Steve Evans has ramped up the stakes on his Leeds United players by openly framing their season as a play-off chase, even though the gap to sixth place is currently 12 points and nine other teams stand in their way. It’s an ambitious target to say the least but the Glaswegian isn’t used to mid-table mediocrity, the vast majority of his managerial career has been spent battling out at either one end of the table or the other.
A last-gasp defeat at fifth-placed Ipswich in midweek was a break from the norm insomuch that Leeds squandered a lead, having previously won all five games when breaking the deadlock. So now Evans is billing this trip to seventh-placed Sheffield Wednesday as make or break, a must-win encounter, albeit only after belittling the Tractor Boys as a poor benchmark for their aspirations.
Like him or loathe him, his intensity clearly has a positive effect on players and we should expect Leeds to be restricting this Yorkshire derby to fine margins, even though the two teams are streets apart in terms of performance data. Take the 21/10 available on the game producing under 1.5 goals and back it up with a bet on Sheffield Wednesday to win to nil at the same price. My ratings make both bets around 13/8.
Over the past 16 matches, Wednesday boast the fourth best shot ratio in the division at 56.7 per cent, whereas only five teams have shared a smaller proportion of chances than Leeds. And yet the Whites boast a +2 goal difference since Evans walked through the door in October, which just goes to show how much he squeezes out of so little.
But this is ultimately about Wednesday and what they do. Leeds have been to some tricky venues and avoided defeat but the Owls are currently on a 12-match unbeaten run on their own turf, winning nine, and a trip to Hillsborough is probably a notch up from 90 minutes at Molineux or the City Ground where Leeds have recently been televised and come away unscathed.
Only Hull (1-1), Brighton (0-0) and Derby (0-0) have avoided defeat in the Steel City since Carlos Carvalhal completed his August transfer business and those three teams were all in the top three and on top of their game at the time. Reading between the lines of the shot data, there’s a fair chance Leeds will attempt to engage their Yorkshire rivals in a similar war of attrition, only to come out on the wrong side.
Click here for more information about Mike Holden’s shot-based ratings system