SHOULD LEEDS United prevail in their absorbing battle of wills with Yorkshire rivals Sheffield United to claim automatic promotion to the Premier League, then there is every chance that Pablo Hernandez’s climatic goal on Saturday will be heralded as a watershed moment come season’s end.
The overwhelming emotion among Whites supporters following the Spaniard’s 83rd-minute finish in front of the Gelderd End in a tense and fluctuating 3-2 home win over Millwall was understandably one of sheer relief, but the historical context of that strike may just magnify its importance considerably.
The running story of the 2018-19 season will show that Leeds’s Hernandez-inspired victory enabled Marcelo Bielsa’s side to leapfrog the Blades into second position at the start of April.
Heading into the home straight at the beginning of the final full month of the season, it is a position of psychological merit, moreso when analysis of previous Championship tables over the past decade or so is factored in.
Since 2007-08, the statistics show that every side who has been resident in first or second place at the start of April in this division has gone onto achieve a top-two finish. Bar none.
The sides leading the Championship at this juncture have gone onto lift silverware in nine of the last ten seasons, with Wolves and Newcastle United – on two occasions apiece – Burnley, Bournemouth, Leicester City, Cardiff City and QPR maintaining their hold on top spot to clinch the main prize by May.
The only occasion in the past 11 years when a side currently in second place has usurped the leaders to win the division arrived in 2011-12 when Reading and Southampton swapped places, with the Royals afforded the kudos of league winners.
Much of that was down to a 3-1 victory for Brian McDermott’s side at St Mary’s in April 2012 in what effectively amounted to a title decider.
The list of teams who have maintained their hold on second place in April and early May to fight off all-comers and finish as Championship runners-up includes two White Rose sides in Middlesbrough (2015-16) and Hull City (2012-13) among that alumni.
Leeds would happily settle for being a third name from the Broad Acres on that particular list, albeit without sampling some of the nerve-shredding and scarcely-believable drama that Boro and the Tigers experienced.
Since 2007-08, the statistics show that every side who has been resident in first or second place at the start of April in this division has gone onto achieve a top-two finish. Bar none.Leon Wobschall
Boro famously prevailed on goal difference following an ultra-tense final-day draw with nearest rivals Brighton at the Riverside Stadium on May 7, 2016.
It was a day when the stakes could not been higher as a winning goal for the Seagulls would have seen them pip the hosts to second spot.
Three years earlier, the similarly epic theatre arrived down the North Sea coast at the KCOM Stadium where an astonishing finale ended in bemusement and then wild scenes of joy as Hull ended the season in runners-up spot after a 2-2 draw with champions Cardiff.
The Tigers’ celebrations were kept in check until news came through that nearest rivals Watford had lost 2-1 to Leeds, with the final whistle at Vicarage Road sounding 15 minutes after the end of the game in East Yorkshire.
While the recent tide of Championship history may be against the third-placed Blades in their quest to seal automatic promotion come the afternoon of May 5, the experiences in the run-in of two sides from the Broad Acres a little bit further back do provide a semblance of hope.
You must go back to 2007-08 for the last time that a team outside of the top two at the start of April achieved automatic promotion in the shape of West Brom, who jumped from fourth spot to the very top in the final month.
Back in 1998-99, Paul Jewell’s Bradford City leapfrogged Ipswich into second spot after the East Anglians experienced a poor run of form in the last month of the campaign.
The season before that, Boro – playing catch-up due to their run to the final of the League Cup – overhauled north-east rivals Sunderland to end the season as runners-up to Nottingham Forest following a fascinating four-way tussle for automatic promotion, which also involved Charlton Athletic.