The right-back position at Elland Road was not supposed to lie empty for three months.
Had this close season gone exactly to plan, the vacancy would have been filled before Neil Warnock took his summer holiday at the end of May.
The Leeds United manager has had a fixed idea of how he would tackle that area of his team, moving first for Joel Ward and then singling out Lee Peltier as soon as Ward slipped through his fingers. It has taken time but his stoic patience is at the point of paying off.
Ward was Warnock’s first choice and United’s failure to find the £400,000 fee required to seal his transfer from Portsmouth in the early stages of the transfer window augured ill. Unwilling to delay a move any longer, Ward took up an offer from Crystal Palace and Warnock began to look elsewhere.
It took no time for him to focus on Peltier, with word of United’s interest first becoming public on May 29. An agreement with Leicester City was finally hatched this week, putting Peltier on the brink of a move to Elland Road, and the ex-Huddersfield Town defender can prepare himself for a return to Yorkshire in the knowledge that he has long been on Warnock’s radar.
His move back north would all but finalise United’s defence for next season, unless Warnock envisages someone other than Tom Lees partnering Jason Pearce at centre-back. It would also end a brief spell at Leicester – unexpectedly brief for a player who cost £750,000 a year ago and who was heavily involved with City’s first team last season, falling three games short of 50 appearances.
Peltier was taken from Huddersfield to the KP Stadium by Leicester’s former manager, Sven Goran Eriksson, on the advice of Derek Fazackerley. Fazackerley, Eriksson’s assistant, had worked with Peltier at the Galpharm Stadium for two years and spoke highly of the 25-year-old full-back. City signed him to a three-year deal, part of the huge investment made in their squad before the beginning of last season.
Peltier played regularly under Eriksson and also under Nigel Pearson, who replaced the Swede as Leicester manager in October, but his availability has been an open secret since Leeds and Huddersfield began looking at him earlier in the summer. City’s capture of Ritchie De Laet from Manchester United made Peltier’s position more uncertain than ever.
Steve Walsh, the former Leicester striker, told the YEP: “I’ve rated Peltier for as long as he’s been at Leicester.
“He’s good in the air, he reads the game very well and he’s a solid, reliable defender. I’m surprised he’s leaving. I’ve seen enough of him to know that he’s got Championship pedigree and he’ll do well for Leeds.
“I can only assume that Nigel (Pearson) has another plan for how his defence is going to shape up next season. But Peltier’s a good signing for any club in this league.”
Rob Tanner, the Leicester Mercury’s football writer, said: “Peltier was a Sven signing or, more accurately, a player signed on the recommendation of Derek Fazackerley. We thought he’d be second choice behind John Paintsil last season but he started and scored in the first game at Coventry and never gave the position up.
“It’s fair to say that his better performances came under Sven and I don’t think Nigel saw the best of him. But the reaction to him going will be pretty mixed among the fans.”
Terms between Leeds and Leice ster were agreed earlier this week and completion of the move depends on Peltier and City reaching an agreement to sever the lengthy deal he signed last year. He is understood to have trained with City’s squad yesterday morning as discussions continued.
Warnock set out this summer with the express intention of gutting United’s defence after two Championship campaigns in which a high rate of concessions hampered the club’s league position, and his work in that area is almost complete.
Pearce became United’s first signing of the close season when Leeds paid £500,000 to prise him from Portsmouth on May 4, and Adam Drury should begin the new season at left-back following his free transfer from Norwich City in June.
Drury came to Elland Road after 11 years at Norwich, the last of which was played in the Premier League. Similar experience will come from goalkeeper Paddy Kenny who appeared in the same division with Queens Park Rangers throughout the 2011-2012 season.
The capture of a specialist right-back, meanwhile, might also give Lees – United’s 21-year-old academy product – renewed hope of a full year at centre-back, his preferred position. Warnock values Lees’ versatility but also his potential, describing him as the “one bright spark” and the “first name on my teamsheet” during the run-in last season.
United are currently without another available central defender after allowing Andy O’Brien to take up an opportunity in Canada.
Patrick Kisnorbo – the victim of a serious knee injury in January – has played no part in pre-season but trialist Martin Cranie could yet receive a contract at Elland Road having appeared in all five of the club’s summer friendlies, including Wednesday’s 1-1 draw with Sandefjord.
More pressing, however, with the signing of Peltier on the cards, is the acquisition of a new striker.
Warnock has been strongly linked with several forwards and the name of Craig Mackail-Smith surfaced again on Thursday following claims that Leeds and Brighton are working towards a deal for the striker.
United have previously expressed an interest in Mackail-Smith, discussing the option of a swap deal involving Ross McCormack, but the landscape has shifted in recent weeks. Leeds are now working to extend McCormack’s contract and Brighton have a shortage of strikers after losing Will Hoskins to a foot injury for the next six weeks.
Brighton manager Gus Poyet was slightly cryptic in response to questions about Mackail-Smith’s future when he spoke at an Albion fans forum this week.
The former Leeds assistant paid more than £2million for the Scotland international last summer but Mackail-Smith’s first season with Brighton was underwhelming, yielding 11 goals.
Poyet said: “It is very difficult to comment on individuals because sometimes things happen but from what I see he is going to stay here.
“The idea is we are really conscious of trying to make sure that Macca can score over 20 goals.
“It’s not only his responsibility, it is mine as well. I’m going to do everything to get the (right) player to play with him up front.”