A Sense of Deja Vu for Leeds United
A 3-1 victory for Leeds United over plucky Tranmere at the weekend has put the club on the brink of qualifying for the League One Playoffs for a second season running.
It is interesting that the 2008-09 season for Leeds shows a remarkable resemblance to the previous 2007-08 season, although Leeds fans will be hoping for a happier out come this year!
In both of the last two seasons, Leeds have got off to a good start, getting into the promotion shake-up before falling away over the course of the late Autumn and Winter months. In both seasons the Christmas and New Year periods have seen Leeds change managers and both seasons seen the new managers struggle to get the club's ailing seasons back on track.
Again, both seasons saw watershed results after which the season turned for the better, in March 2008 Cheltenham completed the double over Leeds by winning 2-1 at Elland Road leaving the Playoffs a distant dream.
In February this season a similarly disappointing effort saw Hereford sweep Leeds aside, 2-0, leaving Leeds 8th in the table, four points behind 6th placed Milwall and having played two games more.
The end of the 2008 season saw Leeds finish strongly moving in to the end of season Playoffs winning seven of their last 10 games following the Cheltenham defeat. This season, Leeds have won nine out of 13 since losing away at Hereford and are the current form team in League One, winning all 10 of their last 10 home games.
Simon Grayson appears to have recruited wisely, snapping up Richard Naylor and Sam Sodje, giving the Leeds defence as solid an appearance as it has probably ever had since the team dropped out of the Premiership. On this foundation the array of talented attacking options assembled by Gary McAllister, although playing a more direct style, are now fashioning the chances and scoring the goals that is giving all connected with the club hope for optimism for this years Playoff pantomime.
However, like the similarities in Leeds last two seasons (with last season ending in Playoff final failure), Leeds United's performance in the Playoffs is incredibly similar.
Under Billy Bremner in a season which Leeds reached the FA Cup semifinal in 1987, Leeds finished 4th in Division Two (as it was known then) to reach the first ever Playoffs in English League football.
Back then, the Play-Offs consisted of the teams finishing 3rd, 4th & 5th in the 2nd Division (Oldham, Leeds and Ipswich) and the team finishing third from bottom in Division One (Charlton).
Leeds were paired with Oldham and in the 1st leg they played at home winning 1-0. Oldham won 2-1 at Boundary Park but Leeds went through on away goals after extra time was played.
The final was a two leg affair, and Leeds were pitched against Charlton Athletic. Charlton won the first leg at Selhurst Park 1-0, thanks to a late Jim Melrose goal. Leeds returned the favour by winning 1-0 at Elland Road by virtue of a Brendan Ormsby winner.
This set up a replay at St Andrews, Birmingham. The 90 minutes ended 0-0 and the tie lurched in to extra time where Leeds drew first blood through John Sheridan. With Division One in sight, an unlikely hero popped up for the Addicks. Centre back Peter Shirtliff, a man who made David Batty's goals per game ratio look good, hadn't scored for a 100 years previously and probably never has since that day, popped up with two late goals to consign Leeds to a 2-1 defeat.
Howard Wilkinson took Leeds up three seasons later and the club moved in to the tainted Golden Era of the Peter Ridsdale and David O'Leary years, meaning Leeds did not dabble with the Playoffs again until 2006 when they finished 5th in the Championship, as it is now called.
Leeds again played the 1st Leg at home, to Preston. David Nugent put Preston ahead in the 2nd half but an Eddie Lewis free kick spared Leeds blushes but didn't stop a grinning Preston manager, Billy Davies, declaring "Job done!".
Not so Billy, Leeds recovered, in spite of floodlight failure, to win the return leg at Deepdale 2-0 thanks to Rob Hulse and Fraser Richardson goals to set up a final against surprise package, Watford, who had beaten Crystal Palace.
The final was now a one-off affair and with Wembley being rebuilt the occasion was hosted at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff.
Tens of thousands of expectant Leeds fans turned up hoping for a return to the Premiership (formerly Division One). Sadly the team didn't turn up, or maybe it would have been better if they hadn't, losing 0-3 in a horribly one sided affair.
Jay DeMerit and Jason Chambers were the goalscorers that put Watford 2-0 up, neither of whom are known for their goal scoring prowess. Darius Henderson, a striker with a dubious scoring record got the 3rd from a Penalty.
For Leeds fans it was a sign of the desperate times ahead as the next season the club slumped in to administration and relegation to League One (what used to be Division Three, hope you're keeping up) for the first time in the club's history.
Leeds acrimonious exit from administration incurred the club a 15-point penalty but Leeds still managed to finish 5th and enter in to the Playoffs along with Doncaster, Carlisle, and Southend.
Leeds were pitted against Carlisle and again played the 1st Leg on home turf at Elland Road. Like the previous Playoff experience against Preston, Leeds struggled at home. They were 2-0 down with the game in the 5th minute of stoppage time when Dougie Freedman popped up to cut the deficit to 2-1 and give the fans some hope ahead to the return leg at Brunton Park.
Jonny Howson was the hero of the hour at Carlisle, scoring a goal in each half to give Leeds another 2-0, 2nd leg win away from home, like what happened at Preston!
It wasn't 3rd time lucky for Leeds in 2008 when the final was held at Wembley and the opponents were Doncaster Rovers who had been unfortunate not to gain automatic promotion. For 20 minutes Donnie battered Leeds, but Leeds survived until half-time with the score at 0-0.
Then, just as Leeds looked like they might be getting a foothold in the game, the spirit of Peter Shirtliff reincarnated itself within James Hayter. The Doncaster striker, Hayter, had not scored a goal for months but he popped up to sweep in a cross from the right to score the game's only goal. Hayter would have to wait until April 2009 for his next league goal.
So history tells us that Leeds always get through to the Playoff final by hook or by crook only to be foiled at the final hurdle by the most unlikely goalscorers. For the record Leeds have made it to three Playoff finals and have never gained promotion via the Playoffs.
Somehow I doubt that statistic will dampen the current mood of optimism sweeping through Elland Road!
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