January is make or break time for Leeds Premier League hopes
COMMENT By Matt Farr
Leeds have endured a turbulent couple of years under Massimo Cellino’s ownership. The club has been constantly under the media spotlight, and Cellino’s recklessness has seen as many as six different managers come-and-go at Elland Road since his arrival.
However, under Garry Monk, things look a much different prospect. With Cellino seemingly on the way out, the club are on the way up, and much of their new-found belief is down to the hard-work of the former Swansea boss.
Monk took charge at Elland Road this summer following the dismissal of Steve Evans, and has led Leeds on a remarkable run of form that saw them finish fifth in the Championship at Christmas.
From their 22 league games this term, the Whites have won 12, just two fewer than they did across the whole of last season. Meanwhile, they have lost just twice in their last 10 league games, defeating promotion rivals Reading, Aston Villa and Norwich along the way.
However, while Leeds find themselves in a very strong position, it is only mid-way through the season, and there is still plenty to play for.
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Just seven points separate Leeds and 13th-placed Aston Villa, while just a single point separates each side between third and seventh.
Fixtures continue to come thick and fast over the coming weeks, and it is imperative that Leeds maintain their impressive form if they are to turn their promotion dream into a reality. But no matter how tough it can be, Leeds are very capable.
Monk’s side travel to Preston on Boxing Day with the hope of picking up all three points. It won’t be easy, as former Leeds boss Simon Grayson is doing an excellent job at 11th-placed Preston, but if Leeds can pick up all three points on the road, it will give them much-needed momentum heading into the new year.
It will strengthen their grip on the play-off places and keep them high on confidence heading into what could be one of their toughest games of the season – a visit to Villa Park.
Aston Villa have been nothing special this season, but since Steve Bruce took over, they look a much-improved outfit. Like Leeds, they too have lost just twice in their last 10 league games, and have promotion ambitions of their own to match.
Leeds beat them 2-0 earlier in the month at Elland Road, but travelling to Villa is a much different prospect. Three points there would mean the world to Monk and Leeds, but a point wouldn’t be so bad either.
They return to Elland Road to host Rotherham just four days later, and with just two wins this season, the Championship’s bottom-side are extremely vulnerable. Provided Leeds supply the goods, that’s got three-points written all over it.
That potentially gives Leeds nine points still with three league games left to play in January – against promotion rivals Derby, as well as Barnsley (12th) and Nottingham Forest (17th).
There are no easy games in the Championship – it’s one of the most competitive leagues at the moment – but based on Leeds’ current form, and with a little extra momentum, you can argue that there are some favourable fixtures coming up next month.
Chris Wood is in great goalscoring touch, with 14 goals from 25 appearances in all competitions, while the return to fitness of club captain Liam Bridcutt is a major boost. Summer signing Pontus Jansson has been phenomenal, while many of Leeds’ younger faces are proving to be worthy first-teamers.
The signs are all there for Leeds to return to the Premier League, and next month could hold the key to their promotion campaign.