By Mike Courtney
The festive season is upon us and today sees Leeds play their last home game of the year as we welcome our Yorkshire neighbours, Barnsley, to Elland Road. It's been an eventful year on and off the pitch. Ken Bates and Neil Warnock have long since departed and Brian McDermott is at the helm of the good ship Leeds United, trying to steer a course to the promised land. The mood around the club is very positive at the moment with performances on the pitch keeping us fans happy and rumblings of a takeover off the pitch keeping the scribes busy on their keyboards.
It is matters on the pitch that most concern me and the visit of the Tykes tomorrow is an opportunity for Leeds to consolidate their place in the playoff places as Christmas Day approaches. With over 30,000 souls expected at the ground tomorrow and the team in a confident, positive frame of mind after the hard fought but well deserved win at Donny last week, another 3 points is there for the taking.
Our recent record against Barnsley doesn't make for good reading with only one win in eight, on their last visit here. They may be sitting at the bottom of the pile, but they have a new manager and as we all know this can give a struggling team a timely lift. They may be 18 points and 18 places below us, but with their recent record against and the fact that its a local derby might inspire them to up their game in front of a packed house.
Certainly our defences will have to be wary of the mazy runs of Paddy McCourt, if he is fit. Marcus Tudgay is another player who can cause us problems and let's not forget Jason Scotland, who always seems to score against us no matter who he is playing with. So there is plenty to keep our back three on their toes. Having said that we definitely have the firepower to score plenty of goals and with Ross McCormack in prolific form aided and abetted by Matt Smith and Rudy, we should have enough to maintain our place in the top six. There is an injury doubt over the resurgent Danny Pugh which could see Stephen Warnock regain his starting place. Scott Wootton is also back from injury after featuring in the development squad mid week, but I expect BMAC to stick with the eleven that started last weeks win at Donny unless forced into changes by injuries.
There should be a real festive atmosphere with a near full house and I expect Leeds to end the year on a high at home with a comfortable 3-0 win. We then have two difficult away trips before the end of 2013. The televised clash at Blackpool on Boxing Day and Forest on the 29th are tricky to say the least. The Seasiders have gone off the boil somewhat of late having slipped to 9th in the table but they still pose a potent threat, especially on their home ground despite losing their last home game against table-toppers QPR. They were also well beaten at Derby in their previous fixture and lost at Yeovil which sees them enter their away game at Turf Moor tomorrow on the back of three defeats. Another loss their against high flying Burnley could see them entertain Leeds without a win in four and confidence waning. A wounded animal is always dangerous and Paul Ince will have them well motivated for our visit. His son Tom hasn't been as prolific as he was last term but they still will be a tough nut to crack and a draw would not be a bad result. I'd take a 2-2 with the hope of maybe snatching all three points by the odd goal.
We follow this with a trip to the City Ground. As it stands at the moment, Forest are just one place behind us so this could be a battle to maintain a playoff spot as the year ends. They have to visit Birmingham and entertain QPR before our visit so that could all change depending on results. Forest have a couple of ex Leeds players in their ranks, Eric Lichaj and Dan Harding, and with the likes of Jonathan Greening, Andy Reid, David Vaughan and Chris Cohen in midfield and Jamie Mackie and Darius Henderson up front they have quality throughout the squad. They battered us in a televised game last season and are capable of beating any team on their day. They have only won one of their last five though so they will be looking to consolidate their league position over the festive season and it will be difficult, though not impossible to pick up points there.
I can't see us winning all three games over Christmas, though that would really be a bonus, so if Santa would oblige I will take 3 points v Barnsley, a hard earned win at Blackpool by the odd goal and a draw at Forest to leave us on 40 points as we enter 2014.
So Happy Christmas to all Leeds Supporters everywhere. Hope you all have a peaceful and safe Christmas. Hopefully the lads will do the business on the pitch and we can all look forward to a very exciting 2014 on our march together to the Premier League. I have every faith in BMAC and the boys.
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