GIVEN lEEDS United’s dispiriting December, some might venture that they probably need tonight’s trip to the iPro Stadium to face fired-up Derby County like a turkey needs Christmas.
That is the feeling you get from many seasoned and increasingly long-suffering fans at any rate.
Speak to United captain Stephen Warnock and you will find perhaps a bit more positivity. This being the Championship after all, where sides at the wrong end of the table regularly surprise those at the top, you learn to expect the unexpected.
Anyone requiring further evidence need only go back to November 29 when Leeds comprehensively defeated the Rams 2-0 at Elland Road, which as far as this restless campaign has gone, has represented as good as it gets.
Lowly Millwall also went away from Derby with a point earlier this term, while basement boys Blackpool also drew at Middlesbrough.
Not forgetting Leeds’ sole away victory of the campaign, a 3-1 triumph over leaders Bournemouth on September 16, which looks more eye-catching by the week. Some would say staggering.
When you cop a dismal 2-0 Boxing Day loss on the chin, searching around for positives in its immediate aftermath can be an onerous exercise.
Warnock, as Leeds captain, is duty-bound to do just that, with the memories of the club’s last Championship win at the end of November something to cling onto.
On whether Leeds’ victory over the Rams will have a bearing on matters tonight, he said: “It does a little bit.
“It gives you a little bit of confidence to know that they are beatable and we know what their weaknesses are.
“We tried to exploit them last time and we did it and the game plan worked well.
“But it’s a different game away from home.
“Our away form has not been great, but we can’t think about that.
“We have got to be as positive as we can and try and get a good result.”
He added: “Of course they (Derby) will be (fired up to make amends for last time) but I don’t think they will just be thinking about that.
“They won on Boxing Day and I’m sure they will be wanting to get into the top two and trying to get automatic promotion.
“They won’t be looking at us as in ‘we want revenge’ – they will just be thinking we want to climb this league and get out of this league.
“But we can get something from the game as long as we are solid.
“It will be a different type of set up and a different way of playing possibly than we have looked at away from home.
“But we will make sure we are confident when we go there.”
With several precocious, if young, talents in their ranks along with a number of continental players still finding their way in English football, the importance of the input of hardened senior players such as Warnock in the coming weeks and months cannot be overestimated.
Leeds have shown talent, but when the chips are down – as they are at the moment – other ingredients come to the fore in the unforgiving and relentless Championship.
Character and not hiding away and showing an ability and desire to battle and fight are close to top of the pile.
Warnock may have recently spoken about the importance of looking up as opposed to over their shoulders, but as he tacitly acknowledges, equally the league table does not lie with Leeds finding themselves deep in trouble after the 2-0 loss to lowly Wigan on Boxing Day.
Now is the time to front up and show some mettle, with the senior players leading the way.
He said: “As a senior player within the team, there’s a couple of us here who have probably played at a higher level and we also understand the pressures of being in a situation like this.
“One thing you need to do when things are hard is to want the ball and try and make things happen and I think as individuals, we have got to try and do that.
“Personally I haven’t taken a knock on confidence because I think you have always got to be confident going into football.
“Because if you do sort of suffer a bit of confidence, then it comes out on the pitch.
“We try and do things right during the week and get the lads enjoying playing football if we can and sometimes when you do that you take that on to the pitch.
“It is trying to get the young lads to trust themselves to carry on what they are doing and to have belief in themselves.”
Offering his take on Leeds’ worrying position of 20th, he added: “Potentially we are better but we’re not as a team because the table does not lie.
“We are there for a reason. We are not winning games and we are not performing.
“I would say we are (in a fight) at the moment, but potentially the team is good enough to pull away from it.
“We have got goalscorers in the team – we have shown that – and have got the ability to get out of it.
“But we need a fighting spirit within ourselves now and hopefully that will come to the fore.”
As Boxing Day games go, Friday could not have been much worse for United, crowned by a calamitous own goal from Liam Cooper.
The former Chesterfield centre-half was clearly feeling it as he left Elland Road after the game and went onto apologise for the mistake via Twitter.
As his captain and a fellow defender, Warnock has been quick to issue a vote of confidence in the direction of Cooper, who disregarding his aberration against Wigan, has taken to Championship life in encouraging enough fashion.
Warnock said: “I think Coops has been fantastic since he has come in and he has probably been one of the stand out performers.
“But sometimes when it’s not going your way on the day (these things happen).”
“He didn’t mean to do that – he just tried to get something on it to stop the cross coming into the box, but it is something that we will look at, I am sure and we will try and put it right.
“We try and work on it on the training ground, but I think nine times out of 10 or 10 times out of 10 on the training pitch, that gets cleared up and it’s not a problem.”