Leeds United go from one high pressure game to another as they move on from their Norwich disappointment with another six-pointer at Middlesbrough this Saturday.
A few cracks are appearing at Elland Road and after they surrendered top spot to Norwich last weekend they could be out of the top two if they lose again and Sheffield United win their game at Aston Villa.
Middlesbrough themselves put themselves right back in the automatic promotion picture with a 3-2 win at another of the candidates, West Brom, and they will not be short of motivation to now defeat Leeds as they would go to within four points of the Whites with a game in hand.
With four defeats in their last six league games and five in seven in all matches United’s confidence must have taken a dint ahead of their trip to the Riverside and it looks like being a test of nerve as much as anything in the next few weeks if they are to avoid the “Leeds are falling apart” song becoming true again.
The response to previous pressures ahead of the Derby and Rotherham games last month suggest Marcelo Bielsa’s men have bouncebackability, but the problems appear to be a bit more deep lying this time based on the rare sight of seeing this Leeds team outplayed in the second half of their massive game with Norwich.
Some have suggested it was a sign that the players were beginning to run out of gas, but credit should be given to Norwich for doing a “Leeds” on their hosts by pressing high up the pitch and smothering the life out of the home team.
Other teams have tried that in the past and completely failed so it was not suddenly a problem of the Bielsa tactics, which are a major reason why he has taken a mid-table side and had them in the top two almost all season.
Whether the United players individually are actually good enough to earn one of the two promotion spots is more in question and the failure to strengthen in the January transfer window means it is all down to the current squad now to prove it has sufficient quality.
Closer examination of the Norwich match showed that there was no massive reason to panic, however, as it was clear Leeds did not have any luck on the night and all the big decisions went to the opposition.
Although two down at the break some of United’s play had been exciting. They had 15 efforts on goal in the opening 45 minutes, should have had a penalty when Tyler Roberts was pulled down in the area and had a “goal” disallowed. On another night Norwich would have been down to 10 men with keeper Tim Krul sent-off for a “Shumacher-style” challenge on Roberts as the Leeds player was bearing down on goal while deflections played a big part in both their first half goals.
Bielsa did not blame bad luck, but his side’s poor goals to chances ratio.
He said: “In every game we have difficulties to score goals.
“The fact that we usually create many chances and we score few goals (means) our average regarding the chances we have to score and actually the number of goals we score is worse than the teams who occupy the bottom of the table.
“The leading teams need two or three chances to score one goal. The team at the bottom of the table usually needs four chances to score one. For us, we need five chances to score one.
“We were strong because we had a good defensive side, but we have lost that. We make avoidable mistakes and usually the consequences of these mistakes are goals.”
Leeds fans, meanwhile, have been angered by the Football League’s decision to make the club play three games in six days at the end of the month.
The away game at QPR, scheduled for February 16, has to be moved because of the home’s continued involvement in the FA Cup, but instead of being put back a few days or into March it has been switched to Tuesday, February 26. This means United will now be in action the previous Saturday at home to Bolton Wanderers and the following Friday in a huge match with promotion rivals West Brom, which has already been brought forward for live coverage on Sky.