There’s no doubt that Leeds United need a few more points to be absolutely clear of relegation, but, in all probability, we’re counting down to another mid-table finish.
In those circumstances there are various ways of seeing out the last month of the season. You can play your strongest side and stick with the players who deserve to be involved again next year. Or you can experiment a bit; use a few youngsters, give a chance to some of the lads on the fringes of the squad and see if they’ve got something to offer.
Personally, one thing I want to see before the season finishes – and preferably at Rotherham United tomorrow – is the return of Chris Wood. He’s one player who has to get some games in before the summer comes, to get his confidence up as much as anything.
He’s got quite a long contract so he’s one of the players who’ll be here next season and, to be honest, he’s impressed me in the games where he’s done well. But it’s probably fair to say that he’s not quite convinced all of the fans and I’m sure he’ll be annoyed about the fact that we’re into April and he’s still stuck on eight goals. After his high-profile transfer to Elland Road, he was probably looking for a 20-goal return.
Obviously he’s had injury problems, but it does seem like the club has been holding him back in the past few weeks. They’ve been reluctant to take any risks with him and you’d understand that if we were a couple of months into the season with another 30 games to go. But really, if he starts tomorrow and limps off again, what difference does it make? The summer holiday will be here in four or five weeks time and it’s not like he’ll be needed for the play-offs. I’m not advocating a scenario where the club is reckless with him, but I really think the time has come to get him back out there.
I hope he feels the same and, if I was him, I’d be banging on the manager’s door, making the point that I’ve been fit for a while and asking to play.
This weekend seems like an obvious opportunity for him. It’s not like changes aren’t called for after the 4-1 defeat to Huddersfield.
Aside from that, when the club is mathematically safe I’d like to see some of the kids get a go. Not en masse or to an excessive degree, but in the right games, just to give them a taste of what first-team football is like when you’re on the field and in the thick of it.
There’s the ’keeper, Bailey Peacock-Farrell, and a couple of others too. It would do them no harm at all to go away for the summer feeling like they’re part of the plans. Given our league position, that has to be in Steve Evans’ mind.
Granted, he’ll want a strong finish to the season. Head coaches don’t like losing games and the better Steve’s record is, the more hopeful he’ll be about securing a new deal.
If the results are poor this month then he might find it hard to fight his corner with the owner but clubs are never keen to replace managers who consistently pull in results.
Consistency, however, is something we simply don’t have. The past five games have been a perfect example of that. We’ve had a win over Bolton, a first victory away at Cardiff since God-knows-when and a well deserved win at Blackburn – all in between two of the worst performances of the season against Brighton and Huddersfield. It’s a collection of good displays, average displays and shocking displays and you never quite know what this team is going to give you.
In terms of the football, I’m not expecting Leeds to finish off the campaign with nine straight wins and some sensational performances.
If they do that then you’d have to ask why the same players have been so up and down for the rest of the campaign – the parts of the campaign which actually mattered. I’d settle now for some stable results and more of an even keel; some consistency, rather than an impressive win followed by an abysmal defeat.
That sort of habit gets you nowhere and I’m desperately hoping that when next season comes, we don’t do what we did this year.
This year we started with too many draws and too many dropped points.
Next season we have to hit the ground running.
At some stage we have to find a rhythm which makes everyone think ‘this is our year’.