Leeds United are heading out on revenge missions in the next week as they look for positive results against the only two teams in the top six of the Sky Bet Championship that they have not picked up points against this season.
The Whites maintained their amazing record against the best sides in the division last Saturday when Alex Mowatt’s third minute strike earned them a 1-0 success away to Middlesbrough and enabled them to do the double over opponents who started the day at the top of the table.
Derby, who went top after Boro’s defeat, lost to Leeds at Elland Road, while United also did the double over third-placed Bournemouth.
But the Whites were distinctly second best when they lost 4-1 to this Saturday’s opponents, Watford, in August and they were also well beaten, 4-1, away to next Wednesday’s opponents, Ipswich Town in December.
However, with Leeds at home to both promotion chasing teams this time they will be looking to avenge the defeats and continue the feelgood factor at Elland Road, only slightly dampened by the 2-0 reverse at Brighton on Tuesday night.
With five wins in six games prior to the match at Brighton, Leeds have put distance between themselves and the relegation zone and actually made it into the top half of the table, for a few days at least, after the gritty win at Middlesbrough that owed as much to goalkeeper Marco Silvestri and a towering display at centre-half by Sol Bamba as it did to goalscorer Mowatt.
Head coach Neil Redfearn praised Bamba and said it should be a “no-brainer” to try and tie the Ivory Coast international to a longer deal in the summer.
Since Bamba arrived on a loan deal from Palermo until the end of the season United have only lost twice and conceded just two goals before Tuesday night’s match and they have an option to sign him up on a longer term contract when his loan spell is up.
Redfearn said: “He’s been a great signing. He gives you presence in the defence and the times he stepped in, pinched the ball and settled things down with a pass, showing composure, was really impressive.
“It’s a no brainer (to sign Bamba on a longer deal). If you’ve got somebody with that experience who’s this good, giving you physical presence at the back, he’s a player who most sides would be looking to keep in their back four.”
Bamba looks set to play alongside Liam Cooper once again on Saturday with Giuseppe Bellusci sitting out the second game in his latest ban – picked up after he received his tenth yellow card of the season.
Elsewhere, United hope to have Sam Byram back on the right side of midfield after he missed the trip to Brighton through a knee injury. Striker Steve Morison is also expected to be available after he was taken off during Tuesday’s game as a precaution.
Redfearn admitted Byram was missed at Brighton.
He said: “He’s a top quality young player. What he does is give you that end product and the legs to get past the frontmen.
“He’s got the legs to get past people in the box and he creates things.
“You’re going to miss people like Sam Byram. The four young players that have played this season have been absolutely outstanding.
“As soon as you lose one of them, you lose a little bit of momentum.
“Sam’s got a good chance (of playing against Watford). We could have perhaps risked him but we might have then lost him for two or three games.
“He’s an important player for us so hopefully the rest will have done him good and he’ll be available.”
Redfearn admitted he may be tempted into rotating his squad against Watford with the game coming in the middle of a hectic run of matches.
He added: “You’ve got to look at your week and the games you’ve got coming up.
“We might look at changing it around a little bit, depending on how people feel.
“I don’t think it was through a lack of effort (at Brighton), at times we just made poor decisions and I don’t think we attacked like we can attack.
“We didn’t break with any purpose or menace. It’s disappointing but you’re not going to play well every week.
“You’re not going to win every week and it’s a mark of perhaps how far we’ve come that we’re disappointed playing away from home when we don’t win.”