Championship report: Why the remainder of 2023 will be telling for Leeds United, Hull City and Middlesbrough FC

LEEDS UNITED’S previous Championship evidence has shown that it is at this time of year when they usually start putting their foot on the accelerator.

The period after the final international hiatus of the year in November is a time when league tables truly take shape and serious sides make their move.Leeds did that, rather memorably, on their past two forays at this level in 2018-19 and 2019-20.

A repeat would go down nicely, although in fairness, a run of six league wins in their last seven outings suggests they are hitting the fast lane already in 2023-24.

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With the busy schedule to the turn of the year now in full view, a spot of historical inspiration should not go amiss either.

After the November break in 2018, Leeds - stung by a 4-1 televised beating at West Brom - reeled off seven league victories on the spin, culminating in two unforgettable Kemar Roofe-inspired festive wins in stoppage-time against Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers.

The following year, when United went all the way back to the top-flight, they won five successive matches following a fortnight’s pause for international business.

That sequence included triumphs over Middlesbrough, Hull City and Huddersfield Town, when they scored eight goals without reply. All told, they mustered a seven-match winning run, taking into account two wins immediately before the break.

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Such consistency was admirable and the numbers belonging to the current United crop are also making heads turn.

Leeds United boss Daniel Farke. Picture: Getty.Leeds United boss Daniel Farke. Picture: Getty.
Leeds United boss Daniel Farke. Picture: Getty.

Leeds’ statistics are worthy of respect and reassuringly solid and speak a fair bit about the prowess at this level of a proven second-tier operator in Daniel Farke.

United remain the only unbeaten Championship side on home soil this season. Only leaders Leicester have better defensive numbers in front of their own supporters - they have let in four league goals as opposed to United’s six.

Those statistics are identical for second-half concessions in league games, home and away, so far in 23-24 for each side. It points to stamina, organisation, belief and concentration.

Farke likes consistency and not deviating from the plan.

Hull City head coach Liam Rosenior. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.Hull City head coach Liam Rosenior. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.
Hull City head coach Liam Rosenior. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.
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Tests will arrive next month, against the north-east duo of Boro and Sunderland and also most notably second-placed Ipswich, who arrive for a mouth-watering fixture at Elland Road on December 23 which will provide a barometer in both teams’ season’s so far.

Christmas away trips to Preston and West Brom will also represent examinations for third-placed Leeds, who must also show due respect to next opponents Rotherham, who took a point off Ipswich at home recently.

In the East and North Riding - a bit further down in the table - Hull and Boro are among a host of clubs in the play-off mix, with the battle to earn a place in the end-of-season lottery promising to be another intriguing and hard-fought one for the second consecutive year.

Inspection of their league itinerary for the rest of 2023 offers promise and potential for Hull, for sure.

Middlesbrough head coach Michael Carrick. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.Middlesbrough head coach Michael Carrick. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.
Middlesbrough head coach Michael Carrick. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.
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In their next ten games, ending with the New Year’s Day fixture at Sheffield Wednesday, the eighth-placed Tigers play just one side currently above them in the table.

That is Sunderland, who are level on points with City and presently in the final play-off spot on goal difference.

In fairness, Hull do face a few teams around them, including Boro, Cardiff and Bristol City. They also play the division’s bottom three in Rotherham, QPR and the Owls.

Back-to-back home wins have provided balm for Liam Rosenior, but City’s overall record at the MKM Stadium is modest - the 12th best in the division - as is their goals output.

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Their total of 22 goals in 16 matches is also the lowest in the top ten and the only side with a worst record in the top half of the division is Bristol City.

Rosenior's mantra about his side becoming more ruthless is well-timed.

Perhaps more than any other side in the second-tier, Boro's chalk-and-cheese numbers are the most puzzling.

In the first half of games, they are pretty wretched in truth.

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The Teessiders have the worst record in the entire division - and it partly explains their dire start to 2023-24.Bottom of the first half ‘table’, Boro have also scored just five goals before the break, including only one at the Riverside. They have not scored in the opening half-hour of a home league game this term.

After the famine, cometh the feast.No side has scored more than Boro’s total of 18 second-half goals across the Championship. In the second-half ‘table’, their record is bettered only by Leicester.

It helps to explain why Boro, after a disastrous opening to the campaign which saw them fail to win in their opening seven matches and prop up the table, now find themselves in the top-six picture.

For Michael Carrick’s side - who suffered a big injury blow this week with vice-captain Darragh Lenihan joining Tommy Smith on the sidelines for the rest of the season - December represents their sternest test yet.

Boro face Leeds and Ipswich next month, alongside top-six candidates Hull, Preston and West Brom.