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Leeds United   v   Stoke City
SkyBet Championship
Sunday, 5th August 2018 Kick-off 16:30
Match Preview: Leeds United v Bristol City - now or never for Whites as Robins roll into town
Sunday, 18th Feb 2018 13:34 by @LucasMonk_

Paul Heckingbottom will preside over his first home fixture as head coach of Leeds United this afternoon, with his team’s play-off hopes in grave danger of being utterly extinguished...

Last weekend, Leeds United’s earnest aspirations of securing a play-off berth were dealt a grievous blow. In a typically febrile Yorkshire derby, the Whites were narrowly worsted by the Blades, who recorded a 2-1 victory owing to a brace from perennial goalscorer Billy Sharp. The defeat created an aperture of eight points between Leeds and today’s opponents Bristol City - who occupy the last of the play-off places.

This clash is, therefore, of the utmost sanctity for Leeds and for Paul Heckingbottom, who must mastermind a surprise win - his new charges last won a match on Boxing Day - in his first home fixture in order to revive the perishing ember that is his side’s forlorn top six hopes. Victory would at least ephemerally propel the Whites, who are currently 11th in the Championship, into serious contention for a play-off berth, but defeat would doubtless be terminal.

Bristol City, meanwhile, arrive in West Yorkshire seeking to avenge their 3-0 defeat by Leeds at Ashton Gate in October, in addition to making their grasp of a play-off berth a tad more tenacious by moving five points clear of Preston North End, who occupy seventh place in the table. Though the Robins last won at Elland Road in November 1979, they possess a highly credible away record and have lost only thrice on the road all season; City have most certainly been reaping the rewards for their unwavering confidence in the managerial abilities of 36-year-old Lee Johnson, who was ostensibly on the verge of the sack during the latter part of last season.

The match is of appreciable importance and its outcome will directly shape the respective destinies of both teams. It is also contest that will likely engender copious interest but a - contextually - derisory attendance is anticipated despite futile attempts by the hosts to create some form of rampant fanfare ahead of Heckingbottom’s first home match in charge. Leeds’ slipshod form of late, their obscene and punitive ticket prices and the fact that the match is due to be broadcast by Sky Sports are all factors that could see the crowd fall to just 24,000.

Who’ll emerge victorious? Will Leeds offer to their suffering supporters the delectable - but often toxic - fruit of optimism? Or will Johnson’s Robins soar again after a spot of turbulence in recent weeks?

You can have your say by leaving a comment below!

Team News

Leeds United

Paul Heckingbottom will have to be regardful of a plethora of injuries and suspensions when deciding upon his matchday squad for this afternoon’s game.

Rugged defenders Gaetano Berardi and Liam Cooper, in addition to diminutive playmaker Samuel Saiz, serve the last match of their respective bans, whilst Conor Shaughnessy, Luke Ayling and Tyler Roberts are all sidelined with injuries.

Meanwhile, Heckingbottom is likely to retain the 4-3-3 formation he employed at Bramall Lane last week, with Pierre-Michel Lasogga, whose future is the subject of much speculation at present, aided by Ezgjan Alioski and Pablo Hernandez in attack.

Finally, Pontus Jansson will again work in tandem with Matthew Pennington at the heart of the Leeds rearguard.

Bristol City

Like their opponents, Lee Johnson’s team are also beset by suspensions and injuries. Defender Eros Pisano, midfielders Jens Hegeler, Gary O’Neil and Callum O’Dowda and forward Milan Djuric and Matty Taylor will all play no part today owing to injury. Defender Nathan Baker also serves the last match of a three-game ban.

Following his team’s exasperating 3-3 draw at home to a floundering Sunderland team at Ashton Gate last weekend, Lee Johnson will likely play Josh Brownhill in his preferred central midfield role - Brownhill played as a makeshift right-back against the Black Cats, scoring an own goal.

Finally, dynamic forward Bobby Reid should partner the hefty Famara Diedhiou in attack as Johnson retains his preferential 4-4-2 formation.

