It has been a funny old year for Leeds United. After finishing 7th under Garry Monk last year and missing out on the playoffs, you would expect them to build on that position and push for promotion to the Premier League. However, it has been anything but that as they look to have slipped to their old ways once again.
Monk left Leeds for recently relegated Middlesbrough in a shock move away from Elland Road. He was replaced by Thomas Christiansen who himself faced sacking earlier this February for mediocre results as he notched up a 42.9% win ratio. It was far from impressive with just one more win in all competitions than losses. The board turned to surprise appointment Paul Heckingbottom who was in charge of Barnsley, and his side were battling with relegation. Nonetheless, the true Yorkshire man took the job.
Since the arrival of the former defender, the fortune has improved. He lost his first game in charge against Sheffield United but since bounced back with two 2-2 draws against playoff placed sides Bristol City and Derby County. These draws were followed up by his first win in charge against Brentford at home.
Heckingbottom knows that he is fighting a tough battle in three aspects. One aspect is that he is new to the managerial world despite gaining a League One promotion in 2016. The second aspect being the fact that he has never managed a side who feel they need a return to the Premier League imminently. The final aspect is being in the most prominent revolving chair in England, even with the new ownership, they have sacked one manager in less than a year. The appointment of Heckingbottom made him the 10th manager in charge since Simon Grayson left in 2012; just six years ago.
However, he has got through his first month well and has answered some questions from the doubters. The manager has brought a bit more solidity to the side and organisation as they kept their first clean sheet since New Year’s day against Brentford. Even against Derby County they were seconds away from getting all three points but slipped to a side who are one of the best sides in the league.
The phrase that is being muttered around Leeds United is “playoffs”. They will be wondering if they can make a monumentally late push for them and it will be a huge ask of the players. They are only six points away from the final playoff place with 12 games left, but they still have to face Wolverhampton Wanders, Fulham, Aston Villa, Preston North End and Middlesbrough (Saturday) who are all above them in the table.
A club the size of Leeds United should not be languishing in the Championship. But just because they are the size they are does not mean they are entitled to be in the Premier League, they have to earn it and more importantly want it. The players really have to push on now to secure a place in the playoffs so that next season they are mixing it with the big boys once again.
Can they do it? If Heckingbottom can recreate the form, he had at Barnsley in their promotion year it is possible. He managed 17 games as caretaker from 13th February in the league, gaining 32 points from a possible 51 and only losing three games. He might just be the man Leeds United need.