WITH 12 league defeats against their name already in 2013-14 and the mean figure of losses for play-off participation around 14 or 15, it doesn’t take a mathematician to deduce that Leeds United’s margin for error if they are to extend their season is minimal.
With a current haul of points – 42– still someway shy of the half-century mark with a third of the season to go, for United to reach the average points tally usually required to book a play-off place of around 70 will take some doing.
You are talking roughly 30 points, with 16 games remaining – in most people’s eyes, an unlikely scenario.
History doesn’t exactly support United’s bid, with just two sides, Leicester City last season and Middlesbrough way back in 1990-91 having sneaked into the second tier play-offs with a total of under 70 points over the 46-game format.
The Foxes lost 16 games on their way to 68 points last term, while Boro limped in with 69 in the early nineties, a season which saw them lose 17 league matches.
But, as things stand, it is not yet an impossibility, although if United did somehow pull it off and finish the season in the final play-off spot, it would represent an achievement to rank with the very best late-season charges.
Sky Sports’ summariser Don Goodman would go as far as suggest it would emulate Brian McDermott’s feats of lifting the title with Reading after a barnstorming second-half of the 2011-12, when they finished like the proverbial train to lift silverware.
To achieve that, they must somehow share the goalscoring workload more with 22-goal Ross McCormack – whose has scored just over half of United’s league goals tally of 43 and augment their squad with an injection of quality, two vital prerequisites according to Goodman.
Goodman told the YEP: “If Leeds can do it, it would be one hell of an achievement and I am sure Brian McDermott would liken it to winning the Championship at Reading. It would be that big.
“Ross McCormack can’t do it all on his own, but he’s trying the best he can! If the timing had been different, I don’t think they would have kept him in the window, but it’s fortunate they have. They have the Championship’s outstanding goalscorer; he’s actually more than a goalscorer though.
“There’s obviously all the stuff off the pitch and regardless of what anybody says, it does have an impact; it’s just a question of how big. The positive news for Leeds was that the transfer window came and went and they still kept hold of Ross. But he can’t do it on his own.
“When I look at Leeds United, I see a decent side with Brian McDermott a wily campaigner.
“But I think most people would concede they are a couple of players off where he would want them to be. It’s a question of whether he can get a couple of players in to improve the starting XI and then kick on from there.
“Then it’s about fighting and giving everything they have got and if they come up a bit short, then it will be a solid platform for next season.
“Last year, Leicester got in with 68 points after losing 16 games and the total was reasonably low because everybody seemed to be beating everybody. Before Saturday, Reading had 47 points and basically it’s about them getting another 23 points to get to 70. Say in their last 15 games, winning eight.
“One of those teams competing for sixth place will go on a run, which will have to be very good and you will need to average around two points per game. You often get a club who finish really strongly; look at Blackpool when they got promoted, Swansea similarly.”
Sixth-placed Reading’s weekend victory over QPR, which cemented their hold on sixth place was something United and those other rival sides on their coattails could have done without.
But hope still prevails and just as ex-boss Neil Warnock was still clinging onto a play-off lifeline 12 months ago, when United had exactly the same amount of points and wins, draws and losses from 30 games as they do now – and were in the same 11th place position – so his successor isn’t throwing in the towel either.
Just as it was in 2012-13, United’s appointment for their 31st Championship game of the season is at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium, this coming Saturday, with McDermott anxious to avoid a re-run of a costly defeat on Teesside just over 12 months ago which hammered one nail firmly into United’s play-off coffin.
Looking at the play-off picture, Goodman added: “Last year, Leeds fall away and didn’t finish well at all. I was at the Yeovil game recently and that win put them one point ahead of where they were at exactly the same time of the season last year. Obviously, they went onto lose at Brighton, but they are around the ball park of where they were last season.
“This time last year, they lost all consistency and couldn’t put results together and finished seven points off relegation and seven off a play-off place.”
He added: “I think the top five this year are pretty much cemented, barring a disaster.
“There’s a scrap below with Reading in sixth and Ipswich, Brighton, Blackburn, Leeds and Wigan battling it out.
“Leeds are as good as those clubs on their day. They can compete, but it’s about having the consistency.
“At the moment, they are all picking up the odd point, winning a few and then losing one or two. None of those are in scintillating form, but one of them sides will kick on.
“Leeds need to find the form they were in eight or nine weeks ago.
“You need to do well against the teams you are competing against, whether you are in a relegation battle, battle for a play-off spot or automatic promotion.
“What Leeds do against the clubs around them may ultimately decide their fate.”