Leeds' biggest problem is that they're Leeds
Chris Lakey Whisper it, but are Leeds about to bottle it? Again. While the shutters have gone up at Carrow Road on any questions relating to Norwich's chances of promotion or actually winning the League One title, they're not exactly all singing from the same hymn sheet at Elland Road.
Whisper it, but are Leeds about to bottle it? Again.
While the shutters have gone up at Carrow Road on any questions relating to Norwich's chances of promotion or actually winning the League One title, they're not exactly all singing from the same hymn sheet at Elland Road.
The natives are getting restless. And fidgety. They have good reason. Leeds lost in last season's play-off semi-finals to Millwall. A year earlier they went one game further, but were beaten 1-0 at Wembley by Doncaster.The team that was eight points clear of Norwich at the beginning of the year has now swapped places, and finds itself seven points in arrears. The recent form is an improvement, and still it doesn't read too well: W-D-D-W-L.
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They're a team on the slide: slowly wading through treacle, the promised land still out of reach.
In 2010, Leeds have played 13 league games and won three, drawn six and lost four - there are few who would dispute that their progress in the FA Cup and the subsequent heavy fixture list has hindered their league ambitions. Which is why, instead of battling it out with Norwich for top spot, they are hanging on to their coat-tails and desperately trying to protect their position in second.
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Leeds badly need a boost to their confidence, but their next three matches read like the fixture list from hell: Millwall at home, Norwich away, Swindon at home.
Their manager, Simon Grayson, believes Leeds are fighting for the "other" automatic promotion place.
"We just have to accept the defeat and move on to Millwall," he said. "The results elsewhere did help, but we don't want to be relying on other teams."
And who fancies anyone taking much away from Millwall right now?
No wonder Charlton, a team that looked like they had blown their own chances because of similarly inconsistent form, feel they are still in with a huge chance of going up automatically, even if there is a four-point gap to make up. As the only consistency is some teams' inconsistency, you wouldn't bet on Leeds or Charlton. Aside from Norwich, Swindon, Millwall and, at times, Colchester, none of the other teams appears to be able to grasp the nettle and make a concerted effort to get out of this dire league.
Assuming - and, yes, we shouldn't but it's in our nature - that Norwich are up, then you begin trying to work out who goes up with them. And why.
Leeds appear to be the team everyone is looking at, if only because it's been like car crash footy with them. You can't take your eyes off them.
Is their opinion of themselves as high as BBC's Alan Green, who believes the "Premiership is crying out for Leeds". Why? Do Leeds have more of a right to promotion than Yeovil, or Carlisle? Similarly, Norwich have no given right to be leaving League One behind. Ditto Southampton and Charlton. As Paul Lambert has been at pains to stress this season, "you are where you are for a reason".
It's about a squad of footballers, not the former players sitting in the stands or the replica trophies in the cupboard which creaks under the weight of past glories.
There are some Leeds fans who recognise that.
"How about this for an idea? We put all that 'big club coming back' claptrap on the back-burner till we are out of this league, become competitive in the next league and are not owned secretly," wrote one blogger. Leeds' biggest problem may be that they are Leeds. Put the same players in different shirts, call them something else and the pressure might be easier to take.
Now is the time to jostle for the best positions, and it's not always the team in third or fourth that prospers when the play-offs come around.
Finishing third on May 8 is just the same as finishing sixth - except when you finish third you feel disappointed to have just missed out. Finish sixth and you're delighted to still be in the picture.
If a team jumps into the play-off picture with a late flourish, they're going to be on a run of form. Lee
Clark was bitterly disappointed to lose at home to Norwich, but all is not lost: get the timing right, get a late run going and the momentum could carry a very good side further than he thought possible at quarter to five on Saturday.
Swindon, Colchester and fourth-placed Millwall are the teams directly above him. On current form, Millwall are the clear favourites. Their last eight matches have produced 19 points - one more than Norwich. Swindon and Colchester are in the top six form table, but Charlton and Leeds are simply middling.
As far as remaining fixtures go, you need to be Nostradamus with a penchant for a flutter to call a result from that little lot. Fortunately, we're not, so here goes: Sherlock says Norwich to go up, Leeds to scrape second place ahead of Charlton, Colchester to win the play-off final, perhaps beating Millwall.