Leeds United v Burnley (Elland Road) Saturday 21 September at 15:00
It seems certain that, in the absence of Steven Warnock through suspension and with Adam Drury still unavailable due to injury, Aidy White will finally get his long-awaited chance against Burnley to make an impression on this season – in the left-back slot where he has performed well enough to impress Brian McDermott in the U-21 side. This comes a bare week or so after White seemed likely to depart on loan to Barnsley – but he made a laudable decision to stay and fight for his place. On the other flank, it remains to be seen whether Lee Peltier, Tom Lees or maybe even Sam Byram will turn out at right-back.
A full back combination of White and Byram would offer pace and width to balance against an arguable lack of experience for an area of the team that normally requires an element of rugged know-how of the battle-hardened variety. It’s probably unlikely that McDermott will opt to field both youngsters, but if he did then the team would at last have more potential for width going forward than it has offered all season, with the possibility of a wing-back approach as United seek to be more creative against the high-flying Lancastrians.
There is no doubt that Leeds need to carve out more in the way of chances if they are to make a real impact on this campaign. Solid defence is all very well – only two conceded in the last three games. But because we’ve scored only one in that time, a return of three points has seen the team drop away from the play-offs zone. The options up front are likely to remain the same with Diouf, Poleon and Smith on the bench ready to enter the fray later on when the Burnley defence will have been – hopefully – softened up by the hard work of Noel Hunt and Luke Varney together with the elusiveness and skill of Ross McCormack.
It could be argued that United’s relative failure to create and convert chances owes as much to bad luck as it does to inadequate resources. Sooner or later, Noel Hunt’s graft will pay off, Rudy Austin will bang one in from long range, Matt Smith will adjust to a higher grade and be able to exploit his aerial power and ability. A little width would help all this to come about, and attempts are surely going on behind the scenes to recruit people of enough quality in the loan market; the lack of any end product here up to now is – looking at it optimistically – a sign that some quality control is in operation and we’re not just going to sign anyone. The exit on loan of Ryan Hall to Sheffield United would seem to set the bar a little above Hall’s own level where ability is concerned.
Burnley will present a stiff test, but Leeds will be looking to bounce back swiftly from a heart-breaking defeat on Wednesday night. With home advantage, and an enforced change or two to freshen things up, expect United to emerge as narrow winners.