The greatest gift Leeds United fans could give Marcelo Bielsa and his team this Christmas - Graham Smyth
The Yorkshire Evening Post football writer is back with his latest Inside Elland Road column
Even if there was peace on Earth and goodwill to all men this Christmas, neither would feature at Elland Road today.
Christmas has already been ruined if you believe Twitter.
The three-goal second half capitulation against Cardiff City, defeat at Fulham and a month without Pablo Hernandez has put the Whites support on edge, or a section of it at least.
Perhaps it is more a case that this fanbase has existed on the edge, walking a tightrope between hope and despair for so long that they only need a gentle nudge for panic to set in.
There is a nervousness in the air and it will descend over the LS11 postcode this evening.
Almost nothing that happens in the game will shift it. Even a good start, an early opener or even a three-goal lead will not suffice. That much became obvious against Cardiff.
At 3-0, the tension had just about dissipated and calm, a sensation Marcelo Bielsa values above happiness, threatened to break out.
At 3-1, the cauldron of noise became a cauldron of nerves.
Leeds expect the worst and on that occasion it came to pass, just as it did last season in the play-offs, just as it has before when promotion back to the Premier League has beckoned.
There is some evidential basis to that song opposition fans sing about Leeds falling apart.
The nerves that set in during any game, whether tightly contested or not, are as much a part of the furniture as the Cheese Wedge.
Bielsa and his players feel it too.
“Everything that the supporter feels, we also feel it on the pitch, players and staff,” he said this week.
They do their utmost to make life more comfortable for their fans, they attack from the off and try to minimise risk by dominating the ball and pinning opposition sides down for long, long periods.
They have reached Christmas nine points clear of third with a stunning goals against column and just one defeat at home all season.
But the Cardiff game was proof that there is almost nothing the players can do to take nerves out of the equation.
There is just too much riding on every game for Leeds fans, too much sitting on a knife-edge, to relax and enjoy the ride.
It isn’t fair to owner Andrea Radrizzani or the Elland Road decision makers, who have turned the club around in so many ways, to call this a do-or-die season, but the future is very much uncertain.
What if Leeds don’t go up? What will the owner do then? What will Bielsa do then?
Those last two questions will still exist even if United find themselves in the top two when the final whistles go on May 2, 2020.
But if, once the season is done and dusted, Leeds’ immediate future lies in the Championship, those questions will dominate every waking minute for Whites. So it’s little wonder that they crave guarantees and reassurance.
Of course Leeds fans want fresh faces in January, they want to know beyond all reasonable doubt that this season will be different, that the squad will be strong enough to blow away the clouds of uncertainty so that the sun shines in a way it hasn’t at Elland Road since 2003.
Of course, if they’re 1-0 up in the second half against Preston, the place will be a bag of nerves.
But if Bielsa and his squad could ask for one Christmas present from their devotees, other than maybe brand new hamstrings for Hernandez, it would be a collective biting of the tongue around Elland Road when nervous energy threatens to spill out into anger or grumbling.
Channeled positively, that energy would be felt just as keenly by the men wearing the white shirts as the perfectly understandable pessimism that was tangible against the Bluebirds.
The goodwill shown to Patrick Bamford during his drought, the same goodwill bestowed upon Jack Harrison after his Carabao Cup penalty miss, that is the greatest and most timely gift Leeds will get this year from their fans.