Leeds United is once more a Premier League club. Having been promoted as Champions, much to the incredulous joy of our loyal and long-suffering fans, the season’s goals can fairly be said to have been achieved, or even surpassed. Last year, we’d have been delighted to have gone up via the play-offs at Wembley (although we all secretly know we just don’t do play-offs). This year, the resolve was there and explicitly made clear that we would not be dicking about with any end of season lotteries. The aim was automatic promotion, and in the end, that has been achieved with two games to spare. It has been a season of pride and achievement, one that we will all look back on as fondly as we do that campaign thirty years ago when Wilko’s Warriors stormed the citadels of the top flight.
All that being undeniably true, there might be those who feel that the last game of the season, against Charlton Athletic at Elland Road on Wednesday, is a dead rubber. We’re just going to have the Championship Trophy presented, see out the ninety minutes and make the most of such rest and recuperation as an abbreviated close season can offer.
But of course, with Leeds now being Marcelo Bielsa‘s United, it can’t be as simple and undemanding as that. Those weary lads will be required to go out there and achieve victory in their accustomed relentless style, as happened in a particularly satisfying manner as recently as yesterday at Derby County. And that’s just as it should be – but not only because it’s in the DNA of el Loco’s Leeds to finish on a high.
Cast your minds back to last week, and the Barnsley game at Elland Road. It was a vital match for both sides, and the nervous tension was palpable. The events of this last weekend make last Thursday seem a lifetime ago now, but the fact is that we were taken to the limit and beyond by a Barnsley side scrapping for survival. The Tykes pushed us all the way and made life exceedingly uncomfortable for a home side that had recently dismantled a Stoke team just coming off the back of a four goal thrashing of Barnsley. The sums should have added up to a comfortable passage for Leeds, but football isn’t like that, and Barnsley gave us a gruelling examination and one hell of a scare. They had no luck, Dame Fortune entirely ignored their plight, and they suffered a one goal defeat courtesy of putting the ball into their own net in the first half. Barnsley were massively hard done by; Leeds, for once, got the breaks, and we were on our way up into the Promised Land.
I can’t recall many matches like that Barnsley game. It was completely unenjoyable; even after the final whistle, the main feeling was of a slightly hollow relief that we’d somehow got the points. I was left somewhat bewildered and nauseous, the kind of feeling you have when you manage to walk away unscathed from a car accident or some similar mishap. And of course, it was even worse for Barnsley fans, who didn’t even have that sense of relief and having got away with something. All they could do was to take the positives from what had been an excellent performance, and vow to grab the campaign’s remaining points in the hope that would keep them in the Championship for next season.
That vow was half-fulfilled yesterday as the Reds of Barnsley felled the Tricky Trees of Nottingham Forest with a late, late winner at Oakwell, to keep those flickering hopes alive. Now, they must go and win at Brentford, against a side still smarting from the defeat at Stoke which confirmed Leeds as Champions and handed back the advantage to West Brom in the race for that second auto spot. It’s a big, big ask for Barnsley, but surely not beyond them, if they can match the performance they put in at Elland Road, where they were, in my view and that of many others, the best visiting side Leeds have played this season.
If Barnsley were to win at Brentford, they’d still need other results to go their way, and that’s where we can help, by beating Charlton Athletic and giving our worthy opponents of last week some sort of chance. Various disciplinary issues involving the likes of Wigan, Sheffield Wednesday and even Derby County, could yet change to landscape of the Championship’s lower half. But Barnsley can’t and won’t rely on that – they will be focused on winning at Brentford, and hoping that others can do them the favours they need against their immediate rivals. Let’s hope that Leeds United can provide that helping hand and help save the Tykes. Sorry, Lee Bowyer, thou good and faithful servant of yesteryear, because this might seem rather churlish. But it really is the least we can hope to do for the fellow Yorkshire club that pushed us all the way on that nervy Elland Road evening of last week.
Marching On Together