Leeds United midfielder Adam Forshaw knows all too well how a healthy advantage at the top of the Championship early in a new year can give way to a nervous final day in the promotion race.
Three years ago he was in the Middlesbrough side that beat Brentford on the second Tuesday of January to open up an eight-point cushion on third-placed Hull City with Aitor Karanka’s side also having a game in hand.
Even with the best part of four months still to run in the season, Boro looked firmly on course for a Premier League return.
By the Spring, however, the picture had changed dramatically and, in the end, the Teesside club went into the final day meeting with Brighton & Hove Albion needing a point to finish as runners-up behind already crowned champions Burnley.
Forshaw is minded of this when talk turns to Leeds being three points clear at the top heading into today’s trip to a Nottingham Forest side managed by Karanka.
“A lot can change between now and the end of the season,” said Forshaw. “I remember winning a game for Boro a couple of weeks into the year and we were eight points clear of third place.
“But it still took us until the last game of the season to go up. Saturday’s result (Leeds lost 2-0 at home to Hull City) just proved that this league is strange.
“Results like this do happen and you have just got to keep working and keep doing your recovery for the next game.
“I think we have got enough experienced heads in the dressing room now to know that it is a slog in itself. This period and the one around Easter is hard work so we have just got to recover and go for the next game as well as we can.”
Leeds head to the City Ground fully appreciating that the hosts feel they have a score to settle.
We have got enough experienced heads in the dressing room now to know that it is a slog in itself. This period and the one around Easter is hard work so we have just got to recover and go for the next game as well as we can.Leeds United’s Adam Forshaw
When the two teams met in October at Elland Road Forest were only denied victory by an equaliser from Kemar Roofe that replays showed involved the United forward using his arm.
Karanka and his players were incandescent with rage at the time and it is unlikely those feelings have abated too much in the intervening couple of months.
“It was a tough game here when we drew 1-1,” said Forshaw, who is looking forward to another reunion with his former Boro manager Karanka.
“We did enough to win the game, but they made it hard for us. They have a lot of experienced players who know the league and have got a good manager in Karanka.
“It is always a tough place to go, but we will be focusing on ourselves – recovering as well as possible now to go and play a high-energy game.”
The start of the year also means the start of the transfer window.
Head coach Marcelo Bielsa has insisted several times that Leeds will not be major players other than bringing in a goalkeeper as replacement for Jamal Blackman following the loanee’s return to Chelsea with a broken leg.
Samuel Saiz’s departure to Getafe on loan, however, could change things with the Spanish playmaker having featured in 19 league games before opting to return home to La Liga.
“To be honest, I don’t think we have missed him so far since he has left,” said Forshaw when asked about whether Saiz’s loss means a move into the market will be needed. “That is my personal view
“We have won three games since we announced he was leaving.
“I think everyone in the squad buys into what we are doing and works really hard for the team. It is not about any individuals, I will be honest. He is a good player but we are a team and all work together.”
Last six games: Nottingham Forest WLDLDL Leeds United WWWWWL.
Referee: D England (South Yorkshire).
Last time: Nottingham Forest 0 Leeds United 2; August 26, 2017; Championship.