WATCHING LEEDS UNITED and Sheffield Wednesday joust with the equivalent of paper swords on a snowy derby battleground on Saturday, it was inescapable to avoid the impression that you were witnessing a ‘phoney war.’
Hopelessly adrift of where they both were in the upper echelons of the Championship 12 months earlier, both sides are painfully and pitifully stranded in no-man’s-land with only inconsequential skirmishes in prospect before a new offensive front surely opens up in the close season.
A campaign of gross underachievement, rancour, embarrassment and ineptitude at times and at worst, apathy, will draw to a thankful close on May 6. As others look forward to extending their seasons, both Whites supporters and Wednesdayites will collectively say ‘Hallelujah’.
Just as they have on too many occasions since their fall from grace from the Premier League, Leeds will begin their ninth successive season in the second tier in August and Wednesday, barring something truly sinister, will start their sixth consecutive campaign at Championship level at the same juncture.
If fans of both clubs have their way, then the squad landscape for Leeds and the Owls will be vastly transformed come the start of 2017-18. Although that is very much a case of easier said, than done.
How the Elland Road and Hillsborough hierarchy quite do that is anyone’s guess, with the numbers horrifically stacked against them.
With both sides destined for forgettable league placings after dire campaigns, neither are afforded the precious luxury of a host of players being out of contract in the summer to provide room for manoeuvre in terms of a major squad overhaul.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
Leeds have just one leading player out of contract this June, in the shape of Pablo Hernandez - probably one of their most consistent players in a pretty low-grade season, that sunny start aside.
Comparatively, Wednesday fare a bit better, with five senior players seeing their contracts expire. But placed into context, it is small beer, given that they are in receipt of a squad which is one of the most bloated in the division.
For both Leeds and Wednesday, the devil is in the detail with the real story being in the number of players who will not see their deals elapse in two underachieving squads who have regressed alarmingly this season.Leon Wobschall
They could probably do worse than follow the example of Tony Pulis at Middlesbrough in January. Instead of worrying about incoming recruits, the Welshman sensibly turned his attention to pruning a squad which was also top-heavy in several departments and lacking in togetherness and direction at the start of the winter transfer window.
It was trimmed, with some expensive recruits heading for pastures new and perhaps it is no coincidence that a tighter Boro squad have improved results along the way and an identity has been forged.
For both Leeds and Wednesday, the devil is in the detail with the real story being in the number of players who will not see their deals elapse in two underachieving squads who have regressed alarmingly this season.
For Leeds, the overwhelming majority of their players are at least contracted at the club until 2020 or 2021. A colossal figure of 22, with five in possession of deals which run until 2022. Crisis, what crisis?
Given events this season, it is a startling and somewhat disconcerting figure and one which is hard to take in.
Most of Wednesday big-hitters are contracted at least until the summer of 2019 - when 12 players see their deals expire.
Given the fact that a number of those players are hardly in the first flush of youth and are well on the wrong side of 25 and on big wage packets, moving any on will be far from straightforward and will take some dexterous ingenuity and nous.
Many players who are not wanted will plainly take some shifting - mindful of the fact they can sit tight, should they wish, with the insurance of their contractual situation. A ‘hit’ or two will have to be taken on several.
For both clubs, big decisions are not just a necessity, but pretty much non-negotiable as soon as this season is out of the way.
Sometimes, it is not about who you bring in, but who you get out.
Tough decisions are required. And two fanbases will expect, too. They could do with an emphatic result.