For the second year in a row, Leeds have rounded off twelve months of little real achievement on the pitch by sliding to defeat – last year it was a 2-0 drubbing at Hull City, this time around a slightly tighter affair at the City Ground saw us edged out by Nottingham Forest, courtesy of a late screamer from Matt Derbyshire after we’d fashioned what seemed like a point-saver from Ross McCormack.
It would be slightly rude of our heroes, then, not to avail themselves of the chance presented by a home fixture against Blackburn to get the New Year off to a positive and optimistic start. Three points against mid-table dwellers Rovers would very neatly sum up the mood in which United and most of its fans are starting 2014. A takeover is due to be ratified “imminently”. Signings are in the air, possibly costing actual money. Recent stand-out performer Marius Zaliukas has been handed an improved contract, something to gladden the heart of any White who has marvelled at his sterling work at the core of our defence. Things are looking pretty good with the likelihood of them getting even better – so surely Leeds can reflect this and send a 30,000 plus crowd home happy today by routing the Rovers?
The other side of that coin, of course, is that victory for Blackburn would haul them within a point of United, making both teams part of the pack chasing the play-off spots as opposed to being in there and consolidating. But, enough of that. This preview shall be informed by the prevalent air of optimism; no more defeatist talk.
Such a bullish mood must survive some slightly worrying team news as goalkeeper Paddy Kenny and attacking hero and demigod Ross McCormack both face late checks on injuries picked up in Nottingham. Kenny suffered a heavy blow on the ankle early in the piece, and had to delegate goal-kicking duties to Super Marius. McCormack was feeling a tight hamstring late on, and his importance to the team simply cannot be over-stressed.
More positively, teenager Alex Mowatt may be able to resume his midfield duties after being rested since coming off with a back problem during the Barnsley match. An injection may have helped the youngster overcome this discomfort, and his creativity and poise would be welcome after two matches in which United have struggled to create a great deal.
Blackburn will be without suspended Jason Lowe, while Corry Evans (ankle) and Todd Kane (thigh) are injury absentees. Rovers may welcome back David Dunn and Josh King as they seek to complete a double over United.
Having predicted defeat at Forest, I will be hoping to continue some rare good form as a pundit, because I’m calling this one as a 2-0 home win. The clean sheet would be a bonus, but really any kind of victory would do as we seek to get the new year – and the second half of the season – off to the best possible start. I’ll tip McCormack and Smith to do the damage and send Leeds off into Cup football with a 100% record in the league for 2014. Happy New Year!