Three games Leeds must win to secure play-off spot
COMMENT By Matt Farr
Leeds secured a priceless victory over promotion rivals Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday, in a game that could prove to be a defining factor in the final Championship standings this season.
Chris Wood’s first-half strike handed Garry Monk’s side the three points, and tightened their grip on the play-off places.
They are now within just seven points of second-placed Brighton, while they have also established a similar margin ahead of seventh-placed Fulham.
However, with 13 games still to play, their place in the play-offs is by no means secure, and their hard work over the course of the season could be thrown out the window if they don’t win these three key games.
Fulham (away) – Tuesday 7 March
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The next item on the agenda for Leeds is back-to-back away games at Birmingham at Fulham. However, while Leeds will be expected to take three points away from struggling Birmingham, their clash at Craven Cottage will be considered the must-win affair.
Fulham have been impressive under Slavisa Jokanovic this term, and their position of seventh in the Championship table is testament to their hard-work and quality.
Their record of eight league defeats is bettered only by the league’s top two sides this season – Newcastle and Brighton – while they have scored the third-highest number of goals.
They have performed particularly well on home soil, and Leeds will need to be at their very best to take anything away from their visit to Craven Cottage.
Jokanovic’s side have lost just four home league games since the start of the season, and held Leeds to a 1-1 draw at Elland Road back in August.
Defeat against Fulham would open the door for them to make up valuable ground on the play-offs.
Reading (away) – Saturday 1 April
Another must-win encounter will be Leeds’ trip to the Madejski Stadium at the start of April.
Leeds and Reading have gone toe-to-toe for much of the campaign so far, and with just one point currently separating the two sides so far, the battle could go right down to the wire.
Reading too have been on a decent run of form, with their narrow defeat to Huddersfield last time out bringing to an end a six-game unbeaten run for Jaap Stam’s side.
If the Dutchman has proved anything since his arrival at the club in the summer, it is that his team must not be underestimated at any cost.
Yet despite their good form, Reading have struggled against the top teams in the division this term, including Leeds, and that can work in favour of the visitors.
In their six games against sides in the top six, Reading have won just once – at home to Huddersfield in September.
Preston (home) – Saturday 8 April
Shortly after the Reading game, Leeds return to Elland Road to host Preston North End. Simon Grayson’s side have been performing above expectation this season, and find themselves in eighth-place.
They have lost just once in the league in their last 11 games, a run that dates back to their last encounter with Leeds on Boxing Day.
Leeds ran out comfortable 4-1 winners on the day, but it will not be quite so easy at the second attempt.
Over the course of the campaign, Preston have defeated the likes of Brighton, Norwich and Huddersfield, three sides that are in contention for promotion.
As things start to heat up over the coming weeks, Grayson will no doubt love to add Leeds’ scalp to his list of downed victims, whilst maintaining their own push for promotion.
Preston are currently six points adrift of the play-offs, and are by no means out of the running yet.
The timing of the clash may also be crucial for Leeds, because they face tricky away ties to Brentford and Newcastle either side of the Preston meeting.