Key players back as Leeds United look to end winless run
The winless run is now up to nine matches, but at least the way they ended the latest will give Leeds United a confidence boost ahead of their trip to Derby County tonight.
After starting with two tough games against Sheffield United and Bristol City it does not get any easier for new head coach Paul Heckingbottom as he faces a trip to a Pride Park ground where Leeds have traditionally struggled.
They will face a Derby team keen to get three points in their bid to finish in the top two in the Sky Bet Championship.
Currently they stand in fourth place, but can move up to second with a win, while Leeds have now dropped to 12th and can only go up one if they were to collect the three points.
At least United did not lose any more ground on the play-off places last weekend as defeat to Bristol City would have seen them go 10 points off sixth so the value of the comeback from two down to draw last Sunday was clear to see.
They are still clinging to hopes they can play a part in the promotion race, but surely the run without a win stretching back to Boxing Day has to end this week against Derby or against a surging Brentford side at Elland Road on Saturday if they are to realistically have any chance.
All eyes will be on the team selection for tonight’s game with Heckingbottom having his strongest squad so far to pick from with the return to availability of three suspended players, Samuel Saiz, Liam Cooper and Gaetano Berardi.
It is hard to see where Saiz would fit in with the 4-4-2 formation selected for the Bristol City match, but Heckingbottom has indicated already he is not stick on one style of play with three formations already used in his first two games in charge.
A third different way of playing may be employed now to accommodate Saiz, who has been badly missed in the six matches he has been banned.
Heckingbottom is not giving anything away on his team choice, but he is looking forward to seeing Saiz in his team and hopes he can make a difference.
He said: “As someone who’s watched Leeds before, to set up against things, he’s someone who’s a big, big danger.
“I know him, Bera and Liam are chomping at the bit to get back involved. But they’ve been out for a long time, they’ve got a point to prove now which is good. I want to use that so we are definitely stronger for those players coming back.
“With us having three games in six days, there is not too much we can do on the grass.
“On Monday we had a split group with some boys recovering and some on the grass and on Tuesday we had everyone out, but it was light and a bit more tactical, reinforcing messages and building on what we have been doing.
“We have more or less a full squad now, I’ll name the team on the day of the game, as when you have a quick turnaround, it is important to see how everyone recovers.
“The lads who coming back from suspension have been working hard and we’ve given them quite a bit of attention.
“They have been topping up their fitness and been given a bit of individual information, but it is a big jump to go straight into first team, especially in this league.”
Heckingbottom accepts it is a tough task for his team tonight, but wants the players to relish the opportunity.
He added: “Derby are one of the teams I have seen a lot of and I think their result against Sheffield Wednesday was a blip.
“They have good personnel and since Gary has gone in there, they have been so difficult to beat.
“They have been really strong, they have a lot of pace and an attacking threat at the top end of the pitch.
“We are all looking forward to the game, we want to play in big games and not shy away from it.”