It was a glorious day for Leeds United, a potent reminder of where the club should be competing every season. Since the victory at Old Trafford however the club have lost top spot in League One and been knocked out of the FA Cup and Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. So was it really worth it?
Leeds have not won a league game in February, they were eventually knocked out the FA Cup by Tottenham and Carlisle beat them on penalties in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. Draws with Wycombe, Hartlepool and Leyton Orient and damaging defeats against Exeter, Swindon and most recently Walsall have seriously jeopardised their league challenge. At the same time Norwich have found some excellent form and have rocketed past Leeds into top spot with a 4 point gap. The only solace in the league is that Charlton have also struggled for points, and may rue missed opportunities to have overtaken Leeds.
Leeds are an enormous club and the very fact they are in League One is fascinating and worrying in equal measure. The club has now stabilised and its aim has to be to get back into the Premier League as soon as possible. The FA Cup is a fantastic competition and the opportunity to play Manchester United and Tottenham helps to remind everyone involved at the club of where they need to get to. It also acted as a timely reminder for a wider football audience of the passionate support that Leeds have, regardless of their situation. The clubs priority this season however has to be automatic promotion to the Championship and the loss of form is a serious obstacle to this aim.
It is hard to know what causes form in sport, but there is surely a coincidence between Leeds’ FA Cup success and their league form. Players like Jermaine Beckford had their head turned by the atmosphere and opportunities of the Premier League, and even sub-consciously their form has waned. The added games have also not helped, with a physically draining performance at Old Trafford followed by two equally tense games against Tottenham. Whilst their opposition in League One had the week off Leeds were having to slug it out in the FA Cup. Fatigue is a major concern and affects all clubs towards the end of the season, when the games mount up. As a League One side they do not have the strength in depth to cover the fatigue in key players.
Despite their slump in form Leeds are still second and have a game in hand. All the clubs around them in the race for promotion will still fear Leeds and they have some players that have shown they can compete with top opposition. They earned some good money from the Cup games and they helped to reinvigorate the club and no doubt the city itself. The fact that their title challenge has stalled since is worrying but there are enough good players at the club to revert the slide. Simon Grayson is rightly regarded as one of the most promising young English managers and he has a serious challenge to kick-start his stuttering squad. The worry however is that the players can not get motivated for a match such as the one against relegation threatened Brighton at the weekend. Grayson needs to remind the players that the big games will not ever return to Leeds unless they win against the likes of Brighton. If they want the chance to play at Anfield and the Emirates then they have to improve in the remaining 3 months this season. Bigger things lay ahead for Beckford, Grayson and Leeds, but Brighton on Saturday is an important first step.
So was it worth it? The answer to the question can only be finally answered in May, if they are promoted then it will have been a great season. If Leeds do not get promotion then the FA Cup will be a factor but the club will have had enough time to get over the extra games and serious questions would be asked of the players. For the time being though, it has to be worth it, and if the club can replicate their FA Cup form they will comfortably gain promotion, to add to the scalp of Manchester United.
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