David Prutton: I’ve got a gut feeling that Leeds United will finish second
LEEDS UNITED’S automatic promotion destiny is back in their own hands which is extremely important with five games left.
But then again are we going to be saying the same thing again next weekend after it swaps over again?
Leeds will have been buzzing with what they saw at Birmingham City on Wednesday after the Blues’ draw against Sheffield United.
We have seen second and third place flip flop before but now the advantage is back with Leeds and head coach Marcelo Bielsa has set the very straightforward aim of winning the remaining five games.
But that’s obviously going to be tough, starting with tomorrow’s clash against Sheffield Wednesday at Elland Road because of how well they have been doing under Steve Bruce – apart from the Aston Villa game.
It will be another Yorkshire derby which we love in the Championship, but it’s now straightforward for Leeds – five wins puts you in the Premier League.
Will Leeds need five wins? If people are saying that Sheffield United’s run-in might not appear the most demanding on paper, when it comes down to the actual games it’s nowhere near as straightforward as that.
Hull City away will be a tough one and it’ll be a toss of a coin as to whether Ipswich Town will pose them problems – though they will be down and out by the time Sheffield United play them.
But the Blades also have back-to-back home clashes against Millwall and Nottingham Forest plus the final day trip to Stoke City and there’s absolutely no straightforward games at all.
You can see Sheffield United’s determination. I was speaking to Blades boss Chris Wilder on Sunday at the EFL Awards and you could see he was really focused to the point of distraction with regards to how he was looking at the next games.
He was not giving anything away and does not want to put himself in a position where he wants teams to slip up.
But it’s frightening really when you look at how close United and the Blades are.
You can look at the five remaining fixtures for Leeds too but Leeds have just got to concentrate on what is coming up in front of them.
You could look at the Aston Villa game which is going to be massive but I don’t think they can look past the next game because the last few weeks have shown that results and form can bite you on the bum.
The Sheffield Wednesday game will be tough. They were very much in the game against Villa but it was at the start and the end of the game where they lost it, but then they comprehensively turned over Nottingham Forest.
There’s a certain stage of the season where everyone gets a bit relaxed and chilled out but for this lot there is just that tense state of awareness between now and the end of the season.
There’s also the fact that any sort of positive result for Sheffield Wednesday would help their arch rivals Sheffield United but what are they going to do – just come to Elland Road and lie down?
If you are a Sheffield United fan and you pick up the paper on Sunday morning and it says ‘3-0 Leeds’ then you might be thinking ‘you swines’.
But I know exactly how Steve Bruce approaches football matches and he will be gunning to win that game and I am struggling to think if there is a boyhood Owl within the ranks at Wednesday at all. It’s not like you have got Billy Sharp there and Chris Wilder and that’s not to say that if the roles were reversed that they would do anything untoward because they absolutely wouldn’t. But it’s between the fans, not the players.
Assuming Norwich City are away and gone, then one team out of Leeds and Sheffield United are going to miss out and finish in the play-offs but whoever that is will have to recover quickly. Emotionally and mentally it would be particularly draining.
But I don’t think this group of Leeds players are a group of players who will wilt.
I think they are a group of players that have been elevated across the board by Marcelo Bielsa and it’s a special thing that they are trying to achieve.
Whether it’s by automatic promotion – which I have got a gut feeling that it will be – or whether it be by the play-offs, that’s the way they have got to see it, as something special.
I’ve just got a gut feeling that Leeds will finish second, even in how the games have gone in certain moments.
Patrick Bamford got a bit of stick for missing chances in Saturday’s loss at Birmingham but he came back with a brace at Preston on Tuesday and was quite defiant in the way he celebrated it.
If that has given him a kick up the backside between now and the end of the season, then brilliant.
With Sheffield United then drawing it means that there is just one point in it.
I wouldn’t be surprised if that is how it finishes on April 5.
Sky Bet Championship on Sky Sports tomorrow: Leeds United v Sheffield Wednesday, Sky Sports Main Event, 5.15pm.
Sunday: Wigan Athletic v Norwich City, Sky Sports Main Event, 11.30am.