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 with another Npower Championship match looming large, writes Tony Harber.
United may be only two rounds away from Wembley now, but they will have to put thoughts of a future quarter-final to their back of their minds as they make the long trip to the south coast to play Brighton tomorrow night.
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, admittedly missing 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 as he defied illness to add some real movement to a United attack that had looked static in recent games.
The only thing missing from his lively display was a goal with Varney hitting the crossbar, failing to convert a one-on-one with goalkeeper Kelvin Davis and coming up with an incredible miss from a yard out with the net open. But he 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.