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Thursday, December 7, 2023

Sports Roundup: How will the region’s teams end their respective campaigns?

We are swiftly hurtling towards the conclusion of the season, and all three of West Yorkshire’s sides are locked in decisive battles at either the top or bottom end of their respective league tables. Indeed, whilst Bradford City are eyeing up a return to the third tier, Leeds United and Huddersfield Town are both currently immersed in relegation scraps.

So, who will prosper and fail in the remaining weeks of the 2022/23 campaign? We review each team’s chances of achieving their end-of-season aspirations, enabling us to predict which sets of fans will be most content come the final curtain.

Bradford City

Tuesday evening’s sobering loss to Swindon Town was only the Bantams’ third defeat of the calendar year, but it virtually wiped out any realistic hopes of clinching automatic promotion. Therefore, attention must now switch to securing progression to League One via the play-offs.

Bradford City currently occupy the third of four play-off berths, two points ahead of Salford City and Mansfield Town who sit in seventh and eighth position respectively. City’s remaining four fixtures encompass an even split of home and away clashes, but this matters little to a Bradford side who have picked up almost an identical volume of points on the road as they have done at Valley Parade.

Mark Hughes’ men face Gillingham – who confirmed the preservation of their League Two status for at least another term after their crucial victory in midweek – on Saturday afternoon, knowing that a win on home soil would represent a huge step towards booking their play-off place. Beyond this, Bradford welcome high-flyers Northampton Town at the end of the month, before heading to Staffordshire to meet an inconsistent Crewe outfit in early May. Lastly, they host champions-elect Leyton Orient on the final day, who will likely have already wrapped up the title long before their trip north.

Verdict – Given City’s current form, and indeed the recent performances of those immediately around them, Bantams fans should quickly prepare for yet another nerve-shredding rendezvous with the play-offs.

Huddersfield Town

Not for the first time in his illustrious managerial career (but admittedly perhaps his last), Neil Warnock has given hope to a side staring into the abyss. After winning just one of his opening seven games in a sequence which procured heavy defeats to Burnley and Coventry City, the ex-Crystal Palace and Leeds United boss guided the Terriers to a run of three consecutive victories, providing at least some brief respite for a beleaguered and disillusioned Town fan base.

Warnock, who arrived in February to commence his second spell in charge, is Huddersfield’s third manager of the season; he will need to perform much better than his two predecessors if he is to ensure the club’s Championship survival. Although results have plateaued in recent weeks, the Terriers will be confident they can avoid dropping into a division they escaped just over a decade ago, as the club took its first steps on its unlikely journey to the Premier League promised land.

Town find themselves just one point clear of the relegation zone with three fixtures left, and in two of these games face fellow struggling sides. Indeed, a Yorkshire derby with Sheffield United is sandwiched between critical clashes with Cardiff City and Reading, as Huddersfield look to end a tumultuous campaign on a high.

Verdict – In a typically tight Championship table, with little separating the bottom seven clubs, there are no shortage of candidates for the drop. However, with Wigan Athletic and Blackpool seemingly marooned at the foot of the table, the relegation fight now feels like a five-way shootout between Huddersfield, Queens Park Rangers, Cardiff City, Rotherham United, and Reading – we believe the West Yorkshiremen will just have enough to stave clear of trouble.

Leeds United

Jesse Marsch lasted less than twelve months in the Elland Road hotseat, with the American dismissed in February following a dismal run of results. Inheriting a side who had failed to win a Premier League contest for over three months, Javi Gracia began steering the ship to relative safety, picking up an impressive ten points from a possible eighteen in his first six fixtures at the helm.

However, two disastrous recent home performances, where the Whites were well and truly put to the sword by Crystal Palace and Liverpool, has again casted doubts over the chances of the club staying in England’s top-flight. Not only have these chastising defeats served to hinder Leeds’s momentum, they have also had a significantly negative impact on their goal difference – this may yet prove pivotal in the weeks to come. Although, despite their defensive woes, no team in the bottom half has found the net more times than Gracia’s side.

The reality that four of their outstanding seven league games come on the road will not be welcome news for the Spanish boss, with Leeds harbouring the second worst away record in the division – only fellow strugglers Nottingham Forest have accrued fewer points on their travels. Leeds face a daunting trip to the Etihad next month, and must also navigate two tricky visits to the capital – firstly to play Fulham at Craven Cottage this Saturday lunchtime, and then to take on West Ham United in the penultimate fixture of their campaign.

Verdict – On current form, it is extremely unlikely that the magical 40-point mark will be met by any of the bottom four sides, and therefore the threshold for survival could be considerably lower this term. We fancy Leeds to avoid demotion on the final day once again, but this time we suspect it will be more to do with the profligacy of other outfits as opposed to their own heroics.

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