By Rob Atkinson
You often hear dark warnings about what will happen "when the worm turns" referring to some or other oppressed victim suddenly waking up and biting back. Leeds United will be aware of this feeling today as they prepare for battle. The name of the worm is Derby County and it has turned with a vengeance.
Time was, back in the days of George Graham and then O'Leary's "babies", Leeds used to hold the whip hand over Derby, good and proper. One year we went there in both domestic cups and knocked them out, coming from 2 down in the FA Cup. Then there was the season we beat them 4-3 from three down at Elland Road and followed that up by slaying them 5-0 at the inaptly-named Pride Park. Derby were sick of the sight of Leeds and we laughed callously at our "rabbit" team.
Things have been very different this past few seasons. According to the impeccable source of facts that is Twitter, Derby have now beaten Leeds United in NINE consecutive meetings. That's ridiculous - a daft run of results. You might expect some clubs to hold that kind of sway - but Derby? The most recent of those defeats saw the end of Neil Warnock's Leeds tenure, proving the truth of what people say about clouds and silver linings.
Today, then, represents another opportunity to put a stop to this nonsense and restore the natural order of things. Unfortunately, it's also the first game proper for Derby's new "Head Coach", the shtill shtrangely pseudo-Dutch Shteve McLaren. So there is that "impress the new gaffer" factor to be wary of. Derby also have a decent team, despite their strangely unimpressive start to the season which saw the sacking of Nigel Clough. In their first game after the change at the helm, Derby pulled back from 4-1 down to Ipswich to draw 4-4, McLaren having apparently "had a word" with his new charges at half-time. Shades of Warnock's start at Leeds.
The defensive frailty that saw Derby concede four at home in midweek may well be addressed by the return of Keogh to the back line. Leeds will hope that the retention of McCormack in his preferred striking role will pose problems and make chances; the introduction of the fast-emerging Mowatt in midfield having freed RossCo to create havoc further forward.
Brian McDermott has shown his willingness in the past to shape his teams according to the demands of the day. The threat of McCormack against Bournemouth; the imperious way he pointed to where Stephen Warnock should put the ball for him to score the first, surely Brian will stick with Ross up front and shape the rest of today's side behind that spearhead. I'd be cautiously confident then of at least a point from today's game.
McDermott has spoken of his respect for McLaren ahead of the Pride Park clash and both teams are in equal need of the points to haul back some of the lead the top six have already established. In the battle of the Macs, Leeds fans will be hoping that our Man With a Plan will have enough in his locker to thwart their Wally With the Brolly. A 1-1 draw would stop the Derby rot for Leeds.