A full programme of Championship fixtures awaits us on this Good Friday, with plenty of scope for the promotion and relegation battles to take potentially decisive twists. Norwich, already all but promoted, can confirm their return to the top flight with some help from elsewhere, while Bolton at the other end will need a hand to keep alive their hopes of avoiding relegation. Our chosen match of the day, however, is one which features clubs from opposite ends; Leeds are within touching distance of automatic promotion, while their visitors Wigan are very much in a relegation battle and need every point they can muster right now.
This should be a straightforward game for the hosts, but at this end of the season, with so much to play for, no game is easy. Not a single one of the players on the Elland Road pitch come 3pm will be unaware of the potential repercussions of any mistake they may make; not least because, at the time the game kicks off, Leeds’ direct promotion rivals Sheffield United could have leapt above the Lilywhites into the second and final automatic promotion slot. On the other hand, a loss or a draw for the Blades at home to Nottingham Forest could open the way for Marcelo Bielsa’s side to take a decisive step towards the promised land.
Leeds doing enough, but doing it the hard way
After a disappointing defeat at home to Sheffield United, Leeds’ players and fans will have been acutely aware that their promotion future was no longer in their hands, with the battle of the Yorkshire clubs definitively tilting towards the Steel City. Since then, however, lamentable form on the part of the Blades has allowed Leeds to sneak back in front, and at the present time they hold a three-point lead; goal difference, however, favours the Sheffield side.
What may turn the battle decisively in Bielsa’s favour is the way that his side seem to keep finding a way to win – three of their last four games have been victories, and each has been eked out in often attritional circumstances. Last weekend saw them pick up three points at home to Sheffield Wednesday – an opponent against whom United could only draw – with talented young winger Jack Harrison scoring the game’s only goal after 65 minutes. Time and gain, Leeds have seemed to be heading for a slip, only to come up with the goods. That speaks well of their battling qualities. Unibet’s odds of 33/10 on the hosts to win after being level at half time here seem like great value in the circumstances.
Wigan up for the battle
Paul Cook’s Wigan side have a two-point advantage over Rotherham, who currently inhabit the third and last relegation spot. With Ipswich already gone and Bolton seemingly circling the drain, these two clubs may well be scuffling over the one remaining spot – and with just one defeat in their last five outings, no-one can doubt the Latics’ readiness for a fight. Last time out, they held top side Norwich to a draw, and were unlucky not to take all three points. Having delayed the Canaries’ promotion party, they’d be more than happy to put a spanner in the works for Leeds, too.
Everything about the two sides indicates that no quarter will be asked nor given here – this should be the kind of game often referred to as “blood-and-thunder”. Such games are often low-scoring, as finesse goes out the window and players put any part of themselves in the way of the ball rather than risk conceding a goal. Betway’s 11/10 odds on this game having fewer than 2.5 goals could well be worth a look – especially given the erratic form of home striker Patrick Bamford, who may find himself snatching at chances he should be putting away.
Leeds to emerge with the spoils
With four games left in the season, Leeds could win this and not be promoted, or lose it and still go up. Wigan, equally, will neither be doomed by defeat nor saved for good by a win. However, there’s no doubt that the right result in this game will be an enormous fillip for the side that can secure it. Friday afternoon games always have something of an otherworldly feel to them, and it could be that the side that better masters this atmosphere is the one that will get what they need from this game.
In that regard, it’s hard not to look at the Leeds dugout, and the man sitting next to it on an upturned bucket or cooler filled with energy drinks. Marcelo Bielsa may frequently cut an eccentric figure on the sidelines, but we’d leave it to someone else to question his methods. Having been there, seen it, done it, and then compiled a 300-page dossier analysing every minute detail of it, there is literally no way that the Lilywhites will come into this game, this closing month of the season underprepared. As such, we’d certainly back Leeds to take another three points here – that’s 4/11 with Dafabet – leaving Wigan empty-handed after a tectonic battle.
Bets of the Day
Draw/Leeds HT/FT (33/10, Unibet); Fewer than 2.5 goals (Betway, 11/10); Leeds win (4/11, Dafabet)