Warnock’s cup heroes back on league duty

Luke Varney denied by goalkeeper Kelvin Davis in Leeds United's game against Southampton
Luke Varney denied by goalkeeper Kelvin Davis in Leeds United's game against Southampton

LEEDS United enjoyed a great night of cup action on Tuesday when they dumped Premier League Southampton out of the Capital One Cup – but they have little time to dwell on their success or an exciting quarter-final draw as they have another Npower Championship match looming large tonight, writes Tony Harber.

Although United may be only two rounds away from Wembley now and face the prospect of a huge last eight tie at home to Chelsea all cup thoughts have to be put to the back of the mind as they make the long trip to the south coast to play Brighton tonight in another televised league match.

The Whites need the points as well after taking only two from their last three league matches to fall back to 11th place in the table. Last Saturday’s unlucky 1-0 reverse against Birmingham was their only defeat in their last nine matches in all competitions, however, as they have found a general level of consistency.

Everything points to a close contest against Brighton with both teams on 19 points from their 13 matches and having an identical record of five wins, four draws and four defeats so far.

Brighton are one place above Leeds thanks to a superior goal difference and are coming off the back of a similarly disappointing league spell since the resumption from the last international break with a 1-1 draw at Blackpool last Saturday following two 1-0 defeats.

Craig Mackail-Smith remains the Seagulls’ biggest threat with six goals so far this season and a good past record against Leeds while his fellow striker Ashley Barnes has also found the net four teams and must be closely marked.

United are sure to be boosted by their cup progress after outplaying a Southampton side without many of their usual first teamers. Goals from Michael Tonge, El Hadji Diouf and Luciano Becchio, with an injury-time penalty, clinched a 3-0 success and there were encouraging displays from several players, particularly Luke Varney who was selected ahead of substitute Becchio to lead the line.

Varney has not been one of the fans’ favourites since his move from Portsmouth, but earned a standing ovation on this occasion and gave manager Neil Warnock food for thought on whether he should start again at Brighton.

Warnock will check on the fitness of defender Lee Peltier before naming his side after the skipper picked up a knock in the second half of Tuesday’s cup tie. But Paddy Kenny is likely to be back in goal after Jamie Ashdown played in midweek and centre-back Tom Lees is expected to start despite reports linking him with a Serbian police charge relating to England’s bad tempered under-21s play-off clash last month.

The manager praised his players for their display against Southampton and is delighted to be looking ahead to a quarter-final against Chelsea at Elland Road on Wednesday, December 19.

Warnock said: “I don’t think we could have got a get a better draw. It’ll be a fantastic evening for everyone.

If I’m being honest, I would have liked an easier one for a chance of getting through, but you can’t help but look forward to it.

“I don’t know a lot about the history because I’m from a different part of Yorkshire, but I’ve heard a few people talk about the rivalry that the clubs have had and hopefully I’ll get to know more as the game gets near.”

Leeds, meanwhile, could be set to lose El Hadji Diouf in January after talks over a new contract for the Senegal international have stalled.

The 31-year-old forward has impressed since signing a short-term deal to stay at Elland Road until the start of next year and has scored four goals.

But he is looking for a longer contract and an increase in wages after proving his worth and so far United have been unable to come up with a suitable offer.