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Leeds United: Crystal Palace provide a massive test - Matteo

Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha gets away from Cardiff City's Joe Ralls. PIC: PA

Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha gets away from Cardiff City's Joe Ralls. PIC: PA

  • by Dominic Matteo
 

It is never easy to know exactly when a club is in a relegation battle. But if I think back to my experience of relegation in 2004, this was the time of year when I started to feel it in my bones.

It’s a horrible realisation.

I don’t go along with the idea that Leeds United are already fighting the drop but when I look at their next three Championship games – Crystal Palace, Leicester City and Huddersfield Town – it might not be too long before the situation changes.

This is a hugely significant period for the club and it is a massive game against Palace on Saturday.

That phrase ‘massive game’ gets over used but I honestly feel that the result this weekend will have a major impact on the next three games.

Lose to Palace and I don’t see much chance of Leeds taking anything from Tuesday’s game against Leicester.

They will be back at Elland Road for the second time in four days and under a lot of pressure.

But beat Palace and they will go forward with their tails up.

A tough week would start to look more straightforward – and a derby at Huddersfield would feel like a cracker.

You can be sure that Palace will put the cat among the pigeons tomorrow.

I don’t know what’s got into them this season but every time I watch them they look absolutely fearless.

Wilfried Zaha’s a bit of an open secret but he’s not the only quality player in their side.

They have got pace, confidence and really impressive form – five wins on the spin.

Oddly enough, I reckon that playing at Elland Road favours them.

Leeds have got a big pitch and that lends itself to teams who like to spread the ball wide and attack from all areas.

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Sometimes I wonder why certain clubs don’t follow the lead of Stoke City, who reduced the size of the surface at the Britannia Stadium a good few years ago.

They used to have a pretty big pitch at the Britannia and, as history shows, they spent a long time getting battered on it.

But when the length and width was narrowed, it started to suit their tactics: direct, aggressive football, chasing knock downs and generally trying to keep things tight.

I wouldn’t say that Leeds play exactly like Stoke but they don’t really use every inch of the field either.

It just seems strange to me – and this doesn’t only apply to Leeds – that clubs allow a situation where opponents with a certain style benefit more than they do on their own pitch.

Leeds cannot afford to let Palace play freely tomorrow. If ever there’s a game where they have to take the fight to the opposition, this is it.

United have got the takeover behind them now and I really hope that the end of the uncertainty creates a healthy atmosphere at Elland Road.

We have all wanted this takeover for a long time and we have all been critical of how long it has taken to arrive.

Now that it is over the line, the new owners deserve a reaction and a response. That goes for the players and the crowd.

We have seen over the last 18 months that negativity and despondency does nothing but drag a club down.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s been very little to be pleased about in the past season-and-a-half but sometimes you need to shake yourself out of a rut.

I would never claim that the squad at Leeds is terrible. It just doesn’t look good enough for promotion.

But that does not mean they should be going on runs of seven games without a win. They are better than that.

This is not a relegation fight – not yet anyway.

But it would do the players no harm to act like it is.

Fight for every ball, scrap for every point like your life and your season depends on it.

Do that and in six or seven weeks’ time you might find that the table is looking a hell of a lot better without you even realising.

The relegation season at Leeds was a huge low for me. I could not properly accept that it was coming until the table told me we were down.

But when I look back, this was the stage in the season when we needed to react.

This was the point where anyone looking at the table should have known that we’d been down there for almost 20 games – the halfway point give or take a few games – and had no guarantee of getting out of trouble.

I might sound like I’m being negative but I’m not.

I just see this as a spell where Leeds need to battle for everything.

It’s been a tough season but a good week. What we need now is a great finish to the week.

Looking for a repeat

It has not been easy finding winners in the past couple of weeks.

I thought the draw was the best bet to be had ahead of Millwall-Leeds and but for a late goal it would have paid out. United’s performance warranted a point but it really is time to start picking them up, regardless of refereeing decisions or bad luck.

Crystal Palace are up next and this is a tough, tough match. Ian Holloway’s new side haven’t lost a game since the end of August and they’ve won five in a row. It’s a daunting fixture on paper and Leeds are underdogs at 7-4. The draw goes at 23-10.

But Leeds have got a decent record against Palace in the past couple of years and they’ve won all of our last four matches against them at Elland Road. The kind of character they showed last season – coming from behind to win 3-2 – is exactly what they’ll need tomorrow.

Ross McCormack bagged two goals in that game and it was great to see him back in a Leeds shirt against Millwall. We’ve missed a bit of quality up front and if we can get Ross back in the side he’ll bring goals with him.

I’m quite tempted in the ‘Draw No Bet’ market with Sportingbet, where Leeds are 5-6. It means the price on Leeds winning is obviously shorter but if it’s a draw you get your money back. Another option is to back Leeds to either win or draw the game at 13-20.

A repeat of last season’s 3-2 scoreline goes at 25-1 tomorrow and, as daft as it seems to pick out that result, it could be worth a few quid. There’ll definitely be goals. But the result I fancy is a 2-2 draw at 12-1.

I can’t see how we’ll be able to keep Palace from scoring – I’ll also be backing both sides to score at 11-20 – but I’m counting on the news about the takeover this week sparking a reaction from Leeds.

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