February 12, 2020 / 1:40 PM / 5 days ago

Is Leeds' promotion push falling apart again?

LONDON (Reuters) - If Leeds United seem nervous that their Premier League promotion bid will unravel as it has done so often, their jitters were embodied by Kiko Casilla’s blunder in Tuesday’s 1-1 draw at Brentford in the Championship.

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Championship - Brentford v Leeds United - Griffin Park, London, Britain - February 11, 2020 Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa before the match Action Images/Peter Cziborra

On a cold evening at the ramshackle Griffin Park, the former Real Madrid goalkeeper failed to control a pass from a team mate, missing the ball completely then falling over as striker Said Benrahma pounced.

The ball had barely nestled in the net when the soundtrack to Leeds’ recent collapses rang out among the home fans.

‘Leeds are falling apart’, they crowed, delighting in their opponents’ misery.

The blow of Casilla’s blunder was softened by an error from Brentford keeper David Raya which allowed Liam Cooper to equalise, but the draw was not what Leeds needed after last week’s 2-0 loss at Nottingham Forest.

The sense that they could blow their chances of promotion yet again is inescapable.

In December they were top of the table and enjoyed an 11-point lead over third-placed Fulham.

But a miserable run of two wins from 11 league games means Fulham will leapfrog them into the coveted second place, which offers automatic promotion, if they beat Millwall on Wednesday.

Coach Marcelo Bielsa struggled to explain his side’s troubles.

“The team are not playing worse than before,” said the 64-year-old Argentine, who speaks through a translator while staring at the floor.

“They’re running even more, they’re as confident as before.”

Leeds’ travails in the second half of a season are not new, but last season was perhaps their most spectacular collapse yet.

They lost 10 out of their final 22 games, conceding the second automatic promotion spot to Sheffield United despite leading them by 10 points at one stage.

SAGA OF DISAPPOINTMENTS

Their untimely capitulation was just the latest painful episode in a saga of disappointments for Leeds, who consider themselves to be among the biggest clubs in England and worthy of a place in the Premier League.

They won England’s top flight in 1992 and reached the European Cup final in 1975 and the Champions League semi-finals in 2000.

Their fans have loyally followed their team home and away since they were relegated from the Premier League in 2004, the consequence of their exuberant spending under former chairman Peter Ridsdale, who left them with 100 million pounds of debt.

Leeds even filled their Elland Road ground during their three seasons in England’s third tier between 2007 and 2010.

They were almost a forgotten force when maverick coach Bielsa took charge at the beginning of last season.

The former Argentina manager was a huge influence on top coaches such as Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino and instantly converted Leeds’ fans to his exciting style of play.

His involvement in the ‘Spygate’ scandal of last season also delighted fans, entrenching the club’s old reputation as the side everyone else loves to hate.

But once again, Leeds fell apart when it mattered most, squandering automatic promotion and then losing in the play-offs to Derby County.

There was some doubt over whether Bielsa would continue after such a collapse but he stayed on, overseeing another flying start to a season.

But that early optimism has been replaced by a familiar sense of dread, that the promised land of the Premier League is slowly drifting away as rival clubs revel in their demise.

Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Christian Radnedge

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