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20th Jun 2019

Leeds and Derby must beat bitter disappointment to secure Championship promotion

Wayne Farry

leeds united

The fixtures are here and the season is in sight

The Championship fixtures for the 2019/20 season were officially released on Wednesday and, with that, last season is a thing of the past. It is unspoken law that once the fixtures are out that the previous season should be wiped from one’s memory, and that all focus is referred to the future.

All the crushing disappointments and the deep, deep, sleep affecting resentments can be cast from your mind, and once again your heart can fill with hope about the endless possibilities the season has to offer, before inevitably getting absolutely fucking crushed again in a number of months.

One team which will be keen to forget about last season – the second half of it at least – is poor old Leeds United. From spending so much time at the top of the Championship table, to missing out on automatic promotion, and eventually being knocked out by their brand new bitter rivals Derby County, it was a season of tumult.

Marcelo Bielsa surprised many last season who felt that his unique style of play and unique personality would be unable to translate to Championship football in a positive way.

Their opening day demolition of the hitherto fancied Stoke City settled those doubts immediately, but after a season which only got worse the longer it went on, Bielsa will once again require an impressive opening day if he is to shut the doubters up again.

The doubts this time, to be fair, are not about whether Bielsa is a manager who can succeed at this level, but more about whether Leeds can bounce back from the crushing disappointment to mount another title bid.

Take Reading, for example, who finished third in the 2016/17 season and were defeated on penalties in the play-off final to Huddersfield Town, only to finish just three points safe of relegation the following season.

Defeat in the play-offs, especially for a side which had looked primed for success earlier in the season, can be absolutely devastating, and can transform a team from potential league winners to shrivelled, snivelling wrecks.

It will be their reaction to this that will determine where Leeds finish this season, and it’s this factor that will predominantly determine what Derby County – Leeds’ bettors in the play-offs – will do next season.

Derby’s season was sort of a reverse of Leeds’, having started in a mediocre fashion before rallying towards the tail end of the campaign and finishing in the play-off places.

They played spectacularly in their comeback win over Bielsa’s team at Elland Road, but were unable to counter the sheer force of nature that Aston Villa had become by May.

That defeat will have devastated a young team, many of whose players will return to their respective parent club (Chelsea mainly) – leaving a different team to pick up the pieces next season and try again.

Should the rumours prove true and Frank Lampard departs to replace Maurizio Sarri as Chelsea manager, their already tough task will feel insurmountable.

It will be incredibly difficult either way, but for both Derby and Leeds, Villa should be used as an inspiration for the coming campaign.

Dean Smith’s side were done and dusted – and looked traumatised – by November, before the ex-Brentford coach arrived as a replacement for Steve Bruce and galvanised their turnaround and return to the Premier League.

Neither side will want a sacking to be the catalyst for any potential turnaround, as it was for Villa, and indeed neither will want to be in the position – mired in mid-table at Christmas – that Villa were at the time of their resurrection.

But their belief in coming back from defeat to Fulham in the 2017/18 play-off, returning to Wembley 12 months later and doing what they had been unable to do a year before is an example that both Leeds and Derby can attempt to follow in their pursuit of reaching the promised land.

If they fail to do so, and if they allow the disappointment and doubt from last season to envelope them, then next season could be a rude awakening for two teams we expect to see near the top of the table come May 2020.