Leeds United gear up for tough league opener

Neil Warnock
Neil Warnock

AFTER a winning start to the season with a 4-0 first round Capital One Cup success against Shrewsbury it is now down to the real stuff for Leeds United with a tough Championship opener against Wolves today, writes Tony Harber.

The first league game at Elland Road has an early 12.45pm kick-off and will be the toughest test so far of Neil Warnock’s new-look team, which is unbeaten in seven pre-season games and the cup tie against the Shrews.

Freshly relegated from the Premier, Wolves have maintained the bulk of last year’s squad, although they face the prospect of losing two of their internationals in striker Stephen Fletcher and winger Matt Jarvis, who are the subject of bids from Premiership clubs.

They have a new manager to impress in Stale Solbakken, but he admitted last weekend that things were unsettled at the club as they wait to see which stars they can keep beyond the end of the month.

Leeds boss Warnock expects a hard test whatever team Wolves bring, but announced himself happy enough with summer progress so far and the cup win over Shrewsbury in particular when strikers Luciano Becchio, Luke Varney and Ross McCormack all got off the mark and new skipper David Norris marked his debut with a goal.

He said: “That’s just what we needed ahead of Wolves.

“Shrewsbury are still buzzing after winning promotion. They never allowed us to take our foot off the pedal.

“You couldn’t get it much more competitive than that. That’s why I was delighted when Shaun Harvey asked me if we wanted this game on the Saturday.

“No disrespect to Tottenham or anyone else we could have played in a friendly, but we could have got into bad habits in a game like that whereas Shrewsbury we’re all together, they were a decent side, they were good at set pieces, and we had to be on our toes.

“In the first 15 minutes you could see we had eight new players. We hadn’t worked on throw-ins and one or two things and you could see that.

“We gave them too much space, but we tightened up on that and were a lot better second half.”

Leeds are likely to make at least one change to their starting line-up for the Wolves game with central defender Tom Lees expected to be fit after missing the cup tie with a groin strain.

Warnock explained that the 21-year-old is responding to treatment and he is in line to come into the team with Lee Peltier, who played centre back last Saturday, reverting to his preferred position of right-back, in place of teenager Sam Byram.

United can also include El Hadji Diouf, although there has been no progress on him signing a contract this week.

Fans were surprised with Diouf’s inclusion on the bench against Shrewsbury after he was taken on a non-contract basis. He came on to a mixed reception after previously being described as a “sewer rat” by Warnock, but the manager has cleared the air with the player and sees him as an affordable replacement for the departed Robert Snodgrass.

He said: “We’ll probably talk to his people on Monday. He may be involved at the weekend if he’s happy with that. He’s on a non-contract basis so he is available.

“He’s certainly enjoying himself, he’s fitted in, the lads have taken to him and I think he was pleased with the support he received on Saturday. He even went home from the train station afterwards and I said to him ‘you’re brave!’”