AFTER the storm that was Paul Heckingbottom’s opening half-dozen games with Leeds United against teams exclusively from the top 10 of the Championship comes the calm.
Or, at least, that is the theory, as United start a run-in largely comprising meetings with the division’s lesser lights, starting today at Reading.
The Royals, play-off finalists last term, are struggling this time around and sit just five points clear of the relegation zone. Their last two outings at the Madejski have also attracted sub-10,000 crowds.
Any hopes, however, that Leeds will be tested any less than in those recent games with the promotion pack have quickly been allayed by Heckingbottom.
He said: “Between now and the end of the season, we are playing teams fighting for points for different reasons. This is especially the case in the last six or seven games when we are up against teams fearing relegation.
“They are going to be fighting and scrapping for their lives. That can bring a different dynamic to games. Sometimes they are not the tidiest of games, but there is a desperation that makes the team dangerous.
“We are not quite at that stage yet. Reading are still above that, so I don’t think it will be one of those games.”
The United chief has already met Jaap Stam’s men twice this season, his Barnsley side losing 3-0 in Berkshire and then rescuing a dramatic late point at Oakwell courtesy of a stoppage-time equaliser from Ethan Pinnock.
Leeds, meanwhile, lost 1-0 at home to Reading, former Elland Road loanee Mo Barrow netting the decisive strike six minutes from time.
“Sometimes, there can be a hangover,” said Heckingbottom when asked about Reading’s penalty shoot-out defeat to Huddersfield Town at Wembley last May. “But it (Reading’s lowly position) is also a reflection of this league. It is unforgiving, really tight and close.
“If you are not to the highest of standards in your preparation and then in games, you can come undone. Things can quickly change and results change. You can go on winning streaks and losing streaks because the division is so tight.
“Looking at Reading last year, they won so many games 1-0. But this time they have not had the rub of the green. Their approach to the game and how they play is no different.”