Confidence and belief returns for Leeds United as Aston Villa visit looms

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THOMAS CHRISTIANSEN said Leeds United were heading into Friday’s clash with Aston Villa with renewed confidence and belief in their season after a comprehensive 2-0 defeat of Barnsley.

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Leeds shook off a poor record at Oakwell, a ground where they had won once since 1997, to claim their ninth win of the Championship term and close back in on the division’s top six.

United climbed to eighth on Saturday as first-half goals from Samuel Saiz and Gjanni Alioski took advantage of a controlled performance at Oakwell.

The club’s campaign dipped badly during a seven-week spell from late September onwards but their win over Barnsley ensured a return of six points from three games in seven days, following on from a 2-1 win over Middlesbrough last Sunday and a 4-1 loss at league leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers in midweek.

Wolves sit clear at the top of the table but Aston Villa are beginning to threaten the automatic promotion places after rising to fourth with a 2-0 defeat of Ipswich Town.

United's Caleb Ekuban - praised by Leeds boss Thomas Christiansen - reacts after missing out on a goal against Barnsley. PIC: James Hardisty

United's Caleb Ekuban - praised by Leeds boss Thomas Christiansen - reacts after missing out on a goal against Barnsley. PIC: James Hardisty

Villa come to Elland Road for a televised game on Friday night and Christiansen was pleased to have another win behind him, saying: “It was important for me but for the players it’s also important to build up on the confidence they’ve already got back.

“A win and a clean sheet, taking three points against good opponents, it’s always good and it’s something we can bring into the next game against Aston Villa.

“This week we had two very difficult games against teams who could be in the Premier League (Middlesbrough and Wolves) and then a derby, a difficult one and an away game where we have two wins in the last 20 years we played here. It was important to take a good result.”

Saiz and Alioski claimed the headlines after Leeds’ victory at Oakwell but Christiansen talked up the performance of striker Caleb Ekuban who led the line on only his second league start.

A win and a clean sheet, taking three points against good opponents, it’s always good and it’s something we can bring into the next game against Aston Villa.

Leeds United head coach, Thomas Christiansen

Christiansen opted to field Ekuban ahead of Roofe on Saturday having lost Pierre-Michel Lasogga to illness and injury.

Ekuban, who only recently returned from two months out with a broken foot, impressed in brief outings as a substitute against Boro and Wolves and figured heavily in the win at Oakwell.

“Caleb showed in the last two games when he came in that he has the quality and the willingness to work,” Christiansen said. “He also has the quality to score goals and he was close. But for me most important was that he gave the team good help.”

Lasogga has missed United’s last three matches but is expected to be fit for the visit of Villa. Stuart Dallas should also be available on Friday having missed the visit to Barnsley after aggravating an ankle injury sustained on international duty with Northern Ireland.

Thomas Christiansen. PIC: James Hardisty

Thomas Christiansen. PIC: James Hardisty

Eunan O’Kane, however, limped out of the Barnsley clash in the second half with what appeared to be a muscle injury.

Christiansen said he was unaware of the extent of the damage and had replaced the midfielder with Conor Shaughnessy as a precaution.

“I don’t know but they told me he could continue a little bit more,” Christiansen said. “My thought was to take him off. We were at 2-0 and it was a good moment for Conor to come in.”

Leeds United goalkeeper, Felix Wiedwald.

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