Here, for the fourth month running, is a screenshot taken from the BBC website showing the top of the Championship, the second tier of English football. Like the previous three examples this one shows Leeds United (the team I have followed since the 1960s) top of the table and Norwich in second place.
Previous pieces have looked at goal difference and the importance of averaging at least 2 points per game, and last month there was a further reflection on both subjects. The purpose of this piece is simply to record how much I am enjoying Leeds’s time at the top of the table, and my awareness that it might not last. Norwich play later today (here in London, at Millwall) and Sheffield United play on Monday night, at local rivals Sheffield Wednesday. If Norwich lose, and Sheffield United fail to win, Leeds will stay top. That looks unlikely, so here, on this first Saturday in March, is evidence of Leeds leading the way, for a few more hours at least.
Leeds climbed from 3rd to 1st thanks to last night’s 4-0 win over West Bromwich Albion. It all went so much better than I feared, especially after last Tuesday’s defeat at QPR. At the start of last night’s game Leeds had a goal difference that was significantly worse that West Brom’s (+17 compared to +24) but thanks to Alioski’s injury time goal Leeds now have a superior goal difference (+21 compared to +20). That 92nd minute goal also meant that the margin of victory was greater than when West Brom beat Leeds 4-1 last November.
Leeds managed something similar in the two games against Norwich this season: a 3-0 win in the away fixture last August (on my wedding anniversary) and a 3-1 defeat at home last month. That 91st-minute Patrick Bamford goal for Leeds might have been just a consolation for most fans but I see it as more significant: it gives Leeds the edge in this season’s head-to-head meetings with Norwich.
In some countries head-to-head results can have a bearing on league places. In Spain, for example, when teams are level on points they are ordered according to their head-to-head results first, and then by goal difference. As this article on goal.com shows, it can all get a little complicated after that, with Fair Play scales counting up points for yellow cards, red cards, suspension of club personnel and even misconduct of supporters. It won’t come to that in the England Championship, but I still attach importance to head-to-head results against rival teams. I am tempted to spend some time checking whether league titles in Spain or elsewhere have ever been decided that way but that’s not the point of this piece. I’d rather return to this morning’s headlines: “Relentless Leeds go top of the Championship” (BBC Sport), “Bamford double sends Bielsa’s side surging to the summit” (The Guardian). I am enjoying it while it lasts.