THE term sleeping giant may be an overused and hackneyed one in English football – but few would dispute the fact that Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday are two teams definitely worthy of their place on any such list.
The pair do battle in an intriguing Yorkshire derby at Elland Road tomorrow lunchtime, with fans of both entitled to feel more chirper than they have done in recent years, despite suffering frustrating evenings on Wednesday.
One man who knows a fair bit about the expectancy at both clubs is Owls defender Tom Lees, who returns to Elland Road for the second time since his move down the M1 in August 2014.
The 24-year-old’s allegiances are very much now with current club Wednesday and he is likely to lead out the side at his former stomping ground if Glenn Loovens fails to shrug off the injury which forced him off in the first half of the draw with Reading.
But just as he has noticed the feel-good factor at S6 following the summer acquisition of the likes of Lucas Joao, Marco Matias and Rhoys Wiggins and several other signings for a not inconsequential outlay and feeling it might, just might, be a year to remember, so the pervading optimism at West Yorkshire is something that has not escaped him.
For the first time in what seems like a good while, Leeds have been afforded a steady summer off the pitch, buttressed by the arrival of trio of signings for fair-sided fees.
Chris Wood, Stuart Dallas and Sol Bamba are all likely to line up against the Owls, several of whose players will get their first taste of Yorkshire derby fare tomorrow and Lees feels both new-look sides have reasons to believe this year.
Lees said: “I think here at Sheffield, there is definitely a sense of optimism with a new start and new beginnings.
“I (also) know up in Leeds, there is a feeling they are getting a new vibrant young team and that is their approach to this season; full of energy. And they have added to the squad.
“Leeds and Wednesday are both teams who are striving to get towards the top end of the table and there is a lot of expectation. It will be interesting.
“It is a local derby and Leeds are a big club and we are as well. It is a meeting of two forces in the Championship.
“When you look since last year when we played them, we have got two new managers and pretty much two new teams and it won’t be similar to last season when we played. It will be a fresh game and hopefully a good game for us.
“It has all changed since I have been at the club (Leeds), going right back to the staff and as far back into the club as you can get. It’s a lot different now with different players and staff and not that familiar any more.”
Lees ended a long association with Leeds just over a year ago, but a trip back to Elland Road is still one of the first games that he looked out for when the fixture list was revealed in mid-June.
Despite being born in the Midlands, Lees spent his formative years in Leeds and while he is keen to play down the significance of tomorrow’s clash, equally he is appreciates it is no run-of-the-mill fixture either.
He said: “My parents are from Birmingham and there are no Leeds fans in my family.
“But my team growing up was Leeds as I was raised up here and it is who all my mates supported. But obviously that focus goes to whoever you are playing for and that is the same with them (Lees’ parents). They support whoever I play for.
“If we are winning, then I am bound to get a bit (of stick) and if we are losing, then I am bound to get a bit as well.
“It won’t be a win-win situation really.
“Hopefully, I can show what sort of player I am and not let it affect me and play how I have been playing.”
The man who Lees is likely to line up against tomorrow in United frontman Wood will be hoping for far better fortune than his first sample of a White Rose derby eight days ago when he ballooned a spot-kick over the bar in his side’s painful televised Capital One Cup penalty shoot-out loss at Doncaster Rovers.
Wood felt a lot better about himself on Wednesday evening when he netted his first goal in Leeds colours in the 2-2 draw at Bristol City, with the Kiwi intent on it being the first of many.
The striker is desperate for it to be the percursor to making a lasting impression at Elland Road, while also revealing a desire to earn his place in United striking folklore over the course of his four-year deal – and presumably beyond if things go well.
Wood, 23, who became Leeds’ most expensive signing in nearly 13 years when he joined at the start of July, said: “I am at a club where number nines are bred into the history and it goes back a long, long while.
“I want to be like them, like a Mark Viduka or someone like that. I want to follow in their footsteps.
“I just wanted to get on the mark and on the way. I know I can work hard for the team and do my best, but ultimately I want to score goals as well.”