and also if you have got half an eye on reaching the Premier League –a big crowd is what you are going to have to get used to.

If Leeds do take that step back into the top flight then this is the sort of crowd they are going to be playing in front of every week so they have to get used to it and thrive off it.

Leeds have just got to make sure that they take the opportunity to do that and, down the line, seal promotion.

The immediacy of what football is and striking while the iron is hot means that this is something that they have absolutely got to see through.

You could say there would always be next year but what a difference a year makes.

This time last year it was different and the year before that it was different. A year is a long time in football.

So you can’t be presumptious and think that just because Leeds and Marcelo have managed to pull together a team this season that it works just as easy as that.

The other side of it is that financially the timing of it has got to be absolutely spot on for the off-field stuff.

The money-men have not got an infinite amount of money to put into a football club and nor do they have an infinite amount of patience.

There’s already been money pumped in and they would expect a return on that. A return on that would be getting into the Premier League.

Sky Bet Championship on Sky Sports: Leeds United v Sheffield United, Sky Sports Main Event, noon, tomorrow.