Brentford, one of the real surprise packages of this Championship season, will roll up to Elland Road on Saturday – having already furnished ample proof that they are not phased by an illustrious reputation. Last September, Leeds United ventured to the Bees’ Griffin Park, with only one solitary third tier meeting between the pair at this venue since 1953. Leeds had lost 2-1 in that long-ago Coronation year – and they fared no 61 years later, brusquely dismissed 2-0. United’s record against last season’s Championship newcomers from the third tier has been uniformly awful, a 100% record of defeat. Can they do better than that, this weekend?
In point of fact, it is Brentford’s unexpectedly good performance in a higher sphere this season that might just give rise to some hope of Leeds prevailing on Saturday. Despite some unpalatable defeats against opponents they would have hoped to send packing, Leeds have managed to buck the losing trend against better-placed outfits, with wins against all of the current top three, including a memorable ‘double’ over a fine Bournemouth side. There are signs, too, that the Whites – unbeaten in the league in 2015 – are slowly but surely getting their act together, maybe just in time to avoid more than a passing flirtation with the relegation dogfight. Brentford will be a stern test of this mini-revival, a team that Leeds coach Neil Redfearn respects as fighters with pace, energy and quality out wide.
It hasn’t exactly been “Fortress Elland Road” this season, but most of United’s better performances have come at home, success on the road being much harder to come by. With some awkward trips in the offing, at places like Reading, Brighton and Middlesbrough, Leeds will know they have to capitalise on home fixtures and take maximum points if possible from Brentford and then Millwall, in order to consolidate the gap between United and the bottom three.
An intriguing selection issue will surround new signing Edgar Cani, a player ideally fitted to the sort of lone striker/target man role filled lately by Steve Morison. Star man at Huddersfield Sol Bamba will surely continue to anchor the defence, and Billy Sharp‘s late heroics might see him pushing for selction if the team formation permits. There would have to be some compelling reason, though, to change the victorious line-up from last weekend’s derby win.
For Brentford, this match may be slightly too soon to expect a return from injury for midfield general and part-time right-back Alan McCormack, but Leeds are likely to meet an old friend in the visitors’ engine room – in the shape of Jonathan Douglas, who has been a terrific performer and frequently captain for the Griffin Park outfit this campaign.
One topical oddity is that both coaches were nominated for the January “Manager of the Month” award. It was tempting to hope that Brentford’s Mark Warburton might win the accolade, and the managerial curse that goes with it, ahead of a subsequent defeat at Elland Road. Doubtless the Brentford fans were hoping for the alternate scenario, with Redders copping for the prize and the hoodoo – in the event, it was Boro’s Aitor Karanka who, unsurprisingly, got the shout, on the back of an unbeaten league record in January as well as dismissing Manchester City from the FA Cup in the Champions’ own back yard.
With an accurate prediction for the Huddersfield match under its belt, Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything will stick its neck out once again, and bravely forecast a 3-1 success for Leeds tomorrow. That’s based upon little more than a hunch, liberally spiced with some wishful thinking. But it’s been one of those seasons where league positions have often been made nonsense of by results on the park – and this weekend could just turn out to be another of those funny old games.
So, lump on the Bees to get stung – and Leeds to edge that bit closer to mid-table security. And, if I’m wrong, you will see my confessional penance right here, on Monday.