|Derby County 2 v 2 Leeds United|
Wednesday, 21st February 2018 Kick-off 19:45
Match Preview: Derby County v Leeds United - Will Whites best Rowett's Rams to keep fans dreaming?
Wednesday, 21st Feb 2018 18:10 by @LucasMonk_
Paul Heckingbottom’s third match as Leeds United head coach tonight is, perchance, his team’s most important of the season…
On Sunday, Leeds United produced a gallant second half performance in a televised fixture to eradicate a two-goal deficit at home to Bristol City. The Whites had trailed at the interval owing to goals from the Robins’s Famara Diedhiou and Bobby Reid, both of which arose from long throw-ins, but strikes from Pierre-Michel Lasogga and Kemar Roofe, in the 72nd and 80th minutes respectively, saw new head coach Paul Heckingbottom secure a point from his first home match in charge.
However, United would rue a late rattling of the aluminium by a Lasogga header - the last noteworthy act of the game - as the eventual stalemate ensured that the visitors remain eight points clear of Heckingbottom’s team ahead of tonight’s Championship clashes.
Now, 14 matches remain for Leeds, who, as the diminutive and cultured Spanish playmaker Pablo Hernandez recently put it, will need to obtain from those fixtures at least 'nine or 10 wins' if they are to fulfill owner Andrea Radrizzani’s pre-season goal of a top six finish.
The first of the 14 impediments comes away to Derby County tonight and, ostensibly, the match will be a most difficult one for a United side who have not tasted even a solitary victory since a 2-1 away defeat of Burton Albion on Boxing Day.
The Rams, who are exceedingly well-coached by the forthcoming, robust and vastly experienced Gary Rowett, a former defender for the club in his playing days, are presently fourth in the Championship table and were last beaten in a home match in November, losing 1-0 to Ipswich Town. Though, Rowett’s charges have experienced a recent downturn in form, they are conspicuously well-equipped to overcome their current woes.
The squad at Pride Park boasts copious experience of English football, with defender Curtis Davies and midfielder Tom Huddlestone, both of whom were FA Cup finalists in 2014 with Hull City, among its most distinguished members. Other stars at Rowett’s disposal include Matej Vydra, the division’s highest scorer at the time of writing with 17 goals, and the Republic of Ireland international Richard Keogh, an extremely dependable central defender and Derby’s club captain.
Derby’s last match saw them suffer a deeply dispiriting 2-0 defeat away to Sheffield Wednesday last week but their imperious home form, and United’s struggles of late, will offer to their supporters ample confidence ahead of tonight’s game. Meanwhile, Leeds fans can find solace in the return of midfielder Samuel Saiz and defenders Liam Cooper and Gaetano Berardi from suspension.
When the sides met at Elland Road in October, the Rams emerged as 2-1 victors after a second half brace from Sam Winnall - including a penalty awarded in contentious circumstances - proved decisive.
Who will prevail? Will Derby do the double over United and catapult themselves into firm contention for automatic promotion to the Premier League with victory? Or can an out of sorts Leeds keep their fading hopes of securing a play-off berth alive by causing an upset?
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Gary Rowett has no fresh injury concerns ahead of this fixture, but Sam Winnall, the scorer of a decisive brace when Derby won 2-1 at Elland Road in October, is set to miss the remainder of the season after suffering a severe anterior cruciate ligament injury.
Moreover, doubt has been cast on the availability of both defender Curtis Davies and midfielder George Thorne. Both players have experienced injury woes of late.
Finally, striker Cameron Jerome and attacking midfielders Tom Lawrence and Kasey Palmer are vying for starting berths, with Rowett likely to employ his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation.
Paul Heckingbottom could reintroduce midfielder Samuel Saiz and defenders Liam Cooper and Gaetano Berardi to the starting lineup following the return of the trio from suspension.
Furthermore, Kalvin Phillips could partner Adam Forshaw in central midfield after being relegated to the bench for the recent visit of Bristol City.
Finally, Kemar Roofe, who scored as a substitute in his last match, could partner fellow striker Pierre-Michel Lasogga in a 4-4-2 formation.
Both sides enter this match having endured a barren sequence of results in recent weeks. Derby have won just once in their last five matches, whilst Leeds’s last victory arose on Boxing Day.
Derby County: DDWDL
Leeds United: LDLLD
Kick-Off and Coverage
As ever, live match commentary on the part of BBC Radio Leeds will be available. The game will also be televised by Sky Sports, with kick-off scheduled for 19:45 (GMT).
Referee: Keith Stroud (Hampshire) has presided over 22 matches this season, showing 95 yellow cards and seven reds.
Assistants: John Flynn and Billy Smallwood.
Fourth Official: Robert Jones.
Key Battle: Tom Huddlestone v Adam Forshaw
This crucial clash sees Derby’s Tom Huddlestone, a vastly experienced player who has represented England internationally, pitted against United’s Adam Forshaw, who moved to Elland Road from Middlesbrough in January.
Huddlestone, 31, has made 31 appearances thus far this season and has maintained a WhoScored statistical rating of 7.09 and pass completion percentage of 80%, whilst Forshaw has recorded a rating of 7.12 and pass completion of 86.7% in his four appearances for Leeds.
The outcome of this duel, one contested by two esteemed midfielders, will be key in determining just which of the two teams will be able to take control of the midfield and establish a clear route to goal.
After being willed on by the - initially sardonic - vociferating of more than 27,000 home supporters as they fought back from two goals down at home to Bristol City on Sunday in a televised match, Leeds United play away to automatic promotion aspirants Derby County tonight.
Despite their stunning comeback in their last outing, Paul Heckingbottom’s charges face an almighty battle to ensure that the paltry, fading ember that is their play-off ambitions is kept alive - as they continue to trail the Robins, occupants of sixth position, by a sizable eight points.
And that gargantuan struggle starts tonight against Derby, who last lost a match in front of their own supporters in November. Tonight’s assignment is clearly an arduous one in itself.
United will welcome back Samuel Saiz, Liam Cooper and Gaetano Berardi from injury, but many observers are uncertain that the return of the trio from suspension will prove the catalyst for the remarkable run that is so desperately required in order for the team to reclaim their play-off berth. Leeds are still yet to record a first victory since Boxing Day, and the virtually unanimous view is that a miracle will be required to prevent the aperture between themselves and Bristol City being potentially increased to 11 points in the event of a defeat tonight.
If Leeds are to gain anything from the match, they may well depend upon the creative facility of Pablo Hernandez, who can produce from nothing a match-winning slither of panache, in addition to the defensive prowess of Pontus Jansson, a Sweden international. Negating the influence of Matej Vydra, David Nugent and Tom Huddlestone will be crucial to United’s prospects tonight.
Derby may have endured a slipshod run of late, with last Tuesday’s defeat to Sheffield Wednesday leaving them with just one win in their last five matches, but this scribe believes that they possess the requisite experience and know-how to haul themselves out of their current slump.
Prediction: Derby County 2-0 Leeds United
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Photo: Action Images
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