The three matches that could decide Leeds’ destiny this season

NOTTINGHAM Forest away, Wigan at home and Derby away. Three games over the Festive period that could shape the rest of Leeds United’s season.

Tony Yeboah fires Leeds into a 2-0 lead with an overhead kick as Birmingham's ex Leeds United defender Chris Whyte watches.

And if recent years are to go by, December tis not the season to be jolly after all at Elland Road.

United have taken just 11 points from a possible 36 over the last three seasons but the Festive stat becomes even more damning when just December Festive fixtures are considered.

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Because under Brian McDermott, Neil Warnock and Simon Grayson, Leeds have taken just five points out of a possible 29 over the last three seasons when focusing on fixtures from the last weekend before Christmas until the new year when Leeds have a habit of winning.

In two of the last three seasons especially it has been over the Festive period when the damage has been done with dreadful results in December leading to the end of the road for both McDermott and Grayson two months later.

Warnock has brought United’s only December Festive cheer of the last three seasons through a 2-1 defeat of Middlesbrough at Elland Road on Saturday, December 22, 2012. Luciano Becchio’s double sank the Riversiders but back-to-back December defeats at Hull and Nottingham Forest followed with Billy Sharp at the double for Forest.

Forest also beat Leeds last Christmas meaning they will be chasing a Whites Festive hat-trick next weekend and over the last three seasons Leeds have won just one game out of their last nine as far as December’s Christmas games go and Neil Redfearn’s side are now in worse form than this time last year.

Approaching the Festive period of 2013 under McDermott, United approached their final Saturday fixture before Christmas on the back of a morale-boosting 3-0 win at Doncaster.

But that win in South Yorkshire was to prove United’s last win until Saturday, February 5 which provided the 5-1 hammering of Huddersfield amidst the infamous sacking and re-instating of McDermott as manager. That season, despite being buoyed by that 3-0 success at Doncaster, United picked up just two points over Christmas with back-to-back draws against Barnsley at Elland Road and Blackpool at Bloomfield Road proceeded by that season’s 2-1 loss at Nottingham Forest.

Matt Derbyshire hit an 84th-minute winner for Forest – within 60 seconds of Ross McCormack’s equaliser.

And even on New Year’s Day – when United have a recent habit of winning – Blackburn were 2-1 victors at Elland Road.

Matters got even worse with a 2-0 FA Cup exit at Rochdale followed by a 6-0 hammering at Sheffield Wednesday.

For McDermott, Christmas spelt the beginning of the end and it was the same for Grayson two seasons earlier.

In their second season back in the Championship, Grayson’s men were downed 1-0 by Jamie Ward’s strike at Derby on Boxing Day but it will be the clash at Oakwell five days later that still really wrankles.

Rarely before have United had a Festive hangover caused by the 4-1 loss at Barnsley on New Year’s Eve of 2011.

For Grayson, it was a sign of things to come, and as for McDermott the Festive period spelt the beginning of the end.

Grayson’s Leeds did Burnley at Elland Road on Monday, January 2 but the damage had been done and Grayson finally lost his job after a crushing 4-1 home loss to Birmingham City on Tuesday, January 31 with that season’s demoralising Festive period still fresh in the memory.

Not that Christmas and the Festive period has always been so painful for United whose fans have been quick to pin-point December highlights prior to the club’s demise to the Championship and League One.

Back in 1995, goals from Tony Yeboah and Brian Deane which followed a Gary McAllister penalty allowed United to sink arch rivals Manchester United in a Premiership fixture to savour of 1995. The day was particularly memorable for Harrogate-based Whites fan Dave Rowson. He recalled: “It was a noon kick-off and there were hardly any buses so early doors we walked from Harrogate and hitched a lift between Pannal and Harewood.

“We missed one bus and it was about two hours to next so we set off walking.”

Going back even further, United were unbeaten in four in December 1966 – beating Tottenham twice and Newcastle whilst also drawing with Manchester United.

Over a decade earlier in 1951, the Whites beat Leicester 2-1 at Elland Road in a Division Two clash on Christmas Day of all occasions with a 2-1 win at Filbert Street taking place the following day.

In 1987 United were in fantastic form in December – playing five and winning them all in the old Division Two with Birmingham, Reading, Huddersfield, Manchester City even and Middlesbrough being their victims. And despite the woeful record of recent years over the Festive period, United even enjoyed a merry Christmas under Grayson in 2009.

The joys of that Festive period provide the only successful Christmas United have had in recent years – but that came in League One – for all that a perfect Yuletide season ended with victory at Old Trafford. The standard of the opposition perhaps left something to be desired but over the Festive period of 2009-10 wins against Southampton, Hartlepool and Stockport were followed by that memorable afternoon at Old Trafford on Sunday, January 3, 2010.

Now that really was a late Christmas present to remember yet United’s fans still yearn for that fixture to become a regular date. If the Whites don’t improve their December/Christmas form, there’ll be a danger of slipping to the same division they were in the last time they beat them.