Leeds United v QPR: Shaun Derry interview

Shaun Derry's most recent opportunity to revisit Elland Road as an opposition player was taken from him by a contentious red card.

It was, with hindsight, a blessing of sorts, absolving him of blame for a Carling Cup game which Crystal Palace lost 4-0.

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He will have his chance again tomorrow, as a cog in Queens Park Rangers' dominant Championship machine, and the experience will remind him of the bitter and the sweet.

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Derry thinks of his career with Leeds United as an "absolute honour".

It still annoys him to realise that he left Elland Road under a cloud.

By Derry's own admission, much water has flown under the bridge since he was sold by Leeds to Crystal Palace.

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Three years and another transfer, to be precise. But it is impossible for him to see his exit from Elland Road as a sensible parting of ways. "It was nothing to do with football," he said. "That's what hurts."

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Derry's sale to Palace in January of 2008 was sanctioned by Dennis Wise, a manager who ostracised Derry by sending him on loan to Selhurst Park two months earlier and then attacked his character after Derry refused to cut the spell short in response to an urgent shortage of midfielders at Elland Road.

Leeds had no right to recall him and Derry felt obligated to see out his deal at Palace, not least because his prospects under Wise had become so questionable.

Derry's reluctance to return for a New Year's Day game against Oldham

Athletic was nothing less than a guarantee of his departure, confirmed three weeks later and days before Wise's resignation as manager.

"I'm treading over old turf here but the way I left was horrible," Derry said. "It's not going too far to say I left under a cloud.

"There are always reasons why players move on from football clubs but they're usually football-related. The reason for my move to Palace was nothing to do with football. I found that very hard to accept and I still do. I'll always feel bitterness towards that situation.

"My time at Leeds was a privilege and an absolute honour. I don't think you can ever make a clean or proper break from that when you leave the club in the way I did. It wasn't like I was past it or on the slide. If anything, I felt like I was at my peak. But as we all know, football goes on."

Nothing is more indicative of Derry's value than his involvement in the team who lead the Championship by four points and lost their first league game of the season a week ago. He was 30 when he left Leeds, after 78 appearances. At this rate, he will have the chance to play in the Premier League next season at the age of 33.

The midfielder was quietly delighted by United's promotion from League One in May, a development he had hoped to witness first-hand two years earlier when he laid his hands on a ticket for the club's appearance at Wembley in the play-off final. His anticipated appearance at Elland Road tomorrow will be his first since parting company with Leeds; suspension ruled him out of Palace's humiliating Carling Cup tie in August 2008.

Even without his personal interest in this weekend's game, the contest between QPR and Leeds is the pick of the Championship's fixture list: first versus fourth, a team stung by their first league loss against one who are unbeaten in eight matches. It can be viewed as a critical test of the ability of both clubs to sustain their current league positions.

QPR were well beaten by Watford last Friday, suffering a 3-1 defeat on the night of their 20th Championship game. Derry is honest enough to say that QPR's form was at odds with the reality of the division and a slightly flattering reflection of their season.

He is inclined to think that the end of their unbeaten run might ultimately be to the benefit of Neil Warnock's squad.

"If you take away Friday night, our results have been exceptional," he said. "But I'm under no illusions about that. We're nowhere near being promoted.

"In a strange way, not losing for a long time can be like not winning for a long time. It puts a monkey on your back and sometimes you think about it too much. I probably thought about it too much. I'm not saying you want to lose games but losing to Watford puts some reality back into our season. Our focus should be bang on.

"If I'm being honest, I don't think our form was a fair reflection of the league in general. I don't think any team in this division is so much better than everyone else that they can automatically expect to go 20 games without losing. That includes us. The start we've had is beyond our wildest dreams but it's only a start.

"Don't forget that when Neil Warnock became manager (in March of this year), the club were in quite a bit of trouble at the bottom of the Championship. We're progressing at quite an alarming rate. That can be difficult to handle and sometimes a big surge happens at the wrong time. But we've coped with it and this is definitely the right time to be improving like we are. We're very much like Leeds – the obvious next step is to get into the Premier League."

Warnock remarked after QPR's loss to Watford that a game at Elland Road was the sort of match he would have asked for after his squad's first defeat. The timing of the game would appear to suit Leeds, coming at the end of their strongest run of form for 12 months and with QPR carrying an open wound.

United have changed immeasurably in Derry's absence but he has a clear idea of what is happening at Elland Road. He followed the club's fightback against Burnley last Saturday and knows where the problems for QPR will come from.

On a personal level, he has taken great pleasure in the rise to prominence of Jonathan Howson, a raw teenager in Derry's days as a Leeds player but someone he calls the "heartbeat" of Simon Grayson's team.

"He was always a talented player," said Derry. "What he's doing now is putting that ability into practice every week. He's the heartbeat of that team and there's a battle to be had with him. But he's by no means the only player we've got to watch.

"I can't think of a better game for this time of year and, without disrespecting the clubs at the bottom of the table, I'd rather follow up our first loss by playing a top-six side. We've had a couple of situations this season where we've gone into games feeling like the result could make a bit of a statement. This is another one and Leeds will probably feel the same. I know their supporters will. It's a great day to be going back."

Leeds United manager Jimmy Armfield and assistant Don Howe in the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United at Hillsborough in 1977.

Former Leeds United manager Jimmy Armfield was a ‘proper gentleman’