By Rob Atkinson
League football resumes this weekend after the latest international break and for Leeds it's a chance to return to winning ways on Sunday lunchtime at home to Birmingham City, who are four points and five places worse off than our heroes. United sit 14th, 7 points behind the play-off places and, perhaps more relevantly, 8 points clear of the bottom three.
Suggestions that this is a "must-win" game for Leeds have more or less merit, depending on your expectations for this season. Anyone who feels that there is any reasonable chance of a tilt at promotion will know that nothing less than three points will do. The rest of us, more likely resigned to a mediocre campaign with the occasional fearful glance over our shoulders at the relegation battle, have longer-term problems in mind. The bigger picture, we would argue, is of more importance right now than individual results; the direction of the club is being questioned after bleak failures to augment the squad by the additions of much needed talent up front and on the wings. Nevertheless, a win is always welcome and Elland Road certainly needs to brush up its reputation as a fortress.
The Birmingham game also sees the welcome return as a special guest of Lucas Radebe, The Chief himself, one of the true heroes for Leeds fans everywhere and a man with a proud and deserved global profile. The recent tendency of the owners GFH to look back at a glorious past strikes quite a contrast with earlier in the season when it was all "Forget about the past, the future is bright". Clearly, circumstances alter cases. This visit of The Chief may well be seen as another distraction from the complaints of those whose concerns are more urgently current - and yet Leeds United icons such as Radebe should always be assured of a warm welcome home.
Whatever gloom might surround Elland Road, Birmingham under their lugubriously Geordie manager Lee Clark, have had a poorer time of it so far. Two wins in their last 9 league games and no goals in their last three is not the stuff to strike fear into the hearts of the opposition, even opposition such as Leeds who have been sadly easy meat for Blues in the last few season with seven out of the last eight meetings going their way. Leeds' own current form is dodgy enough for us to take little comfort from Brum's woes, so the match will kick off with head-to-head history perhaps the best guide - not a pleasant thought for the Whites.
For Leeds, Sam Byram is pressing for a start, seemingly now recovered from his chronic hip problems. Midfielder Luke Murphy and striker Luke Varney are two more who will be hoping for recalls, with the make-up of the team, as ever, dependent upon the shape and formation manager McDermott deems best-fitted to deal with our opponents. Birmingham have had injury worries over midfielder Wade Elliott and left-back David Murphy, both of whom will be assessed prior to kick off.
Both teams have a lot to prove and amends to make to long-suffering fans. Leeds were awful at Derby, losing 3-1 - a scoreline that flattered them if anything. Birmingham arguably fared even worse, losing at home to a Bolton side who have keeled over to almost all other opposition this term - even Leeds. This Elland Road clash is a battle of the demoralised, and much will depend on who can deal the better with their currently reduced condition. Leeds have apparently had a Big Meeting to thrash things out, and it's to be hoped that the air has been sufficiently cleared for them to overcome a team that have been problematic lately. I will put my most optimistic head on and, based on absolutely nothing but blind faith and wishful thinking, go for a 2-0 win to Leeds - which would at least buy GFH a few more days of grace and allow them perhaps to mollify a grumpy fan base with some success in the loan market.
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