Can Leeds still finish in the top six?

After a difficult end to the 2013-14 campaign, the new season is proving to be equally tough for a Leeds United side who have now picked up just three points from their opening four matches. A 1-0 victory over Middlesbrough provided the only welcome relief in a start that has also seen defeats to Brighton and Millwall, prior to an embarrassing 4-1 loss to Watford last time out.

Owner Massimo Cellino faces a difficult decision over head coach Dave Hockaday but can the club possibly recover and challenge the top six at the end of 2014-15?

Current battles

After that poor beginning, Leeds are way down among the outsiders with Betfair to gain a promotion place at the end of this season and the next three league fixtures against Bolton, Birmingham and Bournemouth are important not just for the club but for the immediate future of the man in charge of the first team.

Predictable concerns were raised when Hockaday was handed the job and critics will say that his lack of experience at this level has been exposed in his opening matches. If the former Forest Green Rovers manager does leave Elland Road, Cellino’s first task in attempting an assault on the top six is to appoint a more accomplished head coach.

Assuming there is a queue for the job, and bearing in mind that Neil Warnock has happily been ruled out of the running, many will feel that Leeds won’t progress under the fellow incumbent.

Striking issues

When Ross McCormack left for Fulham at the start of the season, he took away a relatively modest record of 53 goals from 137 league games but it’s one that Leeds’ remaining strikers are struggling to match. McCormack scored his first goal for the Cottagers in midweek but the question remains as to whether Hockaday and Cellino have adequately replaced him.

A team record of two goals in four league matches, one of which was an OG in the defeat to Watford, suggests that they haven’t but there are hopes that the new look front line can step up and take greater responsibility.

Souleymane Doukara looked strong in pre-season, particularly in the 2-0 win over Dundee United and two goals in the league cup against Accrington indicate that he can make a positive contribution when he eventually returns from his unfortunate injury. Elsewhere, Billy Sharp is the only scorer from open play in the league and is essentially McCormack’s replacement. At 28, Sharp is a much travelled striker who has now played for eight different clubs since making his debut for Sheffield United in the 2004-05 season.

His record is mixed but the centre forward enjoyed productive spells at Doncaster and Scunthorpe United and that winner against Middlesbrough might just be a sign of more to come.

Further reinforcements

There is, of course, a few days left in the transfer window for the club to acquire further new faces but after a relatively busy summer at Elland Road, it may be that Casper Sloth is the last signing of the current open period.

Rumours naturally persist and the Sampdoria midfielder Daniele Dessena is one name currently doing the rounds of the gossip columns but this is a crucial time for Cellino and any signings made before the deadline could make or break our current campaign.

After just four games of the new Championship season, the answer posed at the top of this article might seem to be a resounding ‘no’. It’s been a poor start with few positives but could the owner’s impending decision on the current manager’s position be the first step on the road to recovery and a place in the play offs?