By Rob Atkinson
A Leeds United side with no festive preoccupations heads off to Blackpool for tomorrow's live TV clash of two famous old footballing names. Kind old Santa McDermott has benignly cancelled Christmas for his troops, or at least he's postponed it until May, perhaps hoping that there will by then be even better reasons to celebrate. Whatever the logic behind it, the Leeds lads will have been training today instead of stuffing themselves with rich food and unwise amounts of alcohol - and quite right, too. We can therefore look forward to them emerging from the tunnel at Bloomfield Road lean, fit and perhaps with a slight, competitive edge of resentment that the usual seasonal gluttony has passed them by somewhat. A bit of a nasty streak is important for any Leeds United team to be at its best.
Coincidentally, it was Blackpool away who provided the opposition for our last Christmas DAY fixture in 1956. Yes, they used to play League Football on Christmas Day - imagine that. It makes a mere training session seem almost festive. On that Yuletide occasion 57 years ago, a goal from Harold Brook secured us a 1-1 draw, which wouldn't be the worst late Christmas present tomorrow, either.
Blackpool, of course, is famous for fresh air and fun. It's also quite well-known for donkeys, and looking at the Tangerines' last few results you'd be forgiven for thinking there might be a few of those noble beasts in their default starting eleven. The last four games have resulted in defeat, seeing Blackpool slide a little off the promotion pace. But as with any side at this level, they can be relied upon to give of their best when Leeds United are in town.
The home side have a couple of injury doubts in striker Ricardo Fuller and centre-back Gary MacKenzie, but midfielder Angel Martinez is available for selection again after a two-match suspension. For Leeds, Luke Murphy is suspended after receiving his fifth caution of the season in the stalemate with Barnsley. Marius Zaliukas must be rated a doubt after the injury he sustained against the Tykes; fit-again Scott Wootton stands by to deputise.
As for a prediction - I will hope for better and fear worse, but on balance I feel a repeat of that Christmas Day result in 1956 is not unlikely. Leeds have two clean sheets on the trot and Blackpool are in a poor run, but this one feels as though it will be tight and competitive, with Paul Ince determined to have his men back to their best for such a marquee fixture. I'll go with 1-1 and a goal from Matt Smith to ensure a share of the seasonal spoils for Leeds United - and Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, to all who read this.
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