Sporting bygones: Leeds United aim to turn back the clock to title win under Howard Wilkinson
LEEDS UNITED looked likely to be facing the prospect of making history this New Year's Day.
Marcelo Bielsa’s Whites approached Saturday’s Championship hosting of Hull City following seven straight league wins.
The club record stands at nine, achieved under Dick Ray in the 1931-32 season.
Alas for Leeds, Saturday’s 2-0 defeat to Hull means there will be no equalling of the record come tomorrow’s game at the City Ground against Nottingham Forest.
Yet Bielsa’s team remain firmly on course to repeat more recent history of winning English football’s second division, a feat achieved by Howard Wilkinson’s Whites in 1989-90 – two seasons before United were crowned champions of England.
Bielsa’s men are already ahead of schedule compared to the team of 1989-90 with the 2018-19 Whites having clocked up three more points than Wilkinson’s men had at the turn of the year and having played one game fewer.
All eyes will be on how Bielsa’s men respond to their weekend loss to Hull and back in 1989-90 defeat at Barnsley was followed only by a 1-1 draw at home to Oldham Athletic.
Wining ways were resumed with a 2-1 triumph at Blackburn Rovers on January 13 – the first of 10 more victories and six draws from the club’s remaining 21 games.
Ten more wins and six draws for Bielsa’s men would leave them on 87 points – just short of what is normally required – but Wilkinson’s side won the division with just 85 points in 1990.
The number of points required by Leeds either to win the Championship or achieve automatic promotion will clearly depend on how their rivals fare with Norwich City and West Bromwich looking the chief threats.
Back in 1989-90 Leeds edged out Sheffield United, under Dave Bassett, for the Second Division title on goal difference.
What mattered most was the five-point cushion back to their opening-day conquerors Newcastle, who finished third with 80 points, six clear of fourth-placed Swindon.
But at the end of 1989 it was Sunderland who sat third on 42 points - six behind Leeds - only to fall away.
At the turn of December, 1989, the Blades were sat on 47 points and one point behind Leeds after 13 wins and eight draws.
The Magpies were way off the pace with just 10 wins and seven draws at this stage of the season – on 37 points and 11 behind Leeds.
Six wins in succession in March and April helped close the gap, but not sufficiently.
Indeed, at the turn of 1989, Sunderland sat third and six points behind Leeds before falling away.
The division’s top two then, Leeds and Sheffield United, had a post-Christmas cushion over the side that would end up as their closest pursuers and main dangers for automatic promotion.
Today Leeds and Norwich have cushions over the third-placed Baggies; five points in Leeds’s case and just two for the Canaries.
Bar a second half of the season slip-up Leeds are on course to repeat the heroics of 1990.