Leeds United: Kilkenny eyes regular starting spot

Clutching a bottle of champagne for his man-of-the-match performance against Grimsby Town last Tuesday, Neil Kilkenny was entitled to view the future with a degree of confidence.

More so since the impish schemer's exuberant display – directing operations in the heart of midfield – came on the back of his similarly illuminating exploits against Oldham Athletic in the FA Cup three days earlier.

The tide may be belatedly starting to turn in the 23-year-old's direction, but you sense that the big prize for Kilkenny will only come when he is handed a regular first-team run in the league, having copped bench splinters aplenty in the opening third of the campaign.

All told, the ex-Oldham and Birmingham City ace has made 12 substitute appearances already this term – nine of which were in the league, with his only League One start coming in the 0-0 draw with promotion rivals Charlton Athletic at Elland Road in early October.

Kilkenny had a stop-start opening to the campaign which saw him hindered by an ankle problem which was related to the injury he suffered in the play-off semi-final against Millwall at the end of last season.

With the games coming thick and fast following Saturday's long trip to Brighton and Hove Albion, Kilkenny can rightly expect to be called upon with regularity, but it remains to be seen if he gets the regular run in the first team that he so craves.

However, although he was in no mood to get carried away after impressive back-to-back cup performances, he has certainly given boss Simon Grayson food for thought ahead of this weekend's clash against Gus Poyet's Seagulls.

It promises to be a taxing problem for Grayson, whether to keep with his tried and trusted midfield quartet of Michael Doyle, Jonathan Howson, Bradley Johnson and Robert Snodgrass – all of whom have performed admirably this term – or find room for the silky talents of Kilkenny.

Kilkenny – who netted his first goal since April in the 3-1 Johnstone's Paint Trophy win over Grimsby – said: "I was injured at the start of the season, so other people were playing and the team kept winning so the manager hasn't really changed the side.

"But I think every time I've come on, I've done well and now I've started two games, hopefully I'll start the next one."

On his display in the televised clash with the Mariners, Kilkenny said: "To be honest, I think I've played better.

"But because I scored it highlights your performance a bit more.

"in many other games, I've played a lot better, but people don't give you the recognition because you don't score goals.

"everyone has been telling me to shoot more and luckily I scored.

"It was quite even until we scored, but after we did I thought we were going to go on and win comfortably.

"We don't really talk about competitions, but game by game. The manager has instilled that in us, but we're in the Johnstone's Paint competition to win it."

Saturday's reunion with former Whites number two Poyet – handed the managerial reins at Brighton last week – is the first of a series of intriguing encounters for Grayson's troops in the run-up to the festive season.

Albion will be keen to impress Poyet in their first home league outing under his watch, while United's next away game eight days later sees them head to Northamptonshire to face Blue Square Premier high-fliers Kettering in the FA Cup, when the world and his wife will be watching, hoping to see a cup slaying – Whites fans apart!

Trips to Oldham and Brentford – United haven't visited Griffin Park since 1953 – follow, with Leeds also fitting in a massive West Yorkshire derby with visiting Huddersfield Town and another high-profile home fixture with Alan Pardew's Southampton just for good measure before the yuletide season begins in earnest.

They are games that players would give their right arm to play in, with Kilkenny no different.

He said: "There's some big games coming up. But every game for this club is a big one.

"We're a big club and when we go to places it's our opponents' biggest game of the season.

"Brighton and Kettering will be big games and there will be a lot of expectation on us, but we've got a good side and good characters and with the manager and coaching staff, we're confident we'll do well.

"We've been picking up the results even though I don't think we've been outstanding in many games.

"We've been professional and have ground out results, but we haven't been unbelievable – we've been keeping clean sheets and scoring the odd late goal as well and that's what you need to get promoted."

The next assignment is in East Sussex amid the spartan surroundings of the Withdean and while the temporary ground isn't exactly much loved by the Albion faithful, you can bet your bottom dollar that they will pump up the volume for the arrival of the division's true big-hitters this weekend.

And it promises to be a big moment for Poyet, with the 42-year-old proving a likeable figure with staff and players during his time in West Yorkshire with Dennis Wise.

While Kilkenny only worked with the Uruguayan fleetingly, he can still vouch for his popularity.

Kilkenny, who joined United from Birmingham in January 2008, said: "Dennis (Wise) signed me and he was here for three weeks and then left, so I never worked with Gus really.

"I heard he was very good and that the lads loved him.

"Unluckily I didn't work for him, but I'm sure he'll do well at Brighton."