IT will be something of an old boys reunion as Leeds United head across West Yorkshire for tomorrow’s big derby with Huddersfield Town, writes Tony Harber.
In the Leeds corner are manager Neil Warnock who led the Terriers to play-off promotion success in 1995 and skipper Lee Peltier, who played 80 games for Town. But in opposition with every reason to be fired up are current Huddersfield boss Simon Grayson, who was shown the door at Elland Road earlier this year and midfielder Adam Clayton, who was surprisingly moved on last summer despite a good season in a United shirt.
And to complete a hat-trick of Leeds old boys in the Town ranks they could include striker Jermaine Beckford in their line-up if he recovers from the injury that has kept him out of the last three matches.
Beckford has settled in well at Huddersfield following his loan move from Leicester and will be an obvious threat if he makes the starting side. He has remained a popular figure with Leeds fans after his goal scoring exploits for the club and received a hero’s welcome when he returned to Elland Road with Leicester at the end of last season, but what kind of reception he would receive in a Huddersfield shirt could be an interesting sideshow to the main event of who gets the important points and bragging rights.
Leeds can actually go above their West Yorkshire rivals with a win after an amazing transformation in the last week has seen them pick up six points while Town have only taken one point from their two matches.
Following confirmation of GFH Capital’s takeover of the club the Whites achieved their best two league wins of the season when they beat top four sides Crystal Palace 2-1 on Saturday and Leicester City 1-0 on Tuesday night.
United are still down in 15th place in the Npower Championship, but such is the tight nature of the division that they are just two points behind the Terriers in 11th and are just six points behind Millwall in fifth.
Suddenly everything is positive again at Elland Road and manager Warnock is talking of promotion again, boosted by GFH’s financial input and the signing of two loan players in Jerome Thomas and Alan Tate who have made an immediate impact on the team.
After Tuesday’s win he said: “Not many people would have tipped us to win both games because the glass is always half empty in Leeds, but we’ve shown what we’re about.
“I think we’re as good as anything in the league. I always believed we were capable of it with a little bit of help and we’ve got that now.
“The league’s absolutely wide open. Anyone in the bottom six could still go up, that’s how ridiculous it is. I can’t see anyone walking away with it. There’s not an outstanding team and it’s up for grabs.
“We beat the top of the league on Saturday, but Leicester are the best squad and you can tell that with the subs they made.
“But in both games we have deserved it. We played some good stuff, with flair, but also putting bodies on the line when we needed.
“The two new players have made such a difference. That’s all we needed, we were not far away. We don’t have to spend major money, but just that influx of quality players in the right areas. We go to Huddersfield now in good spirits.
“Jerome Thomas gives us that outlet and with him playing it opens up for Dioufy and Paul Green gets forward. Defenders can’t relax.
“No disrespect, but when we play Tongey there or someone who hasn’t got the pace of Jerome I think we’re too easily marked, especially at Elland Road.”
Warnock hopes to have the luxury of being able to field an unchanged line-up for the third game a row.
He added: “There’s no reason to change the team and everybody knows their job. I thought the full-backs were close enough to harass the wingers, the midfielders were close enough and the strikers. The distances were fantastic. All credit to Ronnie Jepson, it’s something we’ve worked on at the training ground.
“At the moment we are in a happy place and you’ve got to enjoy it when you win. It’s probably a tough game to come at Huddersfield.
“It’ll be a great game now because we have got six points already from a difficult two games.”
Huddersfield boss Grayson will check on the fitness of several players, including Beckford, before naming his team for the early 12.30 kick-off at the John Smith’s Stadium.
He will be without midfielder Keith Southern, who was banned for three matches following his sending off last Saturday at Charlton, but will have Clayton back after he had to sit out Tuesday’s 3-0 defeat at Middlesbrough because of a one-match ban picked up for notching up five yellow cards this season.
Elsewhere in midfield the manager will choose between Scott Arfield and Anton Robinson, who started at Middlesbrough, and youngster Chris Atkinson, who was recalled from a loan spell at Chesterfield and came on as a substitute at the Riverside Stadium with centre-back Anthony Gerrard also being touted for a possible defensive midfield role to add some steel in the absence of Southern.
Grayson had no complaints over the Boro defeat, but will not stand for a similar performance against Leeds.
He said: “The manner of the defeat is the most disappointing aspect of it. We didn’t have a fire in our bellies, a determination not to concede and when we had the ball we didn’t keep possession of it well enough. When you put all those ingredients together, against one of the best footballing teams in the division, you get punished.
“I have got no qualms about the result – we deserved to get beat.
“We have had a quick chat about the result and we will now dust ourselves down and prepare for the weekend. The players have now got to do their recover and work out what they can do to affect the weekend game. We could make excuses and say that we have five players out who would normally be in the 18, but in my opinion it was an opportunity for new players to come in and make a contribution. We didn’t have enough players who played well enough.”