Adam Forshaw on Wigan collapse, continuing Marcelo Bielsa's promotion fight and believing in Leeds United's methods

There was, it seemed yesterday, no way back in Marcelo Bielsa’s mind.

Saturday, 27th April 2019, 1:36 am
Updated Saturday, 27th April 2019, 6:54 am
Leeds United midfielder Adam Forshaw.

Automatic promotion could still be Leeds United’s but Bielsa is a realist and when Sheffield United try to make it theirs against Ipswich Town tonight, he will not be counting on a lucky roll of the dice.

Adam Forshaw can see the long odds too but the midfielder is more inclined to think that second place is on the table until the Championship sends Leeds into the play-offs.

If Bielsa decides to take in Sheffield United’s game this evening, it might simply be on the basis that his squad are away at Ipswich next weekend. Forshaw on the other hand will be watching closely, with fingers crossed.

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“If anyone said they weren’t going to watch it then I don’t know why you wouldn’t,” Forshaw said. “It’ll mean everything to us if Ipswich get a result. If not, we prepare for the play-offs.

“It’s possible because it’s still mathematically possible. Yeah, it’s not in our hands anymore and we’re relying on other results and a big swing on goal difference. But it’s not dead in the water. (Pressure) can do strange things.”

Everything is stacked in Sheffield United’s favour.

They are at home in front of a capacity crowd and Ipswich were relegated a while ago having won once in 17 games, away at a club in Bolton Wanderers who are rivalling them for the title of the Championship’s biggest shambles.

Sheffield United’s goal difference is such that if they take one point from their last two games, Leeds will need six to go past them. First up for Bielsa is Aston Villa tomorrow, a team whose form shows 10 wins in a row.

That Leeds find themselves in such a tight corner is down to an Easter weekend when everything went wrong.

Bielsa said a 2-1 defeat to Wigan Athletic on Good Friday, in a match where Wigan played with 10 men for more than 70 minutes had “decided our fate” - an admission that he is braced for the play-offs - and it felt that way, at the time and in the aftermath of Monday’s 2-0 loss at Brentford.

Forshaw experienced first hand the strain of pursuing automatic promotion at Middlesbrough in 2016, when the Teesside club and Brighton were involved in the closest of finishes, so close that Brighton were edged out of goal difference after a draw between the clubs at The Riverside on the final day.

Had the tension bitten Leeds when it mattered, at the stage where promotion was in their hands with four games left?

“Against Wigan we were comfortable and 1-0 up,” Forshaw said.

“Maybe we were slightly too comfortable and thought the game would be a foregone conclusion, that we’d maybe get the goal difference up. Fair play to Wigan. They made it tough, kept two up top and countered us, made us pay.

“At Brentford, watching the game back, I felt especially for the first 40 minutes we were comfortable, dominated and had chances but we didn’t get the goal we needed.”

That was where Bielsa pinned the blame: on the failure score in periods where United’s dominance should have yielded something.

“At Middlesbrough we had a great group of lads, a real core,” Forshaw said.

“I’d say it’s similar here, everybody pulling in the same direction with a mix of people who’ve been at big clubs but that drive from the young lads who are determined to play in the Premier League.

“It’s all about believing in what got you to this position and worked for you. We’ve trained just as normal this week, done the same sessions and same drills. We can’t forget what’s got us here into this position where we’ve done so well. It’s not over yet and there’s still plenty to play for.

“This is the inconsistency of this league. If there was a team who were consistent week in, week out then they’d have been in the Premier League before now. We were 10 points clear at Christmas at Boro and it ended up going to the last day.

"That’s just the way the league is. It’s very tough, mentally, physically, everything. You’re tested to your limit at the end of the season but you have to keep believing.”

Bielsa’s players have prepared this week without any certainty about the type of game they will be contesting against Villa. If Sheffield United’s stomach goes this evening, Leeds would have a chance to put themselves back in the running for second place.

If not, they and Villa will partake in an inconsequential joust between two clubs who could meet again in the play-offs.

This season has produced a top three of clubs with playing budgets well below the highest in the league, Leeds’ included. The play-offs promise to be different, mixing Bielsa’s players with Villa, West Bromwich Albion and potentially Derby County, three sides whose expenditure outweighs United’s.

Forshaw claimed Leeds would still be favourites to win the play-offs on the basis of their performances.

“I’d say so,” he said.

“I’m going to be biased but from both playing in and watching the team this season, I think we’ve been brilliant. I’d say we’ve been as good as anyone to watch so I wouldn’t see why not.”

Villa will have comparable levels of confidence after 10 wins back to back, the best run the club have ever recorded. Tomorrow’s game could land a psychological blow before the play-offs and Forshaw admitted the need to regain impetus in Leeds’ last two fixtures was glaring after the Easter weekend.

“If anything, if it is the play-offs for us then we’d like to build some momentum, get some confidence and win these games,” he said.

“Winning breeds confidence so why wouldn’t you want to prepare as normal as ever?

“We’d like to put a marker down on Sunday to show what we still are. It’s a chance to show that if us and Villa were to potentially meet (in the play-offs) then this is what you’re up against.”