LEEDS UNITED new boy Sol Bamba, a veteran of many ferocious fixtures around the world, will not be fazed by making his debut today amid the pressure-cooker atmosphere of a West Yorkshire derby.
The 30-year-old is expected to be thrown straight into the United side to take on Huddersfield Town just a few days after returning to England following a short, unhappy spell with Serie A side Palermo.
Considering the Ivory Coast international has played just once this season, a frantic derby clash may not be the ideal place to make his Leeds bow.
But after thriving amid the heat of battle in not only Edinburgh derbies but also several highly-charged encounters in Turkish football, the scrap for local bragging rights in today’s lunchtime game holds no fears.
“I have played in some big derbies in my career and I always enjoy those games,” said Bamba to The Yorkshire Post. “The biggest ones were probably during my three years in Turkey.
“Trabzonspor had some huge games with Fenerbahce. That is the big one for everyone at the club. All sorts went on in those games and the noise was incredible. The fans – and players – are just so desperate to win.
“During my time in Scotland, I also played in the Hibs v Hearts derby and that can be very heated. So, I know what to expect and, personally, I feel there is nothing better than a derby game between rivals, especially if it is two cities or towns. Then, the rivalry is massive.
“As a player, I try to be aggressive and win every challenge that I can. That is what derbies are all about, which is why I would love to play against Huddersfield.”
Bamba, who joined on loan with a view to a permanent deal earlier this week, is expected to partner Liam Cooper at the heart of the defence, as Giuseppe Bellusci starts a two-game ban following his dismissal against Bournemouth. Jason Pearce, who would have come into contention, yesterday joined Wigan Athletic for £300,000.
United kept only their second clean sheet in 18 outings during the 1-0 win over the Cherries that saw Bellusci see red for a late professional foul and their defence is likely to be tested today by a Town side that has won six and lost just two of 11 home games under Chris Powell.
Along with local pride, Huddersfield’s inspiration will be making up for one of the low-points of Powell’s five-month reign – September’s 3-0 defeat at Elland Road.
The Terriers chief said: “Losing games is always hard to take. With it being a derby, it was a tough one. But we are in a lot better place now. And we are a lot different in terms of our mentality in how we approach games.
“The team and the football club, at that particular time, were in a position we did not want to be in. Getting us to where we want to be won’t happen overnight, but we are slowly on track.”
Town are looking to deny Leeds a first league double in this fixture since the season before World War II broke out.
Considering the Terriers’ last double over Leeds came just six years ago when the two clubs were in League One, Powell understands how desperate supporters are to avoid a second defeat of the season to their neighbours.
The Town manager added: “We are going to do our best to put Leeds to the sword and put them under pressure to see if they can handle it.
“What is going to be great is our fans will be out in numbers. We know Leeds travel well and pack out their end. When that has happened (this season), such as when (Nottingham) Forest and Bolton (Wanderers) sold out (the away end), we performed.
“The only time that didn’t happen was Middlesbrough in my first game and that was the ‘94th minute’ (when Boro got the winner in a 2-1 triumph). I think the atmosphere will spur us on.”
Victory for Town would, due to the rest of the Championship kicking off at 3pm, be enough to move Powell’s men up to 10th. Leeds, meanwhile, could go up three places to 17th with a win and extend their advantage over the bottom three to eight points.
United head coach Neil Redfearn said: “Ideally, we can get another league double to follow on from beating Bournemouth home and away. If we play to our potential, we can give Hudersfield a very good game.
“We want to go on a bit of a run. We know it will be 100mph, it is a local derby. It is who will have the presence of mind to undo the opposition that will decide it.”
Big match preview: Page 3 .