Lee Sobot looks back at Leeds United’s recent history in August and uncovers a worrying trend of stuttering starts to their Championship campaigns under a number of different managers.
Only Rotherham United, Preston North End and Blackburn Rovers sit below the Whites in the pecking order after United’s haul of four points from their first five games.
The play-offs are the undoubted long-term target for Garry Monk but United are three points shy of their August haul of 2010 under Simon Grayson, the season of the club’s highest finish upon their return to Championship football, in seventh – but an effort that in itself still fell three points short of the haul required to make the top six.
United’s 2016 August return is their joint-worst in six years of consecutive Championship football, with Leeds three points behind the tally recorded under Uwe Rosler this time last year.
Leeds have only picked up four points from a possible 15 twice in the last six years, with this season’s early haul mirrored by the August return of 2011-12 under Grayson in his final year in charge.
Having gone close to reaching the play-offs the previous season when finishing seventh upon their immediate elevation from League One, United began the following campaign with a 3-1 defeat at Southampton, which was followed by a 1-0 loss at home to Middlesbrough.
Leeds then finally got up and running when blitzing Hull City 4-1 at Elland Road, after which the Whites salvaged a last-gasp 2-2 draw at West Ham thanks to Adam Clayton’s 90th-minute leveller.
After victory in the second round of the Carling Cup at Doncaster Rovers, hopes were suddenly high heading into the end of August’s league clash at Ipswich Town – rather like optimism was brimming approaching last weekend’s trip to Nottingham Forest.
But despite taking a first-half lead through Ross McCormack, the dismissal of Aidy White handed Ipswich a numerical advantage with two goals in the final 13 minutes leaving Leeds with four points heading into the international break.
It is exactly the same five years on. Back in 2011, Grayson’s United came out firing after the international break to record back-to-back home victories against Crystal Palace and Bristol City. Suddenly ten points out of a possible 21 did not look too bad.
But it was then a galling Festive period that left any potential promotion bid well and truly derailed and a 4-1 loss at home to Birmingham City at the end of January proved Grayson’s final game in charge as United went on to finish 14th under Neil Warnock.
United then managed to pick up at least two victories from their first five games in each of the three seasons that followed.
Under Warnock, United enjoyed August wins at home to Wolves and away at Peterborough United, with a 3-3 draw at home to Blackburn Rovers taking Leeds to seven points out of a possible 15 heading into the international break. Three points ahead of the current rate of progress but the Whites still only finished 13th. Brian McDermott was next in at the helm and he took Leeds to their best start to the Championship season of the last six years with two wins and two draws from the club’s first five games.
After beating Brighton at Elland Road, the Whites bagged a goalless draw at Leicester City before drawing 1-1 with Sheffield Wednesday at Elland Road and then winning 2-1 at Ipswich Town.
McDermott’s men ultimately entered the international break on a downer following a 1-0 loss at home to QPR but eight points out of a possible 15 was a respectable return under McDermott, though again, the early season was in no way reflected in the club’s eventual finishing position of 15th.
Next it was over to David Hockaday – who infamously lasted just six games in charge – but the early 1-0 win at home to Middlesbrough and a defeat of Bolton by the same score at the end of the month – under Neil Redfearn – still earned United six points out of a possible 15. Once again, as in the previous season, United finished 15th.
And then there was Rosler, criticised for picking up too many draws at the start of the season and having to wait until his fifth league game before bagging his first victory – at Derby County.
Even so, backed up by four previous draws against Burnley, Reading, Bristol City and Sheffield Wednesday, Leeds headed into September with a spring in their step as they were unbeaten and with seven points out of a possible 15.
Ultimately, though, another bottom-half finish was on the agenda and United’s solid August was soon forgotten in September and October.
A run of just one win from six games after the Derby success, and just four points out of a possible 18, cost Rosler his job and ultimately brought about the appointment of Steve Evans. The play-offs were briefly in sight under the Glaswegian but a final day draw at Preston denied Leeds even a top-half finish as the club had to settle for 13th.
For what it’s worth, United’s most successful season in the Championship – in 2005-06 under Kevin Blackwell – began with three victories and a draw, a solid ten points out of a possible 15, en route to finishing fifth. August is not the be all and end all but a decent start is a big help, though United’s 2008-09 season from League One can provide some comfort.
In the season in which they finished fourth under Grayson following the December dismissal of Gary McAllister, United had only five points heading into September but that was from just four games, with an opening day 2-1 win at Scunthorpe followed by a 2-0 loss at home to Oldham Athletic and draws against Yeovil Town and Bristol Rovers.
Hardly the form of play-off contenders, but United then bagged four straight wins in September.
Monk, quite rightly, will not look past United’s home clash with Huddersfield Town upon their September return, when United’s head coach will be looking to ignite the kind of much-needed autumn run engineered by McAllister in September 2008.