LEEDS United head coach Garry Monk has always maintained there would be bumps in the road during 2016-17.
Saturday’s surprise 2-0 loss at home to Cardiff City was exactly that, with Leeds desperately hoping to avoid another stumble in last night’s clash against Bristol City.
But bumps in the road need not prevent promotion, as illustrated by the 2-1 loss at home to Walsall seven years ago this week mid-week in the season that Simon Grayson’s Whites finally waved goodbye to League One.
United had been facing Anderlecht in the Champions League last 16 on the corresponding week nine years earlier but Chris Hutchings and his Saddlers side provided a rather different test at Elland Road on Tuesday, Februrary 16, 2010.
Following their relegation from the Championship in 2007, Leeds were desperately attempting to escape League One at the third attempt after losing the play-off final to Doncaster Rovers in 2008 and then being decked by Millwall in the play-off semis in 2009.
But Grayson’s side looked destined to end the heartache the following season and the Tuesday night home clash with mid-table Walsall gave second-placed Leeds the chance to kick six points clear of those teams outside the automatic promotion places.
The Whites were unbeaten in 26 league games at Elland Road and were overwhelming favourites against a Saddlers side that had savoured victory in just one of their last 10 games.
The Leeds team included Robert Snodgrass and Bradley Johnson plus Max Gradel and Jonny Howson who were both introduced by Grayson in the second half.
Jermaine Beckford and Luciano Becchio led the Whites line but Walsall took a shock lead a minute after the break when Dwayne Mattis coolly hammered in a volley from just inside the area. With Beckford and Becchio unable to break a Whites breakthrough, it was McSheffrey who finally looked to have put Leeds back on track when his speculative effort misjudged by Walsall ’keeper Clayton Ince.
But United’s anticipated second goal never arrived and an 81st-minute corner led to Walsall bagging a winner as Clayton McDonald bundled the ball past Casper Ankergren.
“I thought we got out of the game what we deserved, nothing,” said Grayson. “We just had nothing about us. None of the players did themselves any justice.
“It’s hugely disappointing because we had a great chance to get three points, move away from Charlton and close in on Norwich.
“You can’t go through a season where it’s all rosy. You have blips and it’s about being strong and finding the characters who want to dig in and have the desire. I’m sure we’ll have all our good qualities and that desire and strength back for the weekend.”
Even then Leeds failed to bounce back with a win and only a 90th-minute equaliser from Snodgrass sealed a 1-1 draw at home to Brighton who were fighting relegation to League Two. Leeds nevertheless then went five games unbeaten but then came four major bumps in the road in the shape of four consecutive losses in March. But Leeds did it, just, promoted by finishing second, ultimately laying the platform for another yearned for promotion seven years on.
Leeds United 1
(Mattis 46, McDonald 81).
League One Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Leeds United: Ankergren, Crowe, Naylor, Lowry, Bromby, Kilkenny (Howson 75), McSheffrey, Johnson, Beckford. Becchio (Grella 60), Snodgrass (Gradel 60). Subs not used: Martin, Michalik, White, Doyle.
Walsall: Ince, Taundry, Westlake, Vincent, McDonald, Mattis, Till (Bradley 46), Richards, Gray, Deeney, Nicholls. Subs not used: Gilmartin, Sansara, Hughes, Smith, O’Keefe, Grigg.