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Paul Heckingbottom may have been a shock choice as the new Leeds United Head Coach but there is one thing for certain, he knows all about Yorkshire derbys. Having grown up in Barnsley and played for Bradford City, Sheffield Wednesday and Barnsley during an 18 year playing career he is aware what heated affairs these can be and how important bragging rights are come Monday morning. In his brief managerial career he has faced Yorkshire opposition 15 times; winning 4, drawing 5 and losing 6. Not the most impressive record and he has never beaten Sheffield United before but can he make amends this Saturday?
It’s a tough ask in his first game, Sheffield United away. The Blades are favourites in the odds at 888Sport for the victory. The Sheffield club took the spoils earlier in the season but just as Thomas Christiansen lost his job due to inconsistent results The Blades have not had much success recently with a pretty poor run of results since October. But they have managed one win in 2018 which is more than can be said of Leeds United. Only two points, and some club called Middlesbrough, separate the two clubs and with Leeds in 10th only 7 points off 6th both teams will hope there is still a chance they can get into the play-offs.
One thing Thomas Christiansen has left Paul Heckingbottom with is a mess. With Gaetano Berardi, Liam Cooper and Samuel Saiz all suspended and Conor Shaughnessy and Luke Ayling injured there are fairly major selection issues, particularly in defence. There is some good news though with Eunan O'Kane and Kalvin Phillips available for selection again after serving suspension and the rumour that Pontus Jansson may be available for selection following the news earlier in the week that he would be out of contention due to the injury he picked up in a clash with Sol Bamba last Saturday.
Many Leeds fans would suggest the main reason we are still facing selection issue is that the clear gaps in the squad were not addressed in the January transfer window. If Jansson is still unfit this weekend Matthew Pennington would be the only fit first team central defender at the club. Most people could have told you in summer that centre back was an area we needed to strengthen but director of football Victor Orta seems to think this is not an issue. Whilst this model is still not quite the norm in English football it seems to be a system Heckingbottom is happy with.
Heckingbottom has a proven track record in developing players. Hourihane, Bree, Winnall, Mawson, Watkins,Roberts, Scowen and McDonald have all moved on from Barnsley to better things in recent seasons. Dealing with agents and contracts is not Heckingbottom’s cup of tea, preferring to concentrate on the coaching and development of players, and that is exactly what Leeds need now. He won’t get to pick his own signings, that much is clear, but he can mold them and instil some discipline and fight.
A Yorkshire manager leading these players into a Yorkshire derby, I at least want to see some spirit this Saturday. I fear though that it may be a tough test too soon for the new coach.