By Will Butcher
Steve McClaren believes Leeds are the team to beat if they finish in the Championship play-offs this season.
Garry Monk’s side currently sit fourth in England’s second division and look nailed on to compete as one of the four second-tier sides in the play-offs come May.
McClaren, who was sacked by Derby earlier this month, delivered the huge statement that he would put his money on Leeds ahead of the likes of Huddersfield and Reading to gain promotion to the Premier League via the play-offs.
He claimed that Kyle Bartley’s late header during a 2-1 victory against Blackburn back in September was a turning point in the Yorkshire giants’ season, after making a poor start.
“I would back them because they have momentum and strength,” McClaren told Sky Sports’ Premier League Daily Show on Tuesday morning in a ringing endorsement of Leeds’ promotion chances.
“Owner Massimo Cellino has done really well and kept him in charge despite a blip in the first few games.
“I watched them at Blackburn in a match they needed to win with the score at 1-1 recently, and left a bit early. Heard a big roar behind me as they scored a late winner, and they haven’t looked back since.”
Leeds are in the middle of a exceptional run of form that has seen them remain unbeaten in their last seven league outings, securing wins against Brighton, Birmingham, Sheffield Wednesday and Bristol City.
Saturday’s 2-0 win against Chris Hughton’s Seagulls, thanks to a brace from Chris Wood, increased the gap between themselves and those outside the play-offs to eight points.
Now just two points behind Yorkshire rivals Huddersfield, Leeds will be looking to maintain their top six position against promotion rivals Reading on April 1 after the international break.
As it stands, the Whites would enter the play-offs along with David Wagner’s Terriers as well as Reading and Sheffield Wednesday, and would meet the latter in the semi-finals.
In other Leeds news, Monk has revealed crunch talks with this 25-year-old striker.