|Leeds United 1 v 2 Sheffield Wednesday|
Saturday, 17th March 2018 Kick-off 15:00
Match Preview: Leeds United v Sheffield W - Will Whites avenge October walloping?
Saturday, 17th Mar 2018 11:42 by @LucasMonk_
Leeds United play host to relegation threatened Sheffield Wednesday in a Yorkshire derby this afternoon with both teams seeking to improve upon draws with Reading and Bolton Wanderers respectively.
Leeds United’s last match, away to Reading, encapsulated their season thus far. All too frequently in this campaign have United been the architects of their own downfall, and they would have recorded a first away victory since Boxing Day if not for their glaring defensive porosity - a frailty that shows little sign of dissipating. A intelligent run from Jon Dadi Bodvarsson was not tracked, allowing the towering Icelandic forward to open the scoring at the Madejski Stadium, whilst Eunan O’Kane inadvertently scored an equalising goal for the Royals in the second half after Leandro Bacuna was afforded far too much space before crossing into the area.
That result means that Leeds enter this clash having won just once in their last 14 matches. This fallow spell saw off both former head coach Thomas Christiansen and any chance the Whites had of securing a play-off berth with the club now 13th in the Championship table. Results and performances have scarcely improved since Paul Heckingbottom’s appointment in early February and the prevailing emotion amongst the fans is apathy. An apathy that grows ever more luxuriantly with each passing week.
A victory against local rivals Sheffield Wednesday would perhaps only be palliative for Leeds, who already appear to preparing for a summer of exhaustive change, but it would go a long way in strengthening Heckingbottom’s job security. Despite the apathy, this afternoon’s anticipated attendance exceeds 30,000. There is nothing at stake bar local rights to rodomontade, and a win here would not be some magical catalyst for a belated charge into the play-off places, but the least United can do is give the fans something about which to cheer and celebrate.
Despite their woes of late, Wednesday, who conceded a late equaliser at home to Bolton Wanderers last weekend, will certainly be no pushovers and this will certainly not be a facile match. Their form has perhaps been even more egregious than United’s, with Jos Luhukay’s team having won merely twice in their last 21 fixtures, but as is often the case in derbies, form is immaterial. Wednesday currently lie in a parlous position of 18th in the table, having obtained 38 points this season, and an aperture of eight points is all that stands between themselves and the relegation zone. Although the outcome of this game will not alter United’s fate this season, a priceless victory for the Owls would allay widespread fears of relegation amongst Wednesdayites. If Leeds are to win, it is clear that they must match their local rivals for application and organisation.
Leeds will look to Adam Forshaw, Ezgjan Alioski, Pablo Hernandez and Samuel Saiz for inspiration, whilst Wednesday, who have been continually plagued by injuries this season, may well turn to the likes of George Boyd and David Jones for their invaluable experience.
Will United return to winning ways in front of a vociferous home crowd, avenging October’s 3-0 defeat at Hillsborough? Or will Wednesday secure a first league double over Leeds since the 1959-60 season?
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Paul Heckingbottom will have to be regardful of injuries to defenders Luke Ayling, Conor Shaughnessy (ankle) and Liam Cooper (leg) when selecting his matchday squad for this fixture.
Tyler Roberts, a 19-year-old striker who joined from West Bromwich Albion in January but has not appeared for Leeds, also remains sidelined by an injury to his shin.
Finally, Caleb Ekuban may make way for Pierre-Michel Lasogga after an ineffectual display against Reading last time out, with United expected to line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation once again.
Jos Luhukay’s options are curtailed by the plethora of injuries that continues to plague the squad at Hillsborough. Although Barry Bannan, Sam Hutchinson and Joost van Aken have returned to full training, none of the trio will be fit to face United here.
Fernando Forestieri, who has been a stellar performer the Owls since moving from Watford in the summer transfer of 2015, is also unavailable for selection, with the 28-year-old having not yet recovered from a severe knee injury. Keiren Westwood, Kieran Lee, Sean Clare, Gary Hooper and Steven Fletcher all remain sidelined.
Lastly, Luhukay could afford starts to Glenn Loovens, David Jones and Jordan Rhodes as Wednesday seek a first victory at Elland Road since a 3-2 triumph in March 2007.
Leeds United (4-2-3-1): Peacock-Farrell; Berardi, Jansson, Pennington, De Bock; Forshaw, Vieira; Alioski, Saiz, Hernandez; Lasogga.
Sheffield Wednesday (3-5-2): Wildsmith; Loovens, Lees, Venacio; Hunt, Reach, Pelupessy, Jones, Boyd; Rhodes, Nuhiu.
Both teams enter this match in egregious form, having won just once in their last six matches respectively.
Leeds United: DDWLLD
Sheffield Wednesday: WLLLLD
Kick-Off and Coverage
As ever, supporters will have recourse to live match commentary on the part of BBC Radio Leeds; their coverage commences at 14:00 (GMT).
Referee: The match will be refereed by Keith Stroud (Bournemouth), who has officiated 22 Championship games this season and shown 92 yellow cards and four reds.
Assistants: James Mainwaring and Billy Smallwood.
Fourth Official: Ross Joyce.
Writer's Verdict: Whites urgently require return to winning ways against beleaguered Owls.
Leeds United’s season may be competitively over well before its official conclusion but spectacle of a febrile clash with a local rival has seen swathes of otherwise apathetic fans purchase tickets for this match, which still promises to be a compelling one between two clubs with bejewelled pasts.
Though Wednesday desperately require points in their bid to eradicate fully the possibility of a catastrophic relegation, the match is still of clear importance to Leeds. Head coach Paul Heckingbottom is beginning to be subjected to an incipient and vituperative criticism after a barren sequence of results and leading the Whites to victory here would certainly go a long way in aiding him in his bid to win over sceptical supporters.
If United are to return to winning ways then producing an eminently more self-assured defensive performance is a necessity after conceding eight goals in their last three matches. Also crucial will be conjuring a potency in attack - Leeds have had 15th lowest number of shots per home game (12.1) this season - and a slither of panache from either Pablo Hernandez or Samuel Saiz may prove decisive for the hosts today.
Above all, Leeds require resilience and professionalism on an afternoon such as this. Meekly accepting mediocrity is quite rightly regarded as a cardinal sin in LS11 and Wednesday manager Jos Luhukay is no novice. In three years with FC Augsburg, the 54-year-old Dutchman emphasised team cohesion and discipline. This pragmatic approach saw Augsburg secure a historic promotion to the Bundesliga in the 2010-11 season before retaining their top-flight status in the next. Although the largely flightless Owls have continued to struggle despite his appointment in January, Luhukay will doubtless have made the importance of this match clear to his players.
Will United bring to an end a barren run with a welcome win in this Yorkshire derby? I scarcely know. Doing so is contingent on whether or not the bulk of the squad wish to remain at the club, because many players are now playing for nothing more than their Elland Road futures.
Prediction: Leeds United 1-1 Sheffield Wednesday
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Photo: Action Images
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