WHEN the visit of Norwich City brought the curtain down on another season at Elland Road 25 years ago next week, the celebratory mood turned the afternoon into something of a carnival.
Howard Wilkinson’s side had won the title seven days earlier and the city had been celebrating with gusto ever since.
Fireworks, a brass band and a stunning individual goal from Rod Wallace brought a fitting end to what had been a wonderful year for the Yorkshire club.
Fast forward a quarter of a century and the Canaries are again the final visitors of the season to Elland Road. The mood, however, could be in stark contrast to those joyous scenes of May 2, 1992.
Leeds, despite spending almost five months in the top six, could have their promotion dreams finally snuffed out today. A horror run of four defeats from the last half-dozen games has seen Garry Monk’s men slip out of the play-offs places with the finishing line in sight.
Even victory over Norwich will mean Leeds’ hopes of extending their campaign beyond May 7 will be reliant on results elsewhere.
Still, where there is life there is hope and Pontus Jansson believes there can be one final twist in what, up until a month ago, had been shaping up to be a season to savour for United.
“We have put ourselves in a difficult position but our mentality is that we will get in the play-offs,” said the 26-year-old.
“There is a possibility we can catch the other teams in front of us. My goal is still that we are going to be in the play-offs and my goal is that we are going to be in the Premier League. We have to believe.”
That United would be drinking in this last-chance saloon today seemed nigh on impossible just a short time ago. When the Championship resumed after the final international break of the season on April 1, Monk’s side enjoyed an eight-point advantage over Fulham.
Our mentality is: ‘Let’s go and win against Norwich and show we are ready to take those six points’.”Pontus Jansson
Now, just six games and four weeks later, Slavisa Jokanovic’s men are looking down on Leeds with the benefit of not only a three-point cushion but also a vastly superior goal difference.
Hope comes for Monk’s side via Fulham still having to go to Sheffield Wednesday on the final day. If six points can be gleaned from both today’s game with Norwich and the May 7 trip to a Wigan Athletic side likely to be already down then United may yet sneak back into the top six.
Regardless of whether Monk’s side can pull off the unexpected, Jansson does believe the squad have been guilty of one error of judgement this term.
“After the Brighton game, there was talk about being in the play-offs,” said the Swedish international about how United signed off before the last international break with a 2-0 victory over Chris Hughton’s men.
“It is always dangerous when you talk like that. You have to keep going and keep taking it game by game. Maybe after Brighton we should have reached for the top two instead – and not talked about how many points we needed for the play-offs. But that is the only mistake we have done this season.”
The past four weeks may have been hugely disappointing for Leeds but there is no denying that this term has been one where important strides forward have been made.
A near five-month stay in the top six is evidence of that, especially as the club had spent the previous few years as the very epitome of mid-table mediocrity amid a revolving-door policy of hiring and firing managers.
“I know the history and there has been a lot troubles here in later years,” added Jansson. “We have given love back to the fans. I am really proud of being part of that team. We don’t want to be in this position but we are.
“We all believe we can do it. I hope that everyone who comes to support us has the same belief.
“Now, it is time for us to hunt the teams in front of us. Sheffield (Wednesday) and Fulham have got two tough games and they have to win. There is a chance they will both have zero points after these two games.
“Everyone here is motivated to go out and win these two games. It is going to be a full Elland Road against Norwich and that will be an extra motivation. We have everything to win and that is how we have to think.
“This week has been one of the best weeks of training since I came to the club. Our mentality is: ‘Let’s go and win against Norwich and show we are ready to take those six points’.”
Another notable anniversary at Elland Road passed this week. Unlike the title win of 25 years ago, this was a moment few Leeds fans will want to be reminded about as 10 years ago yesterday the club was relegated to League One.
Alan Lee’s late equaliser for Ipswich coupled with Hull City winning at Cardiff City meant Dennis Wise’s United suffered the ignominy of dropping into the third tier for the first time in the club’s history.
It was an ugly afternoon, perhaps best epitomised by the pitch invasion shortly after Lee’s goal that held up play for half-an-hour. Fans turned on each other in the stands with the interlopers behind the hold-up being berated by those who felt the disruption had cost Leeds their best chance of regaining the lead.
Today will bring nothing like those sort of recriminations, even if United’s play-offs dream has been extinguished by 5pm.
The sense of Leeds being the architects of their own downfall, however, will be similar. Just as a team boasting the goals of Robbie Blake, David Healy and Richard Cresswell should never have been relegated from the Championship, so a side so far clear of the chasing pack as April dawned should, by rights, be planning for the promotion deciders and not relying on slip-ups from others.
“We are going to be in the play-offs,” said a defiant Jansson. “I am not sitting here and talking s***. I really believe that we are going to be in the play-offs and that the other teams are going to start to shake a bit.”