Leeds United manager Simon Grayson has predicted a thunderous derby at Sheffield United after admitting he expected the clubs’ second meeting of the season to be a top-six fixture.
Grayson warned his players to prepare for a fighting performance from Sheffield United, despite the dismal form which has left the South Yorkshire side on the verge of relegation from the Championship.
A huge gap of 29 points lies between Sheffield United and Leeds, who are firmly on course to qualify for the division’s play-offs, and Grayson said he was one of many people who anticipated a promotion challenge from Bramall Lane before the season began.
Grayson said: “This could be a top-six clash, never mind a game between one team in the top six and one in the bottom three.
“It could have been between two teams in the top six. The players in their squad are capable of being a top-six side and everyone expected that of them at the start of the season.
“It makes no difference that they’re struggling because it’s always a big game whenever the teams meet. The points are vitally important to both of us.
“Micky will be stressing to his players that no team is too big to go down, as we found out a few years ago and they’ll know what they need to do over the next few weeks. We do to.
It’s important that we win our battles tomorrow because there’ll be tackles flying in, but I want us to play our own game as well – to play with our heads as well as our hearts and show passion and quality.”
The appointment of current Blades manager and former Leeds player Micky Adams has failed to halt Sheffield United’s decline, and a victory at home to Nottingham Forest at the start of this month is the club’s only win since Adams took charge in December.
He and Grayson were formerly team-mates at Elland Road and played in the same team on the day of Grayson’s United debut.
But the Leeds boss said: “Come one o’clock on Saturday, I’ll have no sympathy for him.
“I was here as a young boy when Micky was at Leeds. I got close to him over a number of years and he’s a good bloke – hard working and dedicated. He’s a Sheffield United fan, a Sheffield lad and he’ll be desperate to do what’s best for the club and for himself. But until tomorrow night, I’ve got no sympathy for him, Sheffield United or any of his players.”
Grayson has the majority of his players to choose from tomorrow and key decisions to make at both right-back and in attack.
Paul Connolly and Eric Lichaj are competing for inclusion on the right side of defence while top scorer Luciano Becchio could regain his starting place ahead of Billy Paynter.
“I’ve got selection problems all over the place because the squad is fit and strong,” Grayson said.
“It bodes well and it means that everyone has to stay on their toes, not just on a Saturday but through the week. If you see anyone slacking in training then sometimes you pick your team on that.”