Leeds United’s promotion prospects are stronger on the figures 12 months on

BETTER CHANCE: Leeds United, pictured celebrating Kemar Roofe's second goal in the win at QPR, are better placed than they were after 24 games last year. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.
BETTER CHANCE: Leeds United, pictured celebrating Kemar Roofe's second goal in the win at QPR, are better placed than they were after 24 games last year. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.
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ONLY five points stand between fifth-placed Leeds United and the Championship’s automatic promotion places with 22 games left.

Leeds know all too well that even an eight-point buffer with eight games to go is no forgone conclusion.

But seven months on from the heartbreak of missing out on the 2016-17 play-offs, United are forming an equally strong bid for promotion under Thomas Christiansen.

And United are actually in a better position this time around.

After 24 games of the Championship term last season, United again sat fifth but with a seven point gap to second-placed Brighton who also had a game in hand as the Seagulls and Newcastle United continued to set a scorching pace at the top of the tree.

Leeds were closer to the two teams directly above them and just one point behind third-placed Reading and fourth-placed Huddersfield Town as opposed to being three points behind fourth-placed Derby County and five adrift of third-placed Cardiff City this time around - the same as the gap to second-placed Bristol City.

Leaders Wolves - who are 13 points ahead of Leeds and even eight points clear of second-placed Bristol City - look away and gone.

But a generally tighter division means United’s prospects of automatic promotion are stronger - on paper at least - 12 months on.

And United only had a two point cushion to those teams outside of the play-offs after this many games last year whereas 12 months on there is a now a four-point cushion back to seventh-placed Aston Villa and Middlesbrough.

The prospect of Tony Pulis finally getting Boro motoring is worth bearing in mind but so too is the fact that Saturday’s trip to bottom side Birmingham City provides Leeds with a fine opportunity to move ahead of the points tally they were on at the corresponding stage of the season last year though United’s post-Boxing Day clash last season was their 24th league game whereas the trip to Birmingham this time around will be United’s 25th.

Nevertheless, Leeds picked up a point in their game after Boxing Day last season with a 1-1 draw at Aston Villa, a result which was followed by back to back victories at home to Rotherham United and Derby County.

It means Leeds will need to continue their fine run into January to keep tabs with where they were last year.

February and March will clearly be crunch time with trips to Sheffield United, Derby County and Middlesbrough on the agenda along with home ties against Cardiff, Bristol City, Brentford and Wolves.

Leeds might well need to be ahead of where they were in the previous season by then and at present there is every chance of that objective being fulfilled.

Whether or not United’s squad is as strong as last season’s is open to debate and for all of the obvious flair that new additions Samu Saiz, Gjanni Alioski and now Pawel Cibicki provide, the one glaring absentee are the goals of Chris Wood.

The New Zealand international had netted 11 times in the league by this stage last season whereas Kemar Roofe is currently on seven.

Wood went on to net 16 more times in the league and even that was not enough to get United into the play-offs, never mind the top two.

The calls for United to sign another striker in January look well founded and goalkeeper Rob Green, centre-back Kyle Bartley and left back Charlie Taylor are the other obvious major omissions 12 months on and despite keeping ten clean sheets, United have conceded three more goals at this stage of the season than last year.

January, though, provides the chance to strengthen Leeds further and United’s opportunity to seal at least a play-offs place is obvious with United in a better position on the figures than this time last year.

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