Shortening of Leeds United's points gap is staggering but it proves Championship oxymoron - David Prutton

It's staggering really that Leeds United are now only three points clear in the Championship’s automatic promotion places.

Monday, 27th January 2020, 6:00 am
Leeds have fallen from the heights of 11 points clear down to three (Pic: Bruce Rollinson)

You have to consider that the gap was 11 points after the 2-0 win at home to Hull City on December 10 and considering Saturday’s loss at Queens Park Rangers, travelling to London isn’t getting any better, is it?

Anyone who is thinking that Leeds are going to once again blow it has a very pessimistic viewpoint but I can understand any pessimism because of how far advanced they seemed to be.

But while an 11-point gap in December is great, it’s by no means done and dusted and there was a lot of pragmatism being spoken in the Leeds camp. What has happened since just goes to show that the very nature of this league throws up a bit of an oxymoron in consistent anomalies.

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You think a team is going to walk it and suddenly West Brom and Leeds have wobbles at the same time meaning that the door suddenly opens for the chasing pack – and they are stacking up.

But I think the thing that will maybe work in Leeds’ favour is that, if you look at Nottingham Forest, they were poor in the opening half-hour against Luton and I’ve still yet to see them dominate a full match.

Fulham are still trying to be consistent within 90 minutes and Brentford are the only ones you are looking at with the pressure not on them. For them, it could be a glorious season and a glorious farewell to Griffin Park. They are motoring along just nicely and Leeds have got to pull themselves out of the slump, simple as that.

At the end of the day, Leeds are still second but they are also only fourth-bottom in the form table over the last seven games which shows the ebbs and flows of what the Championship is.

I don’t think any Leeds fan would have expected them to walk the league considering how they did last season.

For all the plaudits they got and for all of the adulation, they still didn’t get promoted. They still lost in the play-offs and didn’t even make the final so let’s not get carried away as this is a team that are susceptible to the results and performances that we have seen of late.

At QPR, yet again Leeds kept the ball but spurned chances and missed a penalty and the same shortcomings that cost them last season seem to be prevalent now.

But it’s still only January, there’s still a long time left and it’s not akin to Liverpool being 16 points clear and suddenly blowing it. It’s akin to a very unpredictable league with a lot of games left. Leeds still haven’t brought in another striker – a replacement for Eddie Nketiah – and Watford’s Andre Gray is the latest named mooted. He is a player who can score goals at this level.

But Southampton’s Che Adams has always been the No 1 target and Leeds need to get something sorted and it’s either bring someone in who you hope will hit the ground running or get more from the players that you have got.

Over the course of the season, form and fitness is going to come and go and there are going to be fallow periods.

If a fallow period of seven or eight games is suddenly followed with two wins at home to Millwall and Wigan Athletic next week then, in a month’s time, this will all be forgotten.

But that is all very much hypothetical and the here and now is Leeds putting teams to bed after dominating a football match which they have just not been able to do and it does come down to vital moments in games when goalscorers need to step up.

On the flip side of it, you could look at the Nahki Wells goal in the defeat at QPR and I don’t know how the referee has managed to miss both handballs.

But these things happen and they have got to dust themselves off. They can’t allow themselves to get too tetchy or too paranoid or too carried away with what the situation is and feel sorry for themselves because they will just sink without trace.

But I think it’s a bit too drastic to say that signing another striker or not would definitely be the difference between going up or not. There’s a responsibility on everybody else to chip in and I don’t think the finger can be pointed solely at Patrick Bamford and his goals can’t be the only hope that promotion is hung on.

Other players have got to step up and they have got to find a way of playing that is able to bring the best out of Bamford and bring the best out of the players around him.

If you are not scoring from set-pieces then work on them and get players into better positions more often than not.

Defensively, if you are allowing yourself to lose by the odd goal then sort the defence out. It’s not just purely a striker question, it’s a question of the whole team. It’s great when everything is going well and the striker is scoring goals and everyone is taking the plaudits but when things are going badly you don’t start pointing the finger and saying it’s just you or just you.

It’s a team sport so you collectively appreciate the applause and collectively burden the finger-pointing. Leeds will also have to do without Kalvin Phillips for the next three games with his straight-red card for his tackle on QPR’s Geoff Cameron resulting a three-match ban.

The red card was quite obviously the right decision, it was quite obviously a straight-red card and maybe there was a sense of frustration with the way the game had gone.

Maybe it shows that, as much as we have lauded Phillips for the maturity he has shown over the past couple of seasons and his wonderful performances, that edge to him and that physical nature did spill over in that position.

It would be remiss of me to berate him for it because I have succumbed to a rush of blood in similar situations and you could tell by his reaction after the tackle that he knew exactly what he had done and exactly what the sanction was going to be. We like a bit of snap in our players and a bit of fight and a showing of emotion but done in the right boundaries and, in that instance, he overstepped the mark.

But Phillips has done more good for Leeds than has done bad so we slap him on the wrists and say ‘you silly sod and we are going to miss you’ but someone else steps in like Ben White.

I do think White looks a bit more composed 10 yards back in centre-defence but, if he is selected to play in that role, then he has got the ability on the ball to be able to help Leeds through the next three games.

Upcoming fixtures on Sky: Tuesday, Cardiff City v West Bromwich Albion, Leeds United v Millwall. Both kick off at 7.45pm.