Leeds United to be tested in tough run ahead

Billy Paynter, back in contention for a Leeds United place. Picture: IAN HARBER
Billy Paynter, back in contention for a Leeds United place. Picture: IAN HARBER
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THE honeymoon period looks to be quickly over for new manager Neil Warnock as Leeds United now face a run of difficult matches, beginning by hosting Npower Championship leaders Southampton on Saturday, writes Tony Harber.

With Hull, Middlesbrough and West Ham also to come in the next few weeks it is going to be tough for the Whites to get the winning run they now need in order to catch the teams in the top six.

A disappointing goalless draw against struggling Portsmouth left Leeds in tenth place, four points behind the play-off places with several teams above them still having games in hand.

They are likely to be boosted by an influx of loan signings as new boss Warnock has quickly worked out that reinforcements are needed if the team is to push on.

He is looking at bringing in a couple of defenders and a central midfielder and has already added a striker in former Manchester United and Sheffield United man Danny Webber, who had been without a club since being released by Portsmouth last summer.

Leeds are in talks with Leicester over the loan signing of centre-half Matt Mills, who has fallen out of favour following his £5 million move from Reading, and they are believed to have inquired about Bolton right-back Paul Robinson while Shaun Derry is still on the radar to fill the central midfield slot vacated by Jonny Howson.

With Fabian Delph back at Aston Villa and believed to be out for the rest of the season and Mika Vayrynen currently injured United have little cover left in midfield. They have also lost two more of their loan men with Adam Smith returning to Tottenham this week and winger Andros Townsend being granted his wish to go back to Spurs only to turn up at Birmingham a day later.

Warnock is busy weighing up his squad and is considering giving big centre-forward Billy Paynter another chance. He was an unused substitute last weekend and has since done his chances no harm with two goals in a behind closed doors friendly with Middlesbrough on Tuesday.

Warnock is still talking in glowing terms about being given the chance to manage Leeds.

He said: “It’s massive, this club. There’s a 50-metre swimming pool at the training ground. You don’t get that at Hartlepool.

“I work better when I’ve got crowds behind me and the Leeds fans have made it clear that they want me. You look at the numbers at Portsmouth, miles from Yorkshire – that’s what whets your appetite. I’m hoping there’ll be 30,000 next week.”

His crowd hope for the Southampton game may be a bit ambitious, especially with the game being played at Saturday teatime because of television coverage, but it is certainly a big game with the visitors looking to hold onto top spot they regained with a 3-0 win at Watford.

Top scorer Rickie Lambert did the business for them again with a hat-trick taking his tally to 20 for the campaign and he needs no introduction to Leeds fans with his record of scoring against the Whites for the Saints and previous club Bristol Rovers.

Southampton have another hotshot in their ranks now with Billy Sharp joining them from Doncaster and have plenty of goal threats from elsewhere in their team as their 61-goal total so far this season shows. They also bring them a former Leeds favourite in right-back Frazer Richardson, who has been in impressive form this season, and United flop Dan Harding at left-back.