EXACTLY four months have elapsed since Leeds United left Derby County with all three points and much has changed.
Chris Wood’s late winner sent unbeaten United into the first international break sitting just a point outside the play-offs in the fledgling table, while the Rams –after spending £24m during the summer transfer window – were 19th.
That August afternoon, though, proved to be a watershed moment for Paul Clement’s men, who head to Elland Road tonight having lost just once in 18 league outings since then.
Huddersfield Town and Hull City have both been beaten within the Broad Acres during a run that has yielded 43 points for Derby, while Sheffield Wednesday were held to a goalless draw and the bookmakers fancy another triumph over White Rose opposition tonight.
Such confidence is understandable, not least because the Rams have had an extra day’s rest after Leeds’s visit to Nottingham Forest was put back 24 hours to Sunday afternoon as it was shown live on Sky Sports.
Steve Evans is well aware of the odds being against his United side prevailing tonight but he also has a word of warning for the high-flying visitors.
“We’ll be ready for Derby,” vowed the Scot to The Yorkshire Post. “Don’t worry about that.”
Evans’s faith is backed up by results in December, his side yet to lose in five outings that have yielded 11 points to raise hopes of a possible push for the top six in the New Year.
“If you look at the form table since I came in,” said the Leeds head coach, “we would be fourth or fifth in the play-offs.
“We should have beaten Fulham, we should have beaten Bolton (both games that United drew 1-1).
“If I am honest, we sneaked past Preston and maybe got two points more than we should have done.
“But we should have beaten Rotherham with the chances we had. So we should probably be around the play-offs.”
United have won five of their last eight games and a constant factor has been Scott Wootton’s presence at right-back.
Naturally a central defender, the 24-year-old – who this time last year was playing for Evans while on loan at Rotherham United – has filled in admirably.
Wootton is expected to again start despite suffering a cut head against Forest as Leeds appear live on Sky for the second time in a little over 48 hours and he admits tonight will be a big test.
“Since the game when we beat them,” said the defender who was on the bench in the August 29 win at Pride Park, “I don’t think they have lost too many.
“They have kicked right on and they are top of the league at the minute. They have two quality players in every position at this level, so it will be a very, very tough game for us.
“It is one we are looking forward to and, hopefully, we can turn up to Elland Road and get three points.
“But we have the fundamentals of a good team. We have youth, energy and legs – which might also explain the inconsistency, as we are such a young team.
“We are five games unbeaten, and now we have a really tough game to look forward to against Derby at home. But we have won the last two there, so, hopefully, we can keep that going.”
Evans was hugely critical of the Football League during the build-up to Christmas for leaving United with two games in three days while Derby have an additional day’s rest.
He remains upset with the governing body and Sky for making the extra demands on Leeds.
“We have got a big job to do,” added the Leeds head coach. “Within two days, I have got to recover the group to face Derby, who are one of the best two teams in the league with Middlesbrough.
“We are going to have to turn round and be ready to face them, and that is going to be tough.
“We will freshen it up, there’ll be some fresh faces on the pitch and we’ll try and duel with a top football club.
“They get the benefit and why have they been allowed to play on Boxing Day? I know we were on television but could the football people not just have made it that Derby kicked off at 4.30pm on Sunday as well.
“I suppose the football people are looking at the Leeds United badge. It’s not really a consideration if you want to keep them here.”
Alex Mowatt will again be missing for Leeds with the groin injury that kept the youngster out at the City Ground, although Sol Bamba could return following the costly blunder that led to Forest’s goal on Sunday in the 1-1 draw.
Last six games: Leeds United LWDWWD, Derby County WDDWWW.
Referee: M Heywood (Cheshire).
Last time: Leeds United 2 Derby County 0; November 29, 2014; Championship.