Leeds United look for confidence booster ahead of play-offs
It was always going to be the case, but is definite now that Leeds United will have to go through the play-offs if they are to achieve the promotion they have worked so hard for this season.
Sheffield United’s fully expected win over Ipswich and the Whites’ draw with Aston Villa means the Blades were doing the celebrating at the weekend and Leeds players and fans the fretting about what the lottery of the play-offs has in store for them.
What is left to decide is who plays who in the semi-finals with Leeds needing a point from their last game against bottom of the table Ipswich to seal third place. They would then play the team in sixth with Derby County the most likely to finish there – and what a potentially tasty two-legged tie that would be.
Leeds can still be pipped by West Brom if they lose and the Baggies win their game. That would mean a quick rematch with Aston Villa would be on the cards and another mouth watering couple of encounters.
Either way the excitement and tension is not quite over yet despite the Whites’ failure to get over the line in the top two.
In some ways it seemed a relief for the players to know their fate as they gave a much more focused display against Villa last Sunday.
The same failing was there with an inability to make the most of the plentiful opportunities created and huge possession advantage they enjoyed. But they were up against a team in red hot form with 10 straight wins so it was encouraging to see there was nothing in the visitors’ display to suggest they need to be feared by Marcelo Bielsa’s men.
Bielsa was encouraged by his team’s display in the 1-1 draw.
He said: “For me it’s a very important performance because we played against the best team in the Championship at this moment. We played against an opponent with this level but we were able to express the aspects which define our team.
“For us it was important and it was a challenge we wanted to face. We wanted to play against a big team and to show that we could beat them.”
Bielsa will want his team to go into the play-offs with a confidence boosting display against relegated Ipswich and is likely to pick his strongest possible side.
He is short of left-backs with four players to play there for Leeds this season currently on the sidelines, but has Gaetano Berardi as a back-up.
Elsewhere his biggest decisions are whether to start Tyler Roberts after he made a big impact coming off the bench against Villa and Kemar Roofe who is expected to be fit again.
He looks likely to be without striker Patrick Bamford, expected to be banned for two games after being charged by the FA for the “successful deception of a match official” when he fell to the floor and got Aston Villa’s Anwar El Ghazi sent off without any contact being made.
Replays confirmed Bamford’s actions, but also showed Villa’s Conor Hourihane striking Mateusz Klich, but he has escaped any further action, leading to Leeds fans venting their fury on social media.
Earlier in the season Sergi Canos - also playing for a team managed by Dean Smith at the time - got away scot free after cameras picked him up aiming a headbutt at United’s Gjanni Alioski while Pontus Jansson was banned for criticising the referee in that Brentford game.
There has been no word on whether referee Stuart Attwell has been banned for his shocking handling of the Aston Villa match.