By Rob Atkinson
Tomorrow's game against Millwall might just produce a few butterflies in the stomachs of Leeds United fans everywhere. Not from any fear factor related to the presence of their notorious fans - as usual, they will use the fact that it's a Police-controlled "bubble" match as an excuse for bringing along a paltry few dozen - but because of the potential significance of the fixture as an unwelcome relegation six-pointer.
A swift glance at the League table will show the scary reality of this. As it stands, Leeds rest comfortably in mid-table, twelve points clear of Millwall, who are just below Charlton which places them in the relegation zone on goal difference. Above Charlton there is a gap of five points to Doncaster. Charlton also have THREE games in hand on Millwall, so a few points from those extra fixtures would leave the ailing Lions looking very endangered indeed. That's all very acceptable from a Leeds point of view and, indeed, quite funny.
But if you take ten points from the Leeds total, it looks very dicey for Leeds and not funny at all. We would be neatly in that 5 point gap between the bottom four and Donny who are fifth from bottom. And if - horror of horrors - Millwall were to win their match at Elland Road, a fixture which the London club's manager Ian Holloway freely admits is a Cup Final - then Leeds would be firmly in the bottom three, again, assuming that Charlton could take some advantage of their outstanding fixtures.
But, I hear you say, we're in no danger of administration and a consequent ten point deduction. That nice David Haigh said so. Well, forgive me, but I've a lot less faith in "Mr Colgate's" ring of confidence than I used to have. He appears to be a "run with the hares and hunt with the hounds" type to me, and I fear that, as a prospective Tory MP, he is not above a little judicious deception here and there. Leeds clearly do not have much in the way of financial resources as long as the takeover remains incomplete. A decision in the next few days could well set the seal on that impecunious state - and then the administration alarm bells might start to toll in earnest.
So tomorrow's match against the 'Wall assumes - potentially - vast importance. It could make the difference between Leeds being five points ahead of their opponents in that Doomsday minus-10 scenario - and actually behind them with a clear and present danger of a second dip in the murky waters of League One. I do not regard this as an overly alarmist view. If I were the Leeds manager, it might well figure in my team talk. Millwall is a must win game - just in case things go horribly wrong (as they usually do for our beloved Whites).
For Leeds, Austin is doubtful, opening up the possibility of a Mowatt/Murphy central midfield partnership. On the plus side of team news, Kebe remains sidelined - otherwise there are no new selection problems; just the old one of trying to pick a winning United team. Millwall, meanwhile, will be missing the suspended Shaun Williams and they also have Danny Shittu (achilles), Lee Martin
(knee), Richard Chaplow (achilles), Nicky Bailey (back) and Jermaine Easter (thigh) unavailable through injury. Jimmy Abdou, Leeds' nemesis in the past, is set to return.
In contrast with the pessimistic tone of this preview, what with relegation contingencies and all, I would actually be surprised if Leeds didn't do OK in this fixture. The influence of Holloway - a renowned tub-thumping motivator - as manager does slightly trouble me. But you cannot, as they say, polish a turd - and Millwall are in the bottom three because there are only two teams worse than they are. I will therefore back Leeds to secure a win at Elland Road, their first under McDermott in 2014 (he was absent sacked for the thrashing of Huddersfield). The power up front of Smith, Wickham and McCormack should prove too much for poor old Millwall, so I'll go for a 3-1 victory to settle those relegation nerves. My fingers are firmly crossed.
Naturally, it goes without saying that all the above is subject to revision, depending upon what if any news emanates from the Football League today. The ownership decision, we are told, is "imminent".
So, you know - don't hold your breath