Last season promised so much for Leeds United, who began the campaign as one of the favourites for promotion from the Sky Bet Championship.
Experienced Head Coach Marcelo Bielsa arrived at Elland Road in the summer to replace former Reds Head Coach Paul Heckingbottom, and the Argentinean immediately implemented his tactical blueprint as his side flew out of the blocks.
Early-season form suggested that the bookmakers were right to tip the Whites for a long-awaited return to the Premier League, as they recorded an impressive win over recently-relegated Stoke City before dismantling Derby County at Pride Park in emphatic style.
Despite falling behind twice at Swansea, they showed the trademark of a good team by fighting back to claim a point – repeating that trick in the closing stages at Millwall a few weeks later to snatch a draw.
Supporters dared to dream that top flight football could again be a reality at Elland Road after a 15-year exile from England’s elite.
A shock first defeat of the campaign to bottom of the table Birmingham City was followed by a 1-1 draw with Yorkshire rivals Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough as Leeds dropped to second in the table.
Results became inconsistent over October and early November, with a 4-1 defeat at promotion-chasing West Bromwich Albion proving to be Leeds’ heaviest loss of the season. A reaction was needed when Bristol City travelled to Yorkshire a fortnight later.
Elland Road, under the lights, was expectant and second half goals from Kemar Roofe and Pablo Hernández secured a priceless victory against the Robins before United narrowly overcame Reading.
Five consecutive victories followed – including wins at Sheffield United and Aston Villa – as Bielsa’s side surged to the summit over the festive period.
A poor run of form at the turn of the year again saw the Whites relinquish top spot as the enthralling fight for the title continued to take twists and turns, and it appeared as though they were heading for a fifth defeat in seven as they fell behind at Middlesbrough.
Leeds, however, didn’t know when they were beaten and Kalvin Phillips stepped up to score a 101st minute equaliser at the Riverside.
Luck is a term often thrown around in football, but United scored 24 of their 130 goals (18%) in all competitions after the 80th minute.
It had become incredibly tight at the top of the Championship, with any potential slip up likely to prove costly as Leeds, Norwich and Sheffield United battled it out in a thrilling promotion race.
Next up for the Whites was the visit of West Brom and a chance to avenge the 4-1 mauling suffered at the Hawthorns back in November, to which Bielsa’s side duly obliged.
Goals were at a premium as Leeds secured an emphatic 4-0 victory to climb back into the automatic spots at the beginning of March with just under a quarter of the season remaining.
A return of 15 points from their next seven outings put United in a commanding position and promotion was in their own hands with four games left. But then the proverbial wheels came off at Wigan Athletic.
Patrick Bamford’s early strike was cancelled out by Gavin Massey, who then went onto score the winner as Leeds dropped out of the top two. Just one point in their last three fixtures meant that the Whites had to settle for a place in the play-offs, where they would face Derby County.
After winning the first leg at Pride Park, United were left stunned when the Rams secured a 4-2 victory in a fierce encounter, fuelled by the controversial ‘spy-gate’ incident earlier in the campaign. The promotion dream was over, for another season at least.
Recent results between Barnsley and Leeds suggest that we could be in for some entertaining encounters this time around, with the Reds winning four of the previous 10 meetings.
The last time we recorded a victory was in January 2017, with Tom Bradshaw, Ryan Kent and Conor Hourihane on the scoresheet in a 3-2 triumph at Oakwell.