Leeds United v Barnsley: Derby encounter perfect antidote to off-field woes

Barnsley manager Paul Heckingbottom and his former assistant Tommy Wright
Barnsley manager Paul Heckingbottom and his former assistant Tommy Wright
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AFTER 48 hours of unsavoury off-field headlines for Leeds United and Barnsley, today brings the focus back to football and both managers could not be happier.

As supporters digested allegations about Massimo Cellino and Tommy Wright in the Daily Telegraph’s ‘Football for sale’ expose, Garry Monk and Paul Heckingbottom’s sole focus remained on an Elland Road derby that is expected to attract a bumper crowd of more than 26,000.

For United, it represents a chance to claim a fourth straight win on home soil while the Reds are looking to move back towards the play-off place the south Yorkshire club occupied as recently as a week ago.

Heckingbottom, who until Wright’s dismissal on Thursday had enjoyed a dream start to life in management, admits the short trip up the M1 has a special resonance for him.

“A lot of people say Wednesday and some will say (Sheffield) United,” the 39-year-old told The Yorkshire Post when asked about Barnsley’s biggest local rival.

“But, personally, for me growing up it was Leeds. I am from Royston, which is the Wakefield-side of Barnsley and you are either a Leeds or a Barnsley fan. I will not be, but if I did go back into Royston on Saturday night it would be interesting.

“That is what it is about. I try and remember that because it means you understand what people are coming to the game for and what they want to see and feel after the game.

“I remember when Nards (Daniel Nardiello) scored two goals in a 2-2 draw there in the (2006-07) season that ended with us staying up. I saw some of the lads I knew who were Leeds fans in the crowd at Elland Road and they were giving me stick.

“I like that part of it. It is good that you understand what people are going through when watching the game. We have got a game to win and we can’t let our focus slip.”

For Monk, today’s encounter will be the third Yorkshire derby of his reign. He has a 2-0 win at Sheffield Wednesday to his name along with a 1-0 loss at home to table-topping Huddersfield.

Barnsley won five out of six league games earlier in the season and the Leeds chief is expecting a stiff test for his side.

“I am looking for the right reaction (to the midweek loss at Bristol City),” he added. “The frustration on Tuesday came from not keeping that run going.

“Defensively, we felt we didn’t deserve to be beaten. But now we have to get the right reaction.”

Elsewhere in the Championship, Sheffield Wednesday take on Brighton & Hove Albion at Hillsborough in a repeat of last season’s semi-final play-off first leg while Rotherham United host Newcastle United.

As mouth-watering as those fixtures are, however, perhaps the most glamorous fixture of the weekend in Yorkshire is at the KCOM Stadium as Hull City host Chelsea in the Premier League.

The Blues, beaten 3-0 at Arsenal last weekend, have won six and drawn two of their eight top- flight meetings with the Tigers but Mike Phelan is backing his side to bounce back from conceding nine goals in their last two outings against Arsenal and Liverpool.

“Nobody wants to lose a football match but we all know somebody has to lose for someone to win,” said the 54-year-old, who is still in caretaker charge 71 days after Steve Bruce quit.

“It is the way you lose that is important. I have stressed that to the players. I keep mentioning this word ‘competitive’ and I think we are getting to that point now where the players understand how we want to play and what we are about.

“We have to show our own identity in certain situations and gather some momentum. We had a good victory in the (EFL) Cup, as it is never easy to get a result at Stoke. But then we didn’t do so well at Liverpool.

“I do think, though, that a lot of teams won’t do so well at Liverpool this season. Looking at our season, we were very close against Manchester United, only to lose with the last kick of the game.

“We were extremely good against Leicester and Swansea, when we won both games. We need to regain that little bit of momentum as quickly as we can.

“Hopefully, that will be this weekend against Chelsea in another game that is at our own stadium. We want to perform.”