Pressure of playing second behind rivals weighs heavy on Leeds United

Dejected Jack Clarke and shellshocked Leeds United teammates at full-time at Brentford.
Dejected Jack Clarke and shellshocked Leeds United teammates at full-time at Brentford.

While Marcelo Bielsa has defended his players from accusations that they have bottled it there is no escaping the feeling that they have not been able to handle the pressure of the promotion run-in.

There can be no denying that playing after main rivals Sheffield United had already finished their matches on three successive occasions has cranked up the pressure on the Leeds games and the tension has seemingly got to the Whites.

It has clearly been unfair and given a huge advantage to the Blades as well as making a mockery of the fact that all the teams have to play their last games at the same time in the interest of “fairness”.

But at the same time to take no points from two eminently winnable games over Easter has all the hallmarks of a team that has not been able to hack it when it has mattered most.

It was advantage Leeds going into the Easter double-header and two wins would have even seen them closing in on long-time leaders Norwich.

But here they now stand six points behind Norwich and three adrift of Sheffield United, who also happen to have a huge goal difference advantage. And with the Blades at home to already relegated Ipswich Town this Saturday – when playing ahead of Leeds yet again – the automatic promotion places are all but sealed in most people’s eyes.

It has changed so quickly and no-one really saw it coming quite like this with most thinking it would go down to the final matches.

Unless Ipswich cause a bigger shock than Wigan did in their win at Elland Road last Friday the Whites’ last home game of the regular season on Sunday is simply a play-offs dress rehearsal with visitors Aston Villa also having already confirmed their place in them. As such Bielsa could be forgiven for naming a reserves side, to give his hard worked players a rest. Of course that is not his style, he is more likely to want the players to go into play-offs in flying style.

He still feels his players can take the heat, they just need to improve their finishing.

He said: “I’m going to paraphrase Tiger Woods. He says that when you’re fighting for something important, you always have pressure. When something important is at stake, there’s pressure.

“But if there’s something I can say for sure it’s that our team was never affected by pressure. Really never. If we want to say why we don’t have 10 points more, we just have to take a look at how many chances other teams need to score and how many chances we need to score.

“There are many examples this season which illustrate what I’m talking about. The level of the team has always been the same.

“Of course the team has limits. but that has nothing to do with a mental aspect. I’d almost say the opposite. This team has hidden many limits with huge effort.”