By Rob Atkinson
Saturday's fixture against Watford is an opportunity, rare in recent times, for Leeds United to rack up their sixth consecutive home victory in a run that dates back to the start of October. Leeds will also be looking to exact revenge for Watford's own six-of-the-best performance when they thrashed Colin's demoralised troops 6-1 last November, with Pearce dismissed before half time, all the subs in place by the start of the second half and then the loss of Rudy Austin with a broken leg that was confidently forecast to keep him out of action until as late as lunchtime the following day.
The memory of that chastening defeat will rankle with the Leeds players who were involved, although the lads did manage to poop the Watford promotion party by winning at Vicarage Road in the final game of last season, denying them automatic promotion and condemning them to a doomed play-off campaign. But that Elland Road thrashing will undoubtedly still hurt. Only one down at half time, the nine men got a chasing in the second half; three of Watford's half-dozen coming in the last ten minutes, after Tonge had given United a glimmer with an 80th minute penalty. As a footnote to last year's disaster in this fixture, we are due to have the same referee, Trevor Kettle, in charge again. It's to be hoped that will be the only similarity between last November's debacle and this weekend's renewal of North-South hostilities.
So, Leeds will not lack for the vengeance type of motivation, but there is plenty of a more positive nature to inspire them. That "six in a row" landmark is enticing enough; the prospect of edging back into the play-off zone much more so. It's even possible, given recent slip-ups by the top teams, that we could eat further into the nine point gap that separates our heroes from the league summit. Much to play for, then; this United side has earned itself a fighting chance of applying real pressure on the sides around and above them - and the season has a much more promising look about it compared with just a few short weeks ago.
Manager Brian McDermott may be looking to field an unchanged team after the victory over Wigan in midweek. This would mean that Lee Peltier would continue to keep Sam Byram out of the line-up, as football is normally faithful to the maxim of not fixing it if it ain't broke. Danny Pugh has come into the side lately and has done really well, and McDermott will relish the situation of the players in the side looking to make sure they stay there, aware all the time that there is quality waiting to come in if their standards drop. That's all part and parcel of healthy competition in a good squad - it would therefore be a slight surprise to see any changes that aren't enforced by injury, and there don't appear to be any new problems on that front, though Blackstock and Wootton remain unavailable.
For Watford, Manuel Almunia, Josh McEachran, Ikechi Anya and Gabriele Angella are all fit for selection and may well return to a team that has failed so far to replicate last season's heroics. Hornets manager Gianfranco Zola has to be looking for a positive reaction to the shock 0-3 defeat at Vicarage to strugglers Yeovil - their second consecutive home reverse - and has told his players to "stand up and be counted". It's advice they appeared to heed in midweek, battling their way to a good point away at high-flying Burnley. Changes in personnel, though, seem more likely than otherwise given the recent stumbles in the league and general poor form. It's also worth noting that you can keep a check on the latest Leeds scores for the match at Scores.co.uk.
A little like midweek foes Wigan, Watford have undoubted talent and ability in their ranks, but - for whatever reason - just haven't been firing this term. This always gives cause for some concern that, inspired by the Elland Road surroundings and atmosphere, sides in such a slump might see Leeds away as just the fixture to get back to more acceptable form. But the matter is largely in United's own hands - if they play as they have been doing and do a job on the opposition as we have seen them manage a few times this term, then they should have too much for most visitors to LS11.
I've still got my optimistic head on; Blackburn was a blip, Wigan were dispatched without undue fuss and there's no real reason why Watford shouldn't go the same way. I will have a punt on a 3-1 win for United with Superstar Ross among the goals again and maybe a sweetly-struck effort from the likes of Murphy or Austin.
MOT, onwards and upwards!
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