Leeds earned their fifth win in sixth matches to practically end any fears of relegation, and at the same time inflicted Middlesbrough’s first Championship defeat since December and the first at the Riverside since August.
It’s a welcome boost for a team whose off the field activities have dominated the headlines for too long for the wrong reasons. With Massimo Cellino in and out of the club for various legal mishaps, plus managerial chaos and transfer embargoes keeping pundits and journalists with feet on desks and paragraph templates in databases, this season has been a dream for the media.
Hopefully for the Elland Road faithful, next season will see football do the talking. Stability will be the first priority. Neil Redfearn became Leeds’ third manager of the season as early as November but was only given an 18-month contract. Ideally he needs more secure backing than that to attract better players in the summer and mould a team ready to push for promotion to the Premier League next season.
“Our recent run is very satisfying. But we have got to make sure we don’t get carried away with ourselves,” said Redfearn after the win. “Reaching the play-offs is a tall ask but while there are points to play for there is no reason not to aim as high as you can.”
His somewhat contradictory comments perhaps reflects Leeds’ recent run in a nutshell. The fact the team remain 15 points off the play-offs despite taking 15 points from a possible 18 emphasises how close they were to the danger zone at the turn of the year.
For Middlesbrough, this has been their best push for promotion since being relegated from the Premier League back in 2009. Having spent most subsequent seasons floating around in mid-table, it’s a pleasant surprise to see them challenging. Little has been said of Boro in the media; indeed, even when they beat Manchester City in the FA Cup, the headlines largely belonged to Bradford City. All this may suit Aitor Karanka’s side, of course.
Perhaps the most punishing aspect of the defeat was its timing, with Karanka knowing that wins for both Derby and Bournemouth would see his side fall from top to third. As it was, Bournemouth’s defeat to Brentford meant Boro held on to second.
It proved a somewhat miserable day for the top six as a whole with only Derby, who scraped past Sheffield Wednesday – three vital points to take the Rams top – and Norwich winning; somewhat a missed opportunity for Ipswich, who would have gone third with a win at home to Reading. Brentford’s win means Mark Warburton’s men are right back in the play-off picture again, having recovered from consecutive defeats, and sit just a point behind in 7th.
The midweek fixture list makes for fascinating reading, perhaps most notably for Bournemouth, who don’t play until Wednesday and face a daunting trip to a red-hot Nottingham Forest side who have now taken 13 points from a possible 15 and scored 14 goals since Dougie Freedman’s arrival. Wins for the three clubs immediately below them on Tuesday would, points-wise at least, drag the Cherries down alongside the rest of the promotion chasers and give Eddie Howe his toughest spell of pressure at the top end of the table.
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