Sol Bamba says he is “desperate” to make his Leeds United debut at Huddersfield Town this weekend after escaping from a dead end at Italian club Palermo.
The 30-year-old centre-back admitted he was short of full fitness on the back of half-a-season of inactivity but he promised head coach Neil Redfearn that he was ready to start tomorrow’s derby at the John Smith’s Stadium.
Redfearn will be forced into a change in the centre of defence with Giuseppe Bellusci beginning a two-game ban and Bamba is set to partner Liam Cooper after joining Leeds from Palermo on a half-season loan last week.
Bamba is just six months into a three-year contract in Sicily but he has been peripheral ever since his move from Trabzonspor in August, making just one league appearance.
Redfearn honed the defender’s match fitness with an outing in a behind-closed-doors fixture against Fleetwood Town on Tuesday and Bamba said: “I feel good and I feel sharp. If the manager wants me to play I’d be happy to play.
“I want to be playing and I’m desperate to be playing. Over the last six months I’ve not been playing so much. I need one or two matches to be 100 per cent but I want to be out there tomorrow. I’m looking forward to it.”
Redfearn will also have midfielder and new signing Granddi Ngoyi – another player recruited on loan from Palermo – available, though he is unlikely to deviate drastically from the side who beat Championship leaders Bournemouth at Elland Road last week.
Striker Steve Morison has overcome a hip problem and is expected to lead the attack against Huddersfield. Experienced centre-back Jason Pearce is on the verge of a transfer to Wigan Athletic, however, and did not train at Thorp Arch yesterday.
United’s defeat of Bournemouth was a huge shot in the arm for a squad who had gone eight games without a win and Leeds head into tomorrow’s derby with a five-point cushion over the Championship’s relegation places.
The club are also unbeaten in three league matches and Redfearn said: “I’d like to think we can start looking at teams above us in the table now. I’d like to think we can start pulling other people in.
“We’ve put a little bit of a run together, that’s all it is, and we still need to be more consistent. We’re not out of the woods yet. But the performances have been good and the players realise they’ve got to go and scrap. The players who are getting into the team are the ones that are fighting for the shirts.
“The ones on the outside now know they’ve got to fight to get back in and that’s the right way round. We’ll find out about people now – if they’re prepared to fight for places and if they’ve got some gumption.”
Tomorrow’s derby will take United assistant boss Steve Thompson back to the club he left last month to take up the job of Redfearn’s number two at Leeds.
Thompson was first-team coach at Huddersfield for most of the first half of this season and Redfearn admitted that the 50-year-old’s inside knowledge would be useful.
Huddersfield are 15th in the league after a 1-0 win at Wigan Athletic last Saturday, five points ahead of Leeds.
“We went and watched them against Wigan,” Redfearn said. “They’ve got a couple of ways of playing but they’ll be aware that Steve knows what they’re about. From our point of view, we’ve got to make sure we’re right first. If we don’t perform then we’ll make it hard for ourselves. We need to rise to the occasion of a derby and have the presence of mind to play our football.”