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05/06: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 14/02/06, 7.45pm
Leeds United
By Mike Peter

If you're looking to while away a few hours online, you can't go far wrong with Wikipedia.

An online encyclopaedia that is constantly updated by its users, it has an advantage over print versions in that one can link quickly and easily to other pieces that interest you, without the inevitable page-turning and index-checking that one would get with, say, the Britannica. Find an article that interests you and it may contain twenty or so links to other fascinating entries, all related to that original subject matter. It's a brilliant invention. Furthermore, one often happens upon an article that interests you but has little content. Then you get the ultimate satisfaction of adding those bits of trivia, so often laughed at by friends and relatives, that you hold in your head - all for some other idler to digest.

One of my recent divergences saw me come across this article, which lead to certain musings about how former Premiership (not a Premier, not a ship) sides return to the first tier of English football.

It has surprised me this season how well West Ham have done, considering how cack they were whenever we played them. How, if they were so bad in Division Two, have they achieved a ninth placed position as we speak? A pub debate ensued and the answer came thusly - West Ham chose "Type #1" players to achieve their promotion. Type #1s are skilled footballers, often drop-outs from Premiership reserve sides (Etherington, Zamora) and the "star" members of teams further down the Football League (Reo-Coker, Fletcher, Harewood). Often lightweight on the ball and unable to scrap, they can struggle with the lack of space afforded to them in Division Two; they often dissolve in a sloppy mess (West Ham) but overcome teams with moments that are, to use a cliché, out of this league. Vialli tried to go Type #1.

The other way, of course is to beat Division Two at its own game, a technique used to good effect by Sunderland last year. Create a team of Type #2 players - those that know the demands of the Division well, or youngsters from lower-league teams who want to prove something. As Sunderland can attest, this often doesn't work when your reach the Premiership, and it's a matter of deciding whether to splash out or not.

Leeds were an interesting case. Relegated in 2003/04, and Champions League semi-finalists just three years previous, it was automatically presumed (using the above definitions) that they would go Type #1. Big club, fancy players, blast your way out of the Division! Interestingly, though, new manager Kevin Blackwell went the other way, and assembled a team of menacing defenders and hard-working midfielders, which, by this time last year, had clicked and has been working well ever since. There have been failures - Craig Hignett, Michael Ricketts, Julian Joachim - but Blackwell has assembled a squad that can play this Division well. The policy has not always sat well with a lot of Leeds fans, who are yet to adjust from the Risdale overspending days.

Challengers, along with Watford, since the early days of the season they for a long time sat behind us in fourth position. Overtaking us in late December, they built up a lead of five points, but have since lost it in a run of mediocre form - drawing with both Ipswich and Derby, although they haven't lost since before Christmas.

Neil Sullivan remains United's number one, polarising opinion on the messageboards. A trawl before writing this preview saw simultaneous posts call Sullivan "player of the season" and a demand for physical torture "involving his entrails." Ian Bennett is the second member of an ageing goalkeeping staff at Leeds, and should be on the bench.

Leeds' defence is one of the strongest in the Division, with only Reading and Preston shipping fewer goals. In a settled back four Sean Gregan and Paul "pond life" Butler are the central defenders, although both have come in for some criticism from the fans. Neither are quick on the turn, which could play to Marlon's advantage. Matthew Kilgallon is out for two months with ligament damage, whilst Portugese Rui Marques is doing a Sietes. At right-back, Gary Kelly is approaching fifteen years the club. He scored his fourth goal for Leeds last month. Stephen Crainey has reconsolidated his place on the left since the New Year, having been out injured for three months. Dan Harding, Brighton's star prospect last season and signed for £850,000, is in the reserves.

Blackwell has created a midfield that is uncompromising, but not particularly creative. With Matthew Spring out of this game due to conditions of his transfer, Watford's likely midfield of Bangura and Mahon could mean a war of attrition on Tuesday. Manchester United loanee Liam Miller, once Roy Keane's successor at Old Trafford, is likely to be partnered by wild-haired barbarian Shaun Derry, who will "grind King to dust" according to one messageboard correspondent. The return of Premiership starlet Eirik Bakke from his loan spell at Aston Villa might have heralded a bit of flair in the midfield, but he picked up a hamstring almost as soon as he returned, and is thus ruled out. The other option is Icelander Gylffi Einarsson, who is dangerous in attack but is rather lightweight. Meanwhile Jermaine Wright, an earlier, unsuccessful attempt at a midfield battler, seems to be on his way out of Elland Road, having been turfed out to George Burley's remoulded Southampton side.

Eddie Lewis will play on the left, with apparent Watford target Danny Pugh making occasional substitute appearances. Jonathon Douglas, on loan from Blackburn, has been playing on the right, although he prefers the middle. Natural right winger Joel "brother of Adam" Griffiths was signed in January to fill this position, but is yet to receive FIFA clearance to play. Even if it does come by Tuesday, Griffiths' apparent lack of fitness should rule out a starting place. Steve Stone, meanwhile, is apparently "on his way" to making a first start for Leeds, having injured his achilles in pre-season. Eighteen year old Simon Walton should be on the bench and can play on either wing.

Given the battling nature of Blackwell's squad up to this point, his abundant spending and subsequent smorgasbord of top Division Two strikers is a bit of a contrast. To refer back, a Type #1 attack with a Type #2 midfield and defence. It has caused a problem, with the manager seemingly unable to choose which are his first-choice pairing - after all, a Division Two manager would be out of his mind to keep a striker such as David Healy out of the team, but then you have to drop Richard Cresswell, and a Division Two manager would have to be out of his mind, etc. Anyway, Blackwell's constant rotation has meant that none of his strikers have set the Division ablaze, and Watford's King, Henderson, Young combination outscores them by seven.

Rob Hulse and David Healy have been the most prolific so far, scoring nine apiece. The former is likely to start, but Healy, subject of various transfer rumours during January, should be on the bench after returning from a spell simultaneously injured and suspended. The gangly Richard Cresswell has been preferred to Robbie Blake recently, but an injury before the Derby game kept him out and he may not return for Tuesday. Blake is perhaps the least convincing of Leeds' "top four" but has still hit a modest seven in twenty-two starts. Michael Ricketts is on loan at Burnley, whilst Ian Moore, the Kinder egg ring amongst the Crown jewels, is still hanging about somewhere.

It goes without saying that this is a massive game. A win would put us five points clear of Leeds (who, lest we forget, held the same margin over us at the beginning of January) and a mere six behind Sheffield United, should they lose to Reading. At the beginning of the month the prospect of automatic promotion was seemed already dead and buried, but a result on Tuesday could set us on our way.

Bring it on!