Leon Wobschall: Play-off pressure rears its ugly head for Leeds United once again

Leeds United's players show their dejection after losing to Wolves on Easter Monday. Picture: Simon Hulme
Leeds United's players show their dejection after losing to Wolves on Easter Monday. Picture: Simon Hulme
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EASTER MONDAY ... queasy feeling ... stomach in knots by any chance?

Chances are that if you are a Leeds United supporter, then you will feel like you have been here before.

The dull ache that Whites followers felt after a worrying and morale-sapping 1-0 home loss to Wolves was akin to the sensation many experienced six years earlier in their last Championship play-off tilt.

Then, the venue was Selhurst Park after Simon Grayson’s ‘nearly class’ of 2010-11, slipped up in a similarly grim single-goal loss at Crystal Palace.

Several thousand Whites followers had braved Britain’s congested road network on a Bank Holiday to visit SE25 for what ultimately proved a joyless afternoon in the spring sun - right from the moment Neil Danns fired the Eagles in front, just 80 seconds in.

While it was a considerably shorter journey home on Monday for the bulk of the crowd who accounted for another bumper 30,000-plus attendance at Elland Road, it will still have been a depressing trudge back to the front door.

Leeds United keeper Kasper Schmeichel  goes up in the last minutes to try and score a goal in the pivotal defeat to Crystal Palace in 2011. Picture: Simon Hulme..

Leeds United keeper Kasper Schmeichel goes up in the last minutes to try and score a goal in the pivotal defeat to Crystal Palace in 2011. Picture: Simon Hulme..

As with six seasons ago, Easter has proved most cruel for Leeds United. It provided the death knell for the club’s pitch for promotion in 2010-11 and, while the present-day Whites are just about in control of their own fate, the similarities with that season are plain for all to see.

Then, Leeds entered the Easter campaign of that season in the play-off positions and ended it outside of the top-six for the first time since late November. Sound familiar?

Groundhog day is the phrase to contemporary developments, with the club’s failure to also make significant headway in the January transfer window representing another worrying repeat element which many fear will ultimately prove just as telling as it did in 2010-11 when Leeds just missed out on the end-of-season party with a nagging sense of an opportunity lost.

Thankfully, time at least affords Leeds a little bit more wriggle room that it did six years ago. Then, the loss at Palace was pretty much game over on an afternoon when they dropped to ninth place and were three points adrift Nottingham Forest – the team occupying the final play-off place – with two games to go.

Leeds promptly won their final two matches, but it was too little, too late.

The forthcoming final-day game on May 7 between sixth-placed Fulham - who sneaked above Leeds on goal difference on Monday - and fifth-placed Sheffield Wednesday, who are currently two points above United, at least means Garry Monk’s side currently do not need snookers in their play-off quest.

Win their last three matches and the play-off party invite will be in the post. Of that, they should at least be grateful. But momentum is damned hard to win back in late April.

Wednesday possess that irresistible quality all of a sudden and Huddersfield’s haul of 78 points - plus a game in hand and a final-day encounter to come against a mid-table side at home - bestows them with an element of insurance too.

It is Leeds who are under the most pressure ahead of Saturday’s trip to Burton, whose ground is sponsored by leading tyre manufacturer Pirelli, who have a factory next to the stadium.

Despite the thoughts of former United assistant-boss Steve Staunton, pressure is not exclusively for tyres. Not in April anyway.