|Leeds United 1 v 1 Sunderland|
Saturday, 7th April 2018 Kick-off 15:00
Match Preview: Leeds United v Sunderland - Whites seek back-to-back home wins against Black Cats
Saturday, 7th Apr 2018 11:43 by @LucasMonk_
Leeds United are seeking to record successive home victories for the first time since December as they play host to beleaguered basement strugglers Sunderland this afternoon.
On Tuesday night, Leeds United did battle with Fulham, thought to be a direct play-off rival of theirs after the 0-0 draw between the two sides in August, at Craven Cottage. The home side, third in the Championship table, worsted United 2-0 and although the visitors occasionally threatened to imperil Fulham’s imperious undefeated streak of 17 league matches, a gargantuan gulf in class would have been cloaked by an ephemeral smokescreen if Caleb Ekuban and Jay-Roy Grot converted their gilt-edged opportunities in the second period. Had Leeds salvaged a point, they could not plausibly have considered themselves and the Londoners equals.
That is because the Cottagers’ modus operandi is one of assertiveness, technical aptitude and flourishing creativity. Their greatest strength is that of variation. Coolly, calmly, they can pass and probe, patiently finessing for themselves space in which to operate, carving opposing defences asunder with apparent ease. Briskly, dynamically, they can also break upfield apace, launching devastating counterattacks, with the electrifying pace of Ryan Sessegnon and Ryan Fredericks an often potent weapon, as was made plain just 14 seconds after Ekuban’s aforementioned miss.
In myriad ways United’s defeat in West London came as no surprise; the promotion contenders have made an unfortunate habit of reminding them just how far they have to go. Both games against Wolverhampton Wanderers saw Leeds comprehensively beaten, as did both outings against Cardiff City and the trip to Middlesbrough last month. It is clear: this particular United squad is not fit for purpose.
The remainder of the season, one that began with such promise, will see many members of the squad playing for their futures in West Yorkshire. Six matches remain for Paul Heckingbottom to intently observe his charges in action, the first of which sees Sunderland, the division’s bottom club, visit Elland Road for the first time since September 2006.
On that day, Sunderland, then managed by Roy Keane, emerged as rampant 3-0 victors. The then Leeds manager, Kevin Blackwell, was dismissed just days thereafter with the season culminating in relegation to League One. Fast forward 12 years and the roles have - almost - been reversed.
Sunderland have endured another torrid season since their cataclysmic departure from the Premier League in the last. Former United favourite Simon Grayson, appointed as David Moyes’ successor, was expeditiously sacked just five minutes after a stalemate with fellow strugglers Bolton Wanderers in October. The appointment of Chris Coleman, who masterfully guided that valorous Wales team into the semi-finals of the 2016 European Championships, has not given the ailing club, one as impoverished off the field as it is on it, the shot in the arm it so desperately requires.
The Black Cats are doomed with relegation appearing an ineluctable fate. In arguably the nadir of their 139-year history, they have meekly sunk to new levels of incompetence. The eminently modern Stadium of Light is only sparsely populated for the club’s home matches and it is now custom for the smattering of Mackems in attendance to egress it long before the final whistle, as they did when Sheffield Wednesday left as 3-1 victors on Easter Monday. Coleman, who recently vowed to remain Sunderland manager in the event of relegation, has chosen to remain sanguine, remarking: “We can go to Leeds and win. We can go anywhere and win."
For United, there could surely not be a more favourable opponent to face as they bid for a second successive home victory for the first time in aeons. If they perform professionally and assertively, there is little prospect of Sunderland gaining three crucial points in their fleeting battle against relegation.
Will Leeds secure back-to-back home wins for the first time since December? Or will Sunderland spring a shock after the disappointment engendered by the Sheffield Wednesday defeat?
Have your say by leaving a comment below!
Defenders Luke Ayling and Conor Shaughnessy will play no part owing to injury, with midfielders Eunan O’Kane and Adam Forshaw also likely to miss out, whilst Laurens De Bock and Liam Cooper are doubts.
After spending six weeks on the sidelines, forward Kemar Roofe could be recalled to the matchday squad following injury woes.
Pierre-Michel Lasogga, United’s top scorer this season, will be hopeful of a return to the starting lineup after Caleb Ekuban’s torrid match against Fulham in midweek, whilst Kalvin Phillips could be selected in place of O’Kane.
Defenders Adam Matthews and Lamine Kone are in contention for starts, whilst Jack Clarke-Salter is once more available for selection after serving a four-match ban.
Ovie Ejaria, on loan from Liverpool, will be hopeful of gaining a starting berth in midfield with Paddy McNair the most likely to make way.
Leeds (4-2-3-1): Peacock-Farrell; Dallas, Pennington, Jansson, Berardi; Phillips, Vieira; Alioski, Saiz, Hernandez; Lasogga.
Sunderland (4-1-4-1): Camp; Matthews, O’Shea, Kone, Oviedo; Cattermole; Gooch, Honeyman, Ejaria, McGeady; Fletcher.
Record: 15 wins, eight draws and seventeen losses.
Top Goalscorer: Pierre-Michel Lasogga (10).
Most Assists: Pablo Hernandez (8).
Shots Per Game: 11.7.
Average Possession: 49.9%.
Average Pass Completion: 72.4%.
Average Aerials Won: 21.7.
Record: Six wins, 13 draws and 21 losses.
Top Goalscorer: Aiden McGeady (7).
Most Assists: Lee Cattermole (5).
Shots Per Game: 10.7.
Average Possession: 48.2%.
Average Pass Completion: 71.7%.
Average Aerials Won: 21.5.
Kick-Off and Coverage
The game is scheduled to begin at 15:00 (GMT), and coverage shall be available via BBC Radio Leeds from 14:00.
Referee: Jeremy Simpson (Lancashire), who has officiated 27 Championship matches this season, showing 108 yellow cards and seven reds.
Assistants: Michael George and James Wilson.
Fourth Official: Michael Salisbury.
The visit of bottom club Sunderland should place Leeds United in a propitious position from which they can secure successive home victories for the first time since December, but Paul Heckingbottom’s side must bear Derby County’s debacle at the hands of the beleaguered Black Cats very strongly in mind when they step out onto the hallowed Elland Road pitch this afternoon.
The Championship has attracted ubiquitous renown for its spontaneity. In England’s second division, anybody can beat anybody. This was perfectly encapsulated by Sunderland’s 4-1 Good Friday defeat of Derby at Pride Park. On paper, the Rams, who were admittedly in the throes of a fallow spell, appeared a far superior team, and yet nobody foresaw the perdition that was to follow.
Sunderland won convincingly in a seldom seen moment of triumph, and that owed to Derby’s languid manner on the night.
Leeds should - should being the operative word - win this match but in order to do so, they must exude professionalism, guile and assertiveness.
All three are attributes required by any team if they are to beat another in this bonkers league. Lack them, and you lose.
Prediction: Leeds 3-1 Sunderland
United should really be winning this match but Sunderland do carry threats, most notably those of Aiden McGeady and Ashley Fletcher, both of whom put Derby to the sword last week.
I suspect home advantage alone will prove enough for Leeds - although you never know what the Championship will throw up next, do you?
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Photo: Action Images
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