|Leeds United v Stoke City|
Sunday, 5th August 2018 Kick-off 16:30
Match Preview: Leeds United v Barnsley - 'Ecky needs victory against troubled Tykes
Saturday, 21st Apr 2018 11:45 by @LucasMonk_
After succumbing to a narrow defeat away to Aston Villa, Leeds United play host to local rivals Barnsley this afternoon in their antepenultimate match of a difficult season.
Leeds United’s fallow spell since the turn of the year has shown little sign of abating. The sacking of Thomas Christiansen and subsequent appointment of Paul Heckingbottom has done zilch to effect any immediate change for the better. The fanbase is divided between the apathetic and the antipathetic.
United’s barren run, one that has seen them win just twice in the Championship since a 2-1 away defeat of Burton Albion in December, means that they languish in 14th position prior to this afternoon’s local derby against relegation threatened Barnsley. The team’s imperious exploits in the halcyon days of August - a stellar month in which they did not lose even once - are now fondly, and perhaps poignantly and ruefully, reflected upon as though they were a childhood holiday of merriment in by the sea. Some fans are even calling, no, begging, for Christiansen’s return, like impatient children nagging their weary parents in the shops for the latest gadget or toy.
The bleating, puerile pleas will, of course, fall on deaf ears but the same people were agitating for Christiansen’s sacking in such an unduly critical way that one could have been forgiven for thinking that, if the opportunity arose, they would have had his head impaled on a pike. This, arguably, encapsulates United’s season perfectly. As soon as it became clear that mounting a concerted charge toward the table’s loftier reaches was a quixotic ambition, the search for a scapegoat commenced. In some sort of freakish football relay race, the baton passed from Christiansen to Victor Orta, from Orta to Angus Kinnear, from Kinnear back to Christiansen, and, now, to Heckingbottom.
This has been a campaign of mediocrity, disappointment and division, engendered by errors of judgement, slovenly football and cosmic inexperience and attempts to seek individual scapegoats before denouncing, excoriating and blaming them for it smacks of desperation and delusion. Decent, match-going, working-class supporters are entitled to voice their discontent at what has been an abject failure, but it must also be remembered that it has been a collective failure.
From Andrea Radrizzani, to Ivan Bravo, to Christiansen, to Orta, to Kinnear, to Heckingbottom, down to the players, this season has been an omnishambles. Radrizzani himself expected a top six finish, only to see United fall woefully short of the mark. Instead, a wretched tale of languid players, inexperienced coaches, erroneous signings and 19 league defeats has unfolded, leaving the club’s hierarchy with an almost insuperable task ahead in the summer.
It is now incumbent upon them to atone for this season’s travails, to wash away the stains of ignominy, to send out a team worthy of, and as sparkling as, this wonderful club’s fabled all-white strip. Not only will this require a hefty sum of cash, but it will also require that cash being spent in a judicious way on the right players.
At the moment, the Leeds players are fighting for their futures, as exemplified by the commendable efforts of the youthful triumvirate of goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell, central defender Paudie O’Connor and left-back Tom Pearce, who all shone in spite of their team’s narrow defeat by Aston Villa last week. Heckingbottom’s own position as head coach is secure for now, but we all know that security in football is ephemeral. Look at Southampton, Everton and Chelsea: football is mutable and the rate of change can often be convulsive if you are not suitably prepared.
The visit of Heckingbottom’s former club, whom he left in acrimonious circumstances, presents to him and his charges another stern Championship challenge. Barnsley, 22nd in the table, are toiling and battling and scrapping with all their might to avoid relegation. Jose ‘I am special’ Morais, a man possessed of an ego as inflated as a balloon chock-full of helium, will have his men up for this match and they will be backed by nearly 2,000 travelling Reds. Prima facie, this match is far more important to the visitors than it is to the hosts, but Heckingbottom and his players desperately need a win to avoid attracting further scorn from a disgruntled fanbase.
As for Radrizzani and his retinue, I can only hope that plans have been formulated for next season.
If success eludes United again in 2018/19, I fear that a Pandora’s box of rampant anger will be opened. Should that happen, it will finish Radrizzani at Elland Road. Once the Leeds fans begin to hold you in contempt, hurling vituperative abuse and swearing with abandon, it is nearly impossible to win them back.
Will Heckingbottom’s United assuage their doubters with a crucial win this afternoon? Or will Barnsley obtain a precious three points in their bid to avoid the drop?
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Defenders Luke Ayling, Liam Cooper, Conor Shaughnessy and Laurens De Bock are all absent through injury, as are midfielder Adam Forshaw and forward Tyler Roberts.
Pugnacious full-back Gaetano Berardi’s season was brought to a premature end by his red card against Sunderland two weeks ago, with the Swiss suspended for the rest of the campaign.
Forward Kemar Roofe and midfield dynamo Samuel Saiz could both be accorded starts, as Paul Heckingbottom seeks just a third win since succeeding Thomas Christiansen as United head coach in February.
Defender Matt Mills, midfielder Christoph Knasmullner and forward Mamadou Thiam are all sidelined with injury.
Oliver McBurnie, the scorer of eight goals in twelve starts for the Tykes this season and who has been linked with a move to United recently, is expected to partner Kieffer Moore and Adam Hammill in attack.
Full-back Andy Yiadom, another Barnsley player to be linked with a move to the Whites of late, will almost certainly start at right-back, as Barnsley seek just a fifth win on the road this season.
Leeds (4-4-1-1): Peacock-Farrell; Dallas, O’Connor, Jansson, Pearce; Alioski, Vieira, Phillips, Hernandez; Saiz; Roofe.
Barnsley (4-3-3): Davies; Yiadom, Lindsay, Pinnock, Fryers; Potts, Gardner, Moncur; Hamill, Moore, McBurnie.
Record: 15 wins, nine draws and 19 defeats.
Top Goalscorer(s): Pierre-Michel Lasogga and Kemar Roofe (10).
Most Assists: Pablo Hernandez (8).
Shots Per Game: 11.7.
Average Possession: 50%.
Average Pass Completion: 72.4%.
Average Aerials Won: 21.8.
Record: 8 wins, 14 draws and 20 defeats.
Top Goalscorer: Tom Bradshaw (9).
Most Assists: Kieffer Moore (4).
Shots Per Game: 13.9.
Average Possession: 48.3%.
Average Pass Completion: 68.8%.
Average Aerials Won: 26.8.
Kick-Off and Coverage
The game is scheduled to begin at 15:00 (GMT), and coverage shall be available via BBC Radio Leeds from 14:00.
Referee: Steve Martin has officiated 28 Championship matches this season, showing 71 yellow cards and one red.
Assistants: Andrew Fox and David Avent.
Fourth Official: Darren Bond.
Although United’s season has been competitively over for some time now, this remains a momentous clash against a Barnsley side floundering in the relegation zone.
Leeds must be regardful of the aerial threat of Kieffer Moore, who wins 9.7 aerial duels per match, and the goalscoring prowess of Oliver McBurnie, who has discovered the Midas touch since arriving at Oakwell on loan from Swansea City, if they are to emerge from this clash victorious.
United may well depend on the creative facility of Pablo Hernandez and Samuel Saiz - the two Spaniards can play splitting passes that perforate even the sturdiest of defences - for a match-winning slither of panache, and so finding them in possession with regularity will be key to their chances.
Barnsley will endeavour to give a good account of themselves here, but I think Leeds’ home advantage will tip this Yorkshire derby narrowly in their favour.
Prediction: Leeds 2-1 Barnsley
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Photo: Action Images
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