By Rob Atkinson
Barnsley come to Elland Road on Saturday, firmly rooted to the bottom of the Championship table and - you'd think - facing an uphill battle against an in-form and relatively free-scoring Leeds United. The Tykes have adopted the traditional approach for teams facing the Whites, namely to sack their manager shortly beforehand and go into battle under unfamiliar command. It's the fifth time this season that United have faced this scenario; on this occasion the "new" man is Danny Wilson, who actually guided Barnsley into the top flight in the mid-nineties.
The Reds of South Yorkshire have one big thing going for them as they head into this encounter: they simply love playing Leeds. In point of fact, United actually won this encounter last season, but in a notably nervous and unconvincing manner. I've written before about a certain chip-on-the-shoulder attitude that smaller Yorkshire clubs bring to the table with Leeds as the opposition - these games tend to be treated by said minnows very much as cup finals. Whisper this though, as feelings might be hurt and teddies chucked out of cots. If there's one thing that fans of other Yorkshire teams really do hate, it's the suggestion that we are their Cup Final. They can be heard moaning about it at open-top bus parades after a victory - but it doesn't stop them snapping up the souvenir DVDs and t-shirts.
Whatever the reason, we've hardly pulled up any trees against this lot since returning to the second tier - last year's home win is our solitary success since our 2010 promotion, and matches at Oakwell have been frankly embarrassing for the Whites. On home ground, we scraped a win last season, but have only one point to show for the two other fixtures at Elland Road. Despite invariably struggling in the league over this period, Barnsley have usually managed to do very well against Leeds and, indeed, the points gained at our expense have more often than not been the difference between safety and relegation.
Leeds could well be unchanged from the 3-0 victory at Doncaster last time out and the prospect of a bumper pre-Christmas attendance will - it is to be hoped - have the Whites on their mettle against a troublesome opponent. Young winger Gboly Ariyibi, the ex-Southampton trainee who has signed his first professional deal at Leeds, may perhaps have figured among the substitutes if injury hadn't ruled him out of contention. The mix, therefore, is likely to be substantially the one that has served Leeds well over the past few games.
For Barnsley, Danny Wilson has the perfect chance to get himself off to an ideal start by maintaining the grip that the Tykes have over this fixture. There will be little pressure and - outside of Barnsley itself - little in the way of expectations. Wilson will hope to see a performance from his new team that will show him they want to respond positively to a change of manager - as in fact often happens. A lot will depend on the fitness of top scorer Chris O'Grady, who has been nursing a calf strain.
Leeds are on the crest of a fairly optimistic wave right now, and there is a feeling that a new era may be about to dawn. We've had false dawns in the past - too many of them - but all the ingredients seem to be there for a major upward swing in our fortunes after far too long a period of gloom and sometimes despair. Such is the current air of positivity about the club that, really, it would be rather rude of Leeds to go and turn the last game before Christmas into a damp squib. For this reason above any other, I feel that we will win on Saturday, and that the performance will be a lot more convincing than last season's nervy victory. Barnsley will battle, but Leeds are prepared to fight for the right to impose their higher class these days, and that should make enough of a difference.
4-1 to United for me - and with a scoreline like that, you'd have to back McCormack to net a brace. I do hope that none of my Barnsley-supporting acquaintances read this and have cause to taunt me with it later in the weekend...
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