Neil Redfearn is already decided on his centre-back pairing for tomorrow’s game at Blackburn Rovers after sizing up a strike partnership he rates as the best in the Championship.
Leeds United’s head coach said he was settled on which two defenders to pick from a choice of Jason Pearce, Liam Cooper and Giuseppe Bellusci after analysing an attacking line “as good as you’re going to get at this level.”
Pearce and Bellusci have been United’s establish combination in the centre of defence for much of this season but both players served one-match bans before the international break, giving Cooper a rare start in his preferred position.
The former Chesterfield player – a £600,000 signing in the summer – shone in a 3-1 victory over Blackpool on November 8, scoring in a game which ended Leeds’ run of eight league matches without a win.
Bellusci missed that fixture through suspension and was also carrying a thigh strain but he is fit and available to return to Redfearn’s starting line-up at the expense of Cooper or captain Pearce.
Redfearn, who declined to reveal which players would start, called it a “big decision” and promised to explain his selection to the centre-back he omits ahead of a game in which Leeds will face the 15-goal partnership of Rudy Gestede and Jordan Rhodes.
“It’s a big decision to make,” Redfearn said.
“We’re playing well and we’re in a good vein of form.
“For me it’s the right decision and it’ll be there to be judged but they’ve got to be made. The bottom line is that we’re in a good situation.
“We’ve got competition which is healthy.
“You’ve got to honest with people and you’ve got to be up front. I have to give the players a valid reason for why I’m doing what I’m doing. I’ve been like that all the way down the line and if I’m honest with the players then, like it or not, there’s no comeback.
“After tomorrow’s game we’ve got to start again and work together so it’s important that I’m honest with them. It was a difficult decision for me.”
Bellusci’s ban was his second of the season, brought on by his fifth yellow card, but his absence against Blackpool allowed him to overcome a minor injury quickly.
“From an injury point of view, the suspension came at a good time,” Redfearn said.
“It gave him an enforced breather. But he’s fit and he’s trained every day so it’s not a problem.”
Gestede is the Championship’s joint top scorer with 10 goals while Rhodes – Rovers’ leading striker in both of the previous two campaigns – has five to his name.
Redfearn said: “Gestede and Rhodes are probably as good as you’re going to get at this level. They’ve got different qualities and they offer a different threat. We’ve worked on that through the week with all the defenders
“Last season Blackburn had a similar season to what we’re going through now. They were finding their feet and trying to put round pegs in round holes.
“They’ve gone through that and come out the other side. They know the bulk of what’s happening week in, week out and at the (top) end they’ve got people who can win them games, like Rhodes and Gestede.
“We’re in a better place than we were as regards confidence and knowing what we need to do but this is a tough division and you’ve got to be adequately equipped all the way through to cope with the Championship.
“This squad’s been put together at the beginning of the season.
“It’s got different sets of players in it – young, senior, overseas – so we’re still in a process. But we are getting a bit of momentum going.”