LEEDS UNITED’S biggest league crowd since St Patrick’s Day 2012 is expected to congregate at Elland Road in four days’ time – and Stephen Warnock and his Whites’ team-mates are under no illusions of the importance of sending the vast majority home happy.
A fair number of Whites punters voted with their feet during a distinctly forgettable 2012-13 campaign, when United’s average league attendance of 21,572 was their lowest for a quarter of a century – since the similarly moribund 1988-89 season.
United broke the 25,000 barrier at home just twice in the Championship last term, the pre-Christmas victory over Middlesbrough – boosted by the presence of 3,000 travelling fans – and the midweek home clash with Blackpool on February 20 when many supporters took advantage of a cut-price ticket offer to swell the Elland Road crowd to a season-best league figure of 25,532.
With Saturday’s Championship opener with Brighton designated as a Category C game, fans, buoyed by a feel-good factor following the spring appointment of Brian McDermott, have been quick on the uptake again.
Over 25,000 tickets have already sold, with a crowd of 30,000 envisaged – you have to go back to March 2012 for United’s last 30,000-plus attendance in the second tier, a massive gate of 33,366 against West Ham United.
McDermott has already spoken about the importance of the fervent Elland Road support acting as a 12th man for United in the coming campaign and a positive exercises go, a good result and performance against the Seagulls cannot be underestimated with the club desperate for sections of wavering fans to start making their journeys to LS11 more regularly again, having fallen out of love with the club a bit in recent seasons.
Headlining the importance of a bumper opening-day gate – and the desire not to let fans down – Warnock said: “That is what everyone wants and why the club is so big.
“If we can get that (30,000 crowd) for the first game of the season, it will give the lads a lift and hopefully the fans can keep coming.
“You want to go into the first game of the season and start well and we need to. Hopefully, we will start as brightly as we can, so we can go and climb the league as quickly as we can.
“You have got to get the momentum going as quickly as possible. If you do that, you have every chance of starting the season well. We need to start well against Brighton and get ourselves on a decent roll.”
United head into Saturday on the back of a 2-0 reverse to slick Bundesliga outfit Nuremberg when they were distinctly second-best.
In no way, shape or form could it have been described as an ideal afternoon, although to many the importance of pre-season results and performances will always be negligible, with the main, some would say only, exercise being to augment match fitness for when it really matters.
McDermott himself admitted following Saturday’s game that he is no fan of pre-season, viewing it as sparring before the main bout of league business – and if United can start the season with a bang against Brighton, memories of the Nuremberg performance will be instantly forgotten.
Despite being second-best to the Germans, Warnock still feels the encounter was a worthwhile one, regardless of the result with the tough test a good one ahead of the start of the league campaign, with valuable lessons learned and plenty more to come from United, who have yet to fully hit their straps this summer.
He added: ”I think the game was probably what we needed. The manager said that the games we had in pre-season would be tough games and there’s no point going into a season winning every game 3-0 or 4-0. You need testing and we knew Nuremberg would be a good team – they have finished the last three seasons well in the Bundesliga. They were a tough team, but we enjoyed the test.
“Of course, we could have done a bit better and we know that. There were probably a few tired legs out there; it was a tough session on Thursday for the lads who didn’t play on Tuesday and the training will be different this week gearing into the (Brighton) game. Hopefully, we will have fresher legs going into that game.
“We knew it would be tough physically for us (on Saturday).
“We feel that we are not hitting the heights we know we can hit. The manager wants us to play a certain way and we are still getting into the groove and we know we can play better than we have been playing.
Personally, Warnock is expecting “nothing less than an intense battle for left-back duties in 2012-13, with himself, Adam Drury and Aidy White currently in the mix for that position.
With McDermott keen to bring in new recruits, not too many first-teamers can safely say they will be a regular throughout 2012-13, with the former Blackburn Rovers, Aston Villa and Liverpool defender conscious that United’s line-up could change substantially if the manager has his way and new investment is secured by GFH Capital in the near future.
He said: “Obviously, the manager has spoken in the press and said that he would like more players and he expected to have more players in. So whether things change this week or the weeks after the (start of) season leading up to the end of the transfer window, we’ll have to wait and see. You have got to work with what you have got at the moment and what is here. I’m sure we will do that.
“There’s always going to be battles for places here. Everyone has got to be on their toes and we all know that.
“That is what you expect at this club. You have got to play as well as you can and keep in the manager’s thoughts.”