By Rob Atkinson
So here we are at the last knockings of what has been, to say the least, an eventful 2013. The New Year is just around the corner, with all of its rich promise, uncertainty and bright prospects - we hope - of a more stable and better-funded club. Everything that can make a success-starved Leeds United fan "dare to dream" is getting closer and closer.
That fresh start is perhaps just a couple of days away now. But before it, there lays in our path the last obstacle of the old year, a hurdle that we traditionally find difficult to clear. This is something that seems likely to be just as true as ever as we travel to the City Ground, Nottingham to face the comically-nicknamed "Tricky Trees" of the Forest.
This is a big game for both clubs, poised as they are to enter the second half of the campaign as genuine contenders for promotion via one route or another. Both ache to be among the elite again, neither will be choosy how that is to be achieved, whether it be by the automatic route or through the chancy play-offs. Either club would grace the top flight; it's a face-off between two of the division's true heavyweights. Forest go into battle on the back of a highly-creditable 2-0 defeat of pre-season favourites QPR, Leeds emerged from an away game at Blackpool with a point and somewhat unlucky not to have gained all three.
Forest are likely to field the team that dismissed Rangers, but also welcome back Simon Cox as a fresh attacking option. On the Trees' injury list are Danny Collins, Chris Cohen and Kelvin Wilson, as well as a certain Dexter Blackstock, out for the rest of the season with a knee injury picked up on Whites loan duty.
For Leeds, Luke Murphy is available again after a one-match suspension, so manager Brian McDermott has options in midfield, where Tonge and Brown performed well at Bloomfield Road. Young Alex Mowatt may remain in the background, being protected from early burn-out, but teenage wide man Gboly Ariyibi continues to push from the bench, while elder statesmen El-Hadji Diouf and Paul Green are also waiting to make their first real contributions in a while.
Even at my most optimistic, I'm struggling to predict anything massively positive from this one. It may well be that this fixture will represent our darkest hour before a new dawn, putting an end to an unbeaten December that has included rather too many draws along with its two victories. A draw would be great here too, but it appears unlikely against a Forest side with its tails up and as eager as ever to beat those notorious Clough-persecutors from up the road. With the best will in the world, I can see little other than a defeat here, possibly by 3 goals to 1.
Still, this is Leeds United - and just as they sometimes kick your optimistic hopes in the teeth, so they will occasionally surprise you when you're expecting nowt. That's the possibility to cling on to as we take on a difficult task. I don't predict a defeat unless I can genuinely see little else on the horizon, and this is one time when I'd be delighted to be proved utterly wrong.
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