By Rob Atkinson
The Foxes are on the prowl in Leeds this weekend, looking for easy prey, slavering and snapping at the tell-tale scent of blood which betrays the presence of a wounded and defenceless beast - or at least some hapless chickens come home to roost.
The potential victim of choice is Leeds United, mortally savaged last weekend when a soft underbelly was ruthlessly exposed as they rolled over and surrendered at Hillsborough. Slinking away to lick their wounds, Leeds have spent the week since trying to marshall spent energies for a last-ditch defence of their territory, readying themselves for an attack from the top pack out there. Sadly, it promises to be an unequal battle.
But now we'll leave behind us this already over-stretched "battle of nature" metaphor, before it gets too gory and messy for the requirements of good taste. We all know we're up against it this weekend, and that if things go anywhere near as spectacularly wrong as they did in darkest Sheffield last week, it could be bloody carnage in LS11. And yet there is hope springing from out of the mists of time, and the one thing above all that any beleaguered team or manager needs is a little hope.
That historical glimmer of light shining wanly through the gloom takes us back to the last time we let in half a dozen at Wednesday. On that occasion, having capitulated 6-2, Leeds were required to bounce back swiftly as Man U rolled into town seeking to take advantage of our reduced state. Well, we won 3-1 on that memorable Christmas Eve, with tomorrow's opposition keeper's dad in goal and with our strike-force serving us well, so who's to say we can't spring a comparable shock just over 18 years later? Alright, common-sense and the formbook are two that spring to mind, but let's not abandon ALL hope - not just yet.
Whatever recent form or historical precedent might tell us, there's little doubt that Leeds United are the underdogs this weekend - and perhaps, after failing against nominal inferiors last time out, this is just what they need. There is also the small matter of a change of leadership on the field - or, as some would bitterly point out, the introduction of some leadership, a quality notable by its absence in the last two craven performances. Ross McCormack has long been identifiable as a man who carries the club in his heart and wears that heart on his sleeve. Striker or no, there can be no better candidate among the current crop for a captain's role - and there may even be a bonus in the shape of a return to form for Rudy Austin, freed to concentrate simply on playing. If Austin could produce a performance comparable to his single-handed subduing of Birmingham City a while back, then all bets are off. Rudy was almost unplayable that day, as the rest of the team benefited from his industry and commitment. So the change of skipper could be a double-edged and beneficial sword - and we may look also for the galvanising effect of a "clear the air" meeting in the wake of humiliation.
A change of formation could also be on the cards, now that we have two wingers to (we hope) create havoc down both flanks. The downside to that is the loss of battering-ram Matt Smith, who is suspended after an appeal against his red card last week was, unsurprisingly to anyone who has followed United's run-ins with authority, summarily dismissed. So Smith is out, and there is a vacancy in attack alongside Captain Ross if we ARE to go 4-4-2. Whispers are abroad that the mystery transfer target Brian McDermott was having a chat with yesterday might just be a certain Argentinean who left us to become Becchio the Benchwarmer of Carrow Road - and that would certainly solve a problem or two, though it's a little late in the day now for new blood to be available for the Leicester test.
There is, on the other hand, new blood in the Leicester City ranks - though that new blood is of the distinctly old variety as veteran Kevin Phillips arrives from Crystal Palace to threaten Leeds' wobbly defence. It is this factor that worries me above all; Phillips is the kind of man who you suspect will make an instant impact, even if it's off the bench. Elland Road before the TV cameras is a scenario made in heaven for the lethal finisher, and you wouldn't bet against him harming our heroes at some point. Recent form is as good for Leicester as it is bad for Leeds, with the Foxes having slain the Rams last week, City beating Derby by a convincing 4-1.
So, there are many reasons to worry about this home fixture - though we should bear in mind that we already have a point in the bag from Leicester in an early-season stalemate that we could even have won near the end. You suspect that all of a Whites persuasion would be happy to see another point tomorrow; it's an outcome some optimistic urge in me is tempted to forecast. But taking everything into account, with a determined Son of Schmeichel in goal for the Foxes and prepared to throw himself at everything to avenge his dad's defeat in that Christmas Eve win over Man U; with the X-Factor of Finisher Phillips in the mix and with all of the trauma currently surrounding Leeds United - I will reluctantly go for a routine away win as the Whites battle hard but are undone by a frankly better squad.
0-2 for me, a goal at some point for Old Man Kevin, fresh from the Palace - and some honour in defeat to be garnered from what I confidently expect to be a much-improved performance. Now come on, Leeds - you proved me wrong last week. Get those sleeves rolled up and do it again!
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