Form

Both teams have endured barren runs of late, with the visitors having won only once in their last six matches; Leeds last won a match on Boxing Day, defeating Burton Albion 2-1 at the Pirelli Stadium.

Leeds United: DLLDLL

Bristol City: LLDWLD

Officials

Referee: Wiltshire-born Simon Hooper, who awarded a controversial - and decisive - penalty to Derby County when he last officiated a match at Elland Road.

Assistants: Daniel Robathan and Adam Crysell.

Fourth Official: Geoff Eltringham.

Key Battle: Matthew Pennington v Bobby Reid

This momentous match sees Matthew Pennington, an Everton loanee, do battle with Bobby Reid, who has undergone a conversion - from midfielder to striker - since the end of last season.

23-year-old Pennington has been a dutiful and dependable performer for Leeds in recent weeks, playing with a self-assurance and composure that belies his relative inexperience of the division, despite their slipshod form. He impressed in the 4-1 defeat by Cardiff and looked, along with Adam Forshaw, to be one of Leeds’ most composed players on the day. He also forestalled Billy Sharp scoring what would have been the most facile goal of his career with a fantastic clearing header at the last in his previous outing against Sheffield United and has recorded an average WhosScored statistical rating of 6.96 over his last three matches.

Meanwhile, Reid, a dynamic, dexterous forward, has become a talismanic figure at Ashton Gate owing to his frightful speed, tactical intelligence and admirable diligence both in and out of possession. He has recorded an average WhoScored statistical rating of 7.11 and scored 14 goals in all competitions this season.

The duel between the two will most certainly be a fascinating one and its outcome could play an integral role in determining that of the match.

Writer's Verdict: a must-win fixture for Leeds United

In the first half at Brammall Lane last weekend, a clear majority of the Leeds United players that took to the field that day disgraced the shirt and flew in the face of Paul Heckingbottom’s new approach.

For it was a first half of plenteous errors, thoughtless fouls, careless clearances and impotent attacking play. Too many clad in Leeds’ illustrious colours idly ambled around as though they were ‘partaking’ in a humdrum training session.

It was a Yorkshire derby of the utmost salience and, despite their considerably improved showing in the second period, that insipid first half cost Heckingbottom’s team dear.

However, this scribe, who thinks of himself as a balanced, fair-minded observer, found solace in the performances of Pierre-Michel Lasogga, Adam Forshaw, and Pablo Hernandez - and that triumvirate of stars could make the difference today.

Lasogga is exceedingly deceptive. He often looks like your archetypal, and completely uninterested, Sunday League fatso. He in fact possesses remarkable technique when striking the ball and, though it may occasionally be masked by his cumbersome disposition, is a lethal attacking threat when adequately supplied with the requisite ammunition by his teammates.

Forshaw is a selfless dictator; he exerts his influence for the benefit of the team, controlling the tempo of matches, keeping things ticking, seldom relinquishing the ball. Like a dictator, he goes to extraordinary lengths to retain his influence, often manoeuvring to shield the ball before sneakily leading his marker a merry dance. He is the metronomic passer Leeds have lacked for so long.

Hernandez is a maestro - a peerless genius. I can think of few players other than the Spaniard who are capable of producing a match-winning slither of panache from nothing. The grace and elan with which he plays is to be marvelled at; he exudes the elegance of a ballroom dancer as he manipulates the ball and the creativity of a distinguished artist when carving opposing defences open with splitting passes.

If those three perform, and their teammates do not shy away from the task at hand, Leeds are in with a chance this afternoon against a Bristol City side that have to be deemed stern opponents. Last weekend’s second half made this clear - there is quality at Elland Road.

The players know their task, and it's incumbent on them to complete it - or at least attempt to - else another season of fleeting promise crashes and burns before March has even begun.

Whatever happens this afternoon, you can wager that there'll be no end of twists and turns.

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Photo: Action Images



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