HAVING already beaten one of the sides relegated from the Premier Division Leeds United will be out to claim a second scalp when Blackburn Rovers come to Elland Road on Saturday, writes Tony Harber.
The opening day league win over Wolves has been followed by defeat at Blackpool and a 2-1 win at Peterborough United last Saturday. With Capital One Cup progress also made at the expense of Shrewsbury and Oxford It amounts to a sound enough start for a new look side including no less than 10 players who have so far made their debut.
Neil Warnock’s team is still bedding in with the same back four not selected twice in a row. Three different players have started at left-back in the league games so far with Adam Drury the latest to play in the position.
Leeds are also having to cope with the loss of midfielder Paul Green to injury with Aidan White, El Hadji Diouf and Sam Byram all given starts in his absence.
Luciano Becchio, United’s longest serving player now, has nailed down the centre-forward slot, however, after making a flying start to the campaign. Manager Warnock was unhappy with his display at Blackpool, but he bounced back in fine style with two good finishes at Peterborough taking his tally up to four goals already.
Andy Gray deputised for the rested Becchio in Tuesday night’s cup tie against Oxford, but did not do enough to enhance his claims for a regular starting spot, although there were several outstanding displays, particularly from midfielder Rodolph Austin and Byram.
Both netted their first goal for the club with the 18-year-old Byram’s a real beauty that will have given his manager plenty of food for thought on who should start on the right flank on Saturday.
Another good display will be needed against a Blackburn side who are currently favourites to win the Championship after an unbeaten start to the league campaign.
They are busy trying to add to their ranks, having made a number of big money bids in the last few weeks that Leeds can only dream of these days.
Rovers have signed four Portuguese players this summer with two more reported to be on the way and look likely to have prolific scoring striker Jordan Rhodes in their ranks to make his debut at Elland Road after having a fee accepted by Huddersfield.
But they have also kept the vast majority of their team from the Premier, including former United favourite Paul Robinson in goal.
Robinson, who played 119 games for Leeds after coming through the academy ranks, was always a popular figure at Elland Road where is still fondly remembered for his classic injury-time goal against Swindon as well as for being one of their best keepers.
He is likely to get a good reception from the fans, something El Hadji Diouf cannot expect from visiting fans if he plays against Rovers.
Diouf is still in talks with Leeds over a permanent deal, with other clubs believed to be interested as well. Warnock is hoping the reception he has been getting from United fans will help persuade him that his future lies at Elland Road.
He said: “We’ve spoken to his man again and offered him an increased contract. Whether it’s sufficient or not we’ll find out.
“But that’s why I brought him off (against Oxford). The crowd were fabulous when he left the pitch and I hoped that might just push him into signing.
“I’ve said to him, it’s not about money. He’s got enough of that. It’s about playing in this stadium for a team like this. It’s about realising what he can do for us.”
With money suddenly tight again at Elland Road Warnock has indicated, however, that he does not expect to be making any more deals before tomorrow’s transfer deadline, although he is keen to make some sales with Danny Pugh, Paul Rachubka and Ramon Nunez still on the transfer list and not involved in Tuesday night’s cup tie.