NEIL WARNOCK insists Leeds United go into today’s eagerly-anticipated all-Yorkshire game at Hull City as “massive underdogs”.
The Elland Road club, still smarting from the Boxing Day defeat at Nottingham Forest, make the trip along the M62 determined to avoid allowing the Tigers to claim a league double for the first time in a quarter-of-a-century.
Hull are Yorkshire’s top side at the moment with their 45-point haul being enough to leave Steve Bruce’s side in second place behind leaders Cardiff City.
With a sell-out 23,000 crowd expected at the KC Stadium today, Hull will be determined to consolidate their place in the automatic promotion slots.
However, while Warnock admits the home side are firm favourites, he is equally adamant that United can avenge September’s 3-2 defeat to their East Yorkshire rivals at Elland Road.
He said: “We are massive underdogs going into the Hull game. They are reaping the rewards of the investment that was made in the summer.
“I’d hazard a guess that their wage bill is about 50 per cent higher than ours, while they spent more on one player (£2.6m striker Nick Proschwitz) than we did on our entire squad.
“In that respect, you have to take your hat off to the owners of Hull. They also made a good appointment in Steve (Bruce), who is someone I like.
“He is playing a system that suits his players and, again, the rewards have come from that.
“But I also believe that going to Hull as underdogs will suit us massively. We need our big players to perform and I think they will.
“I don’t look at Hull v Leeds as being anything like a derby of, say, Sheffield United v Wednesday. But there will be plenty of passion out there and it is up to us to stand up and be counted.
“We also need to stop giving Christmas presents away and be positive from the first minute.”
The lunchtime encounter at the KC brings the curtain down on 2012 for both clubs and Warnock, who started the year in charge of QPR but lost his job on January 8, admits to being glad to see the back of it.
He added: “If you go back to January 1, I don’t think there is another manager in the country who has seen what I have. If I had to use one word to sum up 2012, it would be ‘frustrating’.
“But, equally, since I came to Leeds (in February), I have met some brilliant people. The fans have been magnificent.
“They can see I am working my socks off to give them a team that Leeds deserves. In Yorkshire, effort goes a long way.
“The support I have been given just makes me all the more determined to bring success here. We need to give it a right go and try to make this next one a year to remember. And a win at Hull would be a great springboard.”
Once today’s game is out of the way, Warnock’s attention will return to the January transfer window and the need to freshen the Leeds squad.
A deal to hold on to Swansea City’s Alan Tate until the end of the season is, according to the Welsh club’s manager Michael Laudrup, on the table, while United also want to strike similar agreements over Stoke City midfield player Michael Tonge and West Bromwich winger Jerome Thomas.
Warnock said: “Sorting the loans would be a good start and it would be nice to get a couple of permanents in, too.
“I have said for a while that we need a striker and there is also one other area I would like to add to but, to be truthful, I can’t see anything around that is better than what we’ve got.”
As for Hull, today’s derby offers a chance to claim a first league double over Leeds since the 1987-88 season when a 2-0 triumph at Elland Road in September was followed by a 3-1 win at Boothferry Park early in the New Year.
Three points would also further cement the Tigers in the automatic promotion places and manager Bruce is anticipating an entertaining contest between the two Yorkshire rivals.
Speaking to the Yorkshire Post, Bruce said: “It should be a cracking atmosphere. When Leeds come to town, you know they will bring big numbers as their support has been fiercely loyal even though it is a while since they were in the Premier League.
“They always get behind their team so I am expecting a very good game. We’d love to perform like we did at Elland Road earlier in the season.
“That was a great night and we’ll need to play as well again.
“Leeds got a penalty that never was a penalty early on. We then had to make a couple of saves, but after that I thought we were worthy winners.
“Going behind so early was a big test of character but we played really well on the night.”
Bruce, whose side have claimed 13 points from five outings this month, added: “We are one of the form teams at the minute and even though I was disappointed to draw against Leicester (on Boxing Day), there wasn’t a lot wrong with our performance.
“We need to keep that going against Leeds, who have new owners. Neil Warnock has also been there and got the T-shirts in terms of how to get teams promoted.
“Losing to Forest will have been a disappointment but before that Leeds were on a good run. I am not sure they can win automatic promotion, but it is possible they can get in the top six.
“There are a few clubs who will be fancying their chances of making a big push in the second half of the season and Leeds are definitely among them.”
Hull welcome back David Meyler, who contrary to reports in the North East has not yet been recalled by Sunderland, after suspension but Alex Bruce is banned against his former club after a red card against Huddersfield.
Big-match preview: Page 3.