All a bit exciting, isn’t it?
Or gut-wrenching, depending on which football team you support. The end is nigh, with only nine games to go, but three teams closely aligned and in with a shout of automatic promotion from the second tier.
But three doesn’t go into two. And so Saturday’s game between Leeds and Sheffield United is a big one indeed: Norwich lead the way on 75 points, Leeds trail in second on 73, while the Blades are another two back on 71. Win on their travels, then, and it’ll be Chris Wilder’s side leapfrogging their rivals.
We start with Daniel…
Daniel Chapman (@MoscowhiteTSB)
Daniel is the author of ‘100 Years of Leeds United’
The Leeds player you need to fear the most right now is… Pablo Hernandez. Even if he’s just watching his team-mates play, he’s in control. Give him the ball and you might as well go home.
One thing nobody is saying about us right now… “I wonder how Leeds are getting on, haven’t heard much about them this season.”
This game means for our season… Losing would not be a disaster. But the gap that winning would create to 3rd place could be crucial.
To me, Marcelo Bielsa… Must never, ever, ever, ever leave Leeds United. I can’t imagine how Wetherby’s streets will look one day without him striding along the pavements holding his bag-for-life.
The Sheffield United player I most admire is… The thing is, Billy Sharp is a nice fella, and I think Leeds fans appreciate that he worked his arse off with us in the mad days of Massimo Cellino, Dave Hockaday and Darko Milanic. If he could just remember that and stop scoring against us all the time, that’d be great.
My opinion of Sheffield United in general is… They have strong associations with my childhood, as I vividly remember Brian Gayle’s own goal clinching the league title for us in 1992. We bought John Pemberton from them too, who I always liked. Over the last two seasons they’ve been annoyingly good, and I think it would be for the best if they didn’t go up this season so that nonsense can stop.
My favourite Leeds-Blades moment from down the years is… Apart from Brian Gayle’s aforementioned own goal at Bramall Lane, it has to be the Second Division promotion crunch match at Elland Road in spring 1990. Sound familiar? Sheffield keeper Simon Tracey’s mullet was burning with anger as Leeds blocked his goal-kicks and he melted down, and Gary Speed ended the scoring with a goal replayed thousands of times thanks to the season review video’s commentary: “Go on Gary Speed, get one yourself son!” The game ended 4-0, and Leeds went up as champions.
My score prediction is… 4-1 to Leeds. Sharp will inevitably get his goal but we’ll continue the form from beating Derby, Swansea and West Brom. Jack Clarke to have a Gary Speed moment scoring the fourth.
We’ll finish this season… Even if we win and take a five-point lead over Sheffield United, I’ve supported Leeds too long to imagine we’ll do anything other than finish 3rd, before losing in the play-off final. It would be among Bielsa’s biggest achievements this season if he can prevent such a historically Leedsy outcome.
READ THIS… (No, seriously do) Millwall: It’s a father and son thing
“The most followed unofficial Blades account on Twitter,” it says here
The Sheffield United player you need to fear the most right now is… Billy Sharp: 22 league goals so far for the Blades legend, which makes him the league’s second-top scorer. Chris Wilder has even managed to rest him in three of our last five games. Sharp is the EFL’s leading scorer since the turn of the century, has plenty of fuel in the tank and will be raring to go against the club from which we signed him in 2015.
One thing nobody is saying about us right now… We’re going up. We’ve as much chance as Norwich and Leeds. We’re undoubtedly the three outstanding sides in the division, and our recent form matches up and betters the lot of them. We seem to be perceived as the outsiders – but win on Saturday afternoon and we’ll find ourselves in the top two with eight to play.
This game means for our season… Whether automatic promotion is well and truly on or if it’ll be seen as an outside chance with the play offs to fall back on. While I agree with Wilder that it’s “not season-defining”, it most definitely goes a long way. There’s still 24 points to play for after this game, but there’s no doubting a win for either side puts them in the driving seat – particularly Leeds if they stretch the gap to five points. If we get out of the game undefeated it’ll be a positive result, and one which we can progress from coming into the home straight.
To me, Chris Wilder… God. Can I put it any simpler? Sir Chris Wilder, please! In short, he’s dragged our (and his) club off the canvas and turned us into one of the Championship’s biggest threats. One hundred points in his inaugural season in League One, a creditable top-half finish last year (including a memorable win at Sheffield Wednesday and the double over Leeds). Now we find ourselves battling it out for promotion to the Promised Land. Where can this journey take us? Who knows, but we’re loving every bit of it. For many, he’s the greatest leader Bramall Lane has ever seen.
The Leeds player I most admire is… Kemar Roofe. Unfortunately for Leeds he’s injured at the moment. I remember us being linked with him numerous times in his Oxford days. They don’t seem to have missed him much since his absence results-wise, but he’s been a major threat at the top of the pitch when fit this year. A shout out to Pablo Hernandez, too: one of the players of the Championship season and two cracking goals in midweek.
My opinion of Leeds in general is… Well, there’s a definite rivalry there. But then again, there is with pretty much everyone when it comes to Leeds, in Yorkshire at least. I always like these games; they’re played with a huge intensity and I can’t see Saturday being any different. You’ve got to love going to places that generate a good atmosphere and Elland Road is certainly one of those places. It would be good to see a Yorkshire double in the top two.
My favourite Blades-Leeds moment from down the years is… As previously mentioned, we secured the double over Leeds last season. That was pretty sweet, I have to say. The new kid on the block, David Brooks, slotting in a late winner at Elland Road has to be right up there – the scenes in the away end that Friday night were unreal. And I can’t forget the time we bagged four past them in 2005, in the Warnock days. And the famous 2-1 League Cup victory in 2002, where a thunder-volley from Phil Jagielka was the highlight…
My score prediction is… I’m going to get splinters here sitting on the fence – I’ll say 1-1. It really could go either way, because here we have two exceptional sides. An away draw for the Blades would be very reasonable and keeps Leeds within touching distance.
We’ll finish this season… I’ll say top two, probably second. I have faith in these boys to get the job done. If it means going up through the play-offs, despite our horrendous record in that format, I’d have to back us then, too. Things feel different under Wilder. We’re on the march…