By Rob Atkinson
Leeds head north tonight to face a cup-tie take on one of those fixtures we really miss from our top-flight days, a proper club in Newcastle United - with proper fans in a proper stadium and a properly long-suffering record of under-achievement to surpass even our own.
It's one of those occasional holidays from league business, a rest from the pressure of picking up points towards success in the long marathon of the Championship campaign. The pressure is off; we have little to lose and much to gain in terms of confidence and momentum. It's a game in which, ideally, the players and fans alike should be able to enjoy the evening as long as the result isn't too lop-sided.
Curiously, the last time the two teams met at St James Park in this competition, the result was quite lop-sided - and in favour of the underdogs too. Second division Leeds had lost the first leg of the second round tie 1-0 at Elland Road, and then trailed in the away leg to give themselves a two-goal deficit to claw back. Claw it back they did, rattling in four goals in the remainder of the tie including extra time, to progress on a 4-2 aggregate. That type of result would obviously do very nicely tonight - but this Cup is really not a priority for the Whites.
We're taking a second-tier team north this evening and we probably have a second-tier chance of success - but the following that will back their Leeds heroes promises to be strictly world-class. Over 6,000 will back the lads, a truly awesome away following as we have come to expect. A scan of preview articles emanating from Geordieland reveals that they expect to be shown up off the field by a vocal support that will drown out the locals, depressed as they are by how their season is unfolding, with last weekend's home defeat to Hull City the latest calamity.
Leeds manager Brian McDermott has told us to expect "not too many changes" from our own disappointing home reverse at the hands of Burnley. Byram and Peltier will be assessed for match fitness, with Stephen Warnock available again after suspension. Matt Smith is pushing for a starting role up front. Newcastle will be missing Cabaye, Shola Ameobi and Gutierrez through injury. Midfielder Cheick Tiote will return for the Toon, with Sammy Ameobi and full-back Paul Drummet also expected to start.
This away tie has the feel of a bridge too far for a Leeds side in poor and unproductive form lately, the efficient win at Bolton apart. Despite last season's heroics against Everton and Southampton - both home ties - I would expect this season's League Cup run to end tonight with a respectable defeat to Newcastle who are capable of easing past Leeds with a two-goal comfort margin. As ever though with Leeds, and especially in cup games, you just never know.
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