ALL the SkyBet Championship play-off contenders will need nerves of steel as the finishing line comes into view, writes Martin Jarred.
It’s Leeds United who seem to be feeling the pressure most after losing 1-0 to Wolverhampton at Elland Road on Monday to slip out of the top six on goal difference.
While their rivals continue to churn out victories, the Whites have picked up just four points from five games.
Although the defeat was a massive blow it is not terminal as some sides in the chase have to face each other, but the omens did not look good for Garry Monk’s side.
Instead of using Chris Wood’s last-gasp point-saving goal at Newcastle on Good Friday as a launching pad to greater things, Leeds froze in the first-half against Wolves.
They appeared to be feeling the pressure from the start and, but for some fine saves by Rob Green, Wolves would not have had to wait until the 38th minute before Nouha Dicko swept in Ben Marshall’s through ball. It was only the fourth goal Leeds had conceded at Elland Road since November.
United did improve after a tactical reshuffle on 55 minutes saw winger Hadji Sacko enter the fray but, although they pressed Wolves back, the visitors held firm.
Having been in a play-off position for so long, Leeds must now become hunters, not the hunted.
Monk said: “We’ve had the mentality for so long where we’ve been in the play-offs quite comfortably and have kind of been in that protective mode of trying to stay in there.
“Now we have to change that mentality to be a team that goes on the hunt and lets it all go. It’s still a really good situation for us. We’ve got no time to feel sorry for ourselves - that doesn’t get you anywhere.
“This is the interesting part. We spent so long in there with the points advantage and we don’t have that luxury any more.
“Now we have to go on the hunt. Sometimes it’s easier and there’s less pressure when you’re on the hunt. When you’re in there, there’s a different pressure.”
Leeds will probably have to win two of their remaining three games against Burton, Norwich and Wigan to climb back into the top six.
“These are three of the biggest games of our lives,” said Monk, who may have to make some bold selection decisions, starting with Saturday’s trip to Burton.
With Brighton now promoted, Newcastle looking a strong bet to join them, and Huddersfield and Reading in strong positions, it looks like two of Fulham, Sheffield Wednesday or Leeds will fill the last two play-off slots.
Play-off contenders’ final games:
Leeds United: Burton Albion (a), Norwich City (h), Wigan Athletic (a).
Huddersfield Town: Fulham (h), Wolverhampton Wanderers (a), Birmingham City (a), Cardiff City (h).
Reading: Nottingham Forest (h), Wigan Athletic (h), Burton Albion (a).
Fulham: Huddersfield Town (a), Brentford (h), Sheffield Wednesday (a).
Sheffield Wednesday: Derby County (h), Ipswich Town (a), Fulham (h).
Leeds United: Green, Ayling, Bartley, Jansson, Beradi (Taylor 62), Bridcutt (Sacko 55), Phillips, Hernandez, Roofe, Pedraza (Doukara 71), Wood. Subs (not used): Peacock-Farrell, O’Kane, Dallas, Coyle. Cautions: Bridcutt, Bartley.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: Lonergan, Doherty, Stearman, Williamson, Coady, Sass, Saville (Evans 67), Edwards, |Marshall (Hause 85), Weimann, Dicko (Bodvarsson 67). Subs (not used): Burgoyne, Iorfa, Price, Gibbs-White. Cautions: Saville, Bodvarsson
Ref: Jeremy Simpson (Lancashire) Att: 32,351.