Leeds United v Aston Villa: Blast from the past indicates what may lie ahead

THE past fortnight has offered a tantalising glimpse of happier times for Leeds United.

Emre Can and Stuart Dallas.
Emre Can and Stuart Dallas.

Last Tuesday brought a first trip to Anfield in more than 13 years, once an eagerly-anticipated highlight of the club’s travelling itinerary.

It had been a similar amount of time since old foes Newcastle United had last visited Elland Road before making the trip down the A1 a fortnight ago for a fixture that brought Leeds’s first sell-out crowd since winning promotion from League One in 2010.

Today brings another welcome blast from the past for United fans as Aston Villa head to West Yorkshire for a league fixture that has almost exclusively been played out in the top flight.

Hadi Sacko and Emre Can battle for the ball. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

The televised tea-time meeting promises to be a cracker, a resurgent Villa under Steve Bruce taking on a Leeds side whose form has been such in recent weeks that the club’s long-suffering fans are daring to dream once again.

With another bumper crowd expected, United are determined to foster further the feelgood factor surrounding the club.

“Things have been going well and there is a good feeling around the club,” Northern Ireland international Stuart Dallas told The Yorkshire Post.

“There is a feeling things are coming together. To be fair, as players, we have always felt that. We have a belief that the manager has instilled in us. He has told us that we can beat anyone.

Hadi Sacko and Emre Can battle for the ball. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

“But you can sense a belief among the supporters, too. They are desperate for us to do well and that is pushing us on.

“We played well at Liverpool and were unfortunate to go out. But that is done now and the focus is on Villa. It is a big test and they have had some good results.

“But we are also a big test for them. Let’s not lose sight of that. Them coming