Leeds United v Doncaster Rovers: Sharp faces fitness batte

Billy Sharp puts Rovers ahead against Derby County at Pride Park.
Billy Sharp puts Rovers ahead against Derby County at Pride Park.
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Leeds United will expect an afternoon of trouble from Billy Sharp on Saturday but the Doncaster Rovers striker has revealed that he is fighting the need for hernia surgery ahead of this weekend’s Yorkshire derby.

Sharp served notice of the threat he might pose to Leeds by scoring his 14th and 15th goals of the season on Tuesday night – the sort of record that once stirred United’s interest in his signature – but he admitted that an appearance at Elland Road was dependent on his ability to manage underlying fitness problems.

The 25-year-old is beset by an injury affecting his groin and has been told that he will require an operation to permanently heal his ailment.

Sharp plans to delay any medical procedures until the end of the season, ensuring that Doncaster do not lose their most reliable forward for the remaining weeks of the Championship term.

Doncaster are virtually safe from relegation after Sharp’s brace on Tuesday underpinned a 3-1 win at Derby County, opening a gap of 11 points between Sean O’Driscoll’s squad and the Championship’s bottom three positions.

Sharp warned a Leeds team who are suddenly anxious for points that, on the back of their important result at Pride Park, Doncaster would come to Elland Road and “play with a bit of freedom”.

O’Driscoll’s players are drifting towards a mid-table finish but promotion is still a motivation for the squad at Elland Road.

Last Saturday’s defeat at Swansea City dropped Leeds into a position where, for the first time in three months, they are in serious danger of falling below the Championship’s play-off places.

A fixture at home to Doncaster was a prime game three weeks ago when a wide range of injuries made O’Driscoll’s side prone to regular and heavy defeats, but draws with Norwich City and Watford and a confident win over Derby suggest that Rovers have turned the corner at an inconvenient time for Leeds.

Sharp’s absence would weaken O’Driscoll’s hand, however, and the former Sheffield United forward said he could not be certain of playing at Elland Road after completing 74 minutes of Tuesday’s win in Derby.

“I’m struggling to make games at the moment and I’ll have to see how I am for Saturday,” Sharp said.

“I’ve got a hernia problem and it’s causing my groin to tighten up.

“I’m struggling to turn, as you could see on Tuesday night, and I’m going to need surgery on it but I’m trying to hold out until the end of the season.

“When I shoot with my left foot, my groin tightens and it blows up.

“I can’t move as freely as I want to. It’s all about recovering as best I can and seeing if I’ve got enough days in the week to get fit for a game on Saturday.”

United’s defensive record is a source of encouragement for players of Sharp’s ilk, showing the concession of eight goals in the club’s last three games.

Leeds manager Simon Grayson sent numerous senior players to a reserve fixture against Hull City last night, re-evaluating his choices ahead of Saturday’s derby.

Club captain Richard Naylor – last seen in United’s senior side way back in October – appeared in the centre of defence, and Ben Parker featured at left-back in an experienced second-string line-up.

Parker’s return to fitness after an Achilles injury has offered Grayson an alternative to George McCartney, the Northern Ireland international signed on loan from Sunderland.

Leeds fell eight points behind the Championship’s second automatic promotion position after last weekend’s loss in Wales and Grayson’s squad will attempt to defend sixth place on Saturday. Leicester City – the only club in a position to relegate United from the play-off zone – travel to league leaders QPR.

Leicester would appear to have the more difficult of the fixtures but, despite an injury list which includes former Leeds goalkeeper Neil Sullivan and forced the hasty promotion of 20-year-old Gary Woods to O’Driscoll’s starting line-up, Doncaster’s fragile exterior has strengthened gradually.

Their win over Derby put vast daylight between the South Yorkshire side and the teams in most serious danger of losing their Championship status in May.

Asked if Doncaster were safe, Sharp said: “I’d like to think so. It was a big game at Derby and they’re still looking over their shoulders.

“We can now go out on Saturday, enjoy the derby and play with a bit of freedom.

“We’ve been looking over our shoulders as well and we knew that winning at Derby would be a big result because we’ve got a derby coming up on Saturday and a few tough home games after that. But it’s about time we had a bit of luck and things changed for us.

“Going 1-0 up helped because we haven’t done that for a while. When you then go 2-0 up, it becomes much easier to play football.

“We’ve found ourselves having to come from behind so many time but we showed good spirit at Watford last weekend and got a point which made the win at Derby look really good. We were very professional and a little bit disappointed that we didn’t get a clean sheet.”

Sharp is five goals away from reaching 20 for the season and one behind the tally of Luciano Becchio, United’s leading scorer.

The forward is expected to start at Elland Road but said his lack of fitness had held him back this season.

“I’ve had a couple of injuries so I’d like to be a bit closer (to 20 goals),” Sharp said. “I’m struggling at the moment but I’d like to get five more.

“I really fancied it on Tuesday. I’d been sitting at home all day waiting to play and I said to one of the lads that I was going to get two goals. But really, I should have scored more.”

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