Leeds United: Play-off look out of reach...but you never know – Ritchie

Alex Mowatt scores the winning goal against Millwall.
Alex Mowatt scores the winning goal against Millwall.
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Are the play-offs a possibility for Leeds United? I’ll answer that question in two ways.

My immediate response is to say no. The club are miles back from sixth place and the number of games left to play is getting close to single figures. They’d need a lot of results to fall into place for a top-six finish to happen.

But at the same time you never rule anything out. Over the years we’ve seen teams come from nowhere to win promotion. We’ve seen teams come from nowhere to get themselves relegated. So Steve Thompson, the Leeds assistant, had it right this week: don’t be complacent but don’t be giving up on the season either.

For now I wouldn’t be paying too much attention to anything other than the club’s next fixture. One or two more good results are probably all Leeds need to be safe from relegation and it would be great for everyone concerned if they could draw a line under that battle as soon as possible.

The club’s form is spot-on at the moment and there are other sides in the league who would kill for a run of four wins from five. It’s just what you need at the sharp end of the season and if Leeds stay up, as I fully expect them to, they’ll look back at the past couple of months as the key period.

They’re looking and playing like a team who understand this division. The nerves have gone and the confidence among the players seems to be soaring. I thought they were excellent in the win over Millwall last weekend. It got scrappy at times but don’t underestimate the importance of the match – it was a pressure game by anyone’s standards and Leeds were the side who rose to the occasion.

They went at Millwall right from the start, got an early stranglehold. There were tense moments, particularly towards the end of the match, but these are anxious times and Saturday was one of those days where both sides needed a victory any which way. Leeds took the points and Millwall are now in deep, deep trouble.

There’s still a possibility that Leeds could get dragged back into the mire but I don’t see it. For one thing, an eight-point gap with so many sides in between them and the bottom three is a lot of protection. But more importantly, a lot of players are right in form and the current formation seems to suit them perfectly. It’s highly unlikely that we’ll see a collapse now.

Four wins would take the club to 50 points and with 15 games remaining, that doesn’t seem like a difficult target. I guess that’s why a few people are starting to talk about the play-offs. If safety isn’t too far away, why not set a bigger objective?

I was manager of Barnsley when we made the League One play-offs in 2006. As I recall, that specific aim wasn’t something we spoke about at all until the very last day of the season.

We were away at Walsall and we knew that a top-six finish was virtually ours. In the team talk before the game, I said to the players “win today and we’re in the play-offs. It’s totally in our hands.”

I don’t remember talking like that at any other stage. On that day I just wanted the lads to realise that if ever there was a game where everyone needed to be switched on, play to their maximum and avoid stupid mistakes then that was it. We were fantastic in the first half and we led 2-0. We were absolutely crap in the second but we won 2-1. It was all about the league table on that afternoon.

For most of the season, though, we didn’t concentrate on team targets. Instead we set players personal goals with the view that if they all met their individuals targets, we were bound to have a very good year collectively. And that’s how it went. We beat Swansea in the play-off final.

The players at Leeds need to think in the same way. Play well at Middlesbrough tomorrow and another good result might come their way. Do that Saturday after Saturday and you’ll pick up more good results than other teams around you. The table will move, the positions will change, and if you’re in form then you won’t be dropping down it.

It really is pointless thinking about long-term permutations or possible calculations because football never works as it’s supposed to. Results don’t follow form at this stage and the division doesn’t move as you think it might. So play well, put points on the board and see what happens. That would be my advice.