Since late last year I have limited the number of pieces that mention Leeds United, the team that I have followed since childhood, to two or three per month. These pieces have been recording the team’s efforts to return to the top tier of English football for the first time since 2004. Based on how much these efforts are occupying my mind I could easily write five pieces a week, before, during and after each week’s set of fixtures.
Although I have tried to make some general points (about goal difference, for instance, or the value of averaging at least 2 points per game), my attention is really taken up with the specifics of each set of fixtures. There have been 39 so far and there are 7 to go. My most recent piece about Sport, here, noted my disappointment at Sheffield United beating Leeds the day before St Patrick’s Day, and the possibility that Leeds would not win promotion this season after all. For the last 10 years, every team that has topped the Championship at Christmas has gone on to be promoted. It felt like Leeds would break that run.
After last weekend’s games, though, the gloom has lifted. Leeds are back in the top two (Norwich are still well clear at the top) and Sheffield United have dropped to third. The twists and turns of the two Yorkshire games (Leeds at home to Millwall and Bristol City’s visit to Bramall Lane) are summarized well in this piece from the BBC website. Rather than paraphrasing, here are the relevant four paragraphs, covering 12 minutes of action:
“Scott Hogan put the Blades [Sheffield United] 2-1 up after 71 minutes – while at Elland Road Leeds were trailing 2-1 to lowly Millwall, with Sheffield United seemingly going four points clear of their promotion rivals.
“Then Luke Ayling equalised for Leeds, before Weimann levelled for Bristol City for a second time, with the gap now one point in Sheffield United’s favour.
“And in the 83rd minute of both matches, it swung again as decisive goals went in – Weimann completing his hat-trick for City to put them 3-2 up, while Pablo Hernandez scored his second for Leeds to give them a 3-2 advantage.
“That’s how it stayed, meaning second-placed Leeds are two points clear of the Blades with seven games left after that dramatic six-point, 12-minute swing.”
I followed the twists and turns of both games nearly 200 miles away, here in West London. For the first half I was keeping an eye on the BT Sport equivalent of the BBC’s “Final Score” and received news of Sheffield United taking the lead and Millwall scoring first at Elland Road. Leeds fans were preparing for the worst. The presenter read out messages from supporters suggesting that not only would the team fail to finish in the top two, there would a complete collapse and Leeds would even drop out of the play-off places. Mathematically that is still possible, but very unlikely. I was out of the room when Patrick Bamford missed a penalty for Leeds but back in the room when Pablo Hernandez equalized.
At half-time the scores in both games were 1-1. My son and I were preparing to leave the house to buy a few things for the following day’s Mother’s Day celebrations. We hadn’t left by the time the second half began. I switched on the TV in my bedroom for a few minutes, hoping that a change of screen might change things. It did. “Final Score”, on BBC1, announced that Millwall had taken the lead again.
We left the house, dropped some unwanted items at a charity shop, and waited for a 94 bus heading towards town. I checked my phone. Sheffield United had taken the lead. Just before the bus arrived, and I dared to check my phone again, Leeds had equalized. Three points behind. We took our seats upstairs. I checked my phone again. Bristol City had equalized. That would do. If the day ended as it had begun, with Leeds a point off third place, that would be so much better than finishing the day four points behind.
My son and I were going to stop at Westfield in Shepherds Bush but decided to carry on and start our shopping in Notting Hill instead. As we approached Shepherds Bush Green I checked my phone again. Leeds had taken the lead. One point clear, and back in second place. I didn’t scroll down to see what was happening in Sheffield. I checked a few minutes later, just before Holland Park station. Bristol City had taken the lead. Both games were in added time. Some Championship matches had finished already, indicated by the yellow background to the scores on the BBC Scores & Fixtures page. I would check again in five minutes. When I did, just by Notting Hill Gate station, both games had ended and I was a whole lot happier than I had been 20 minutes earlier. I still am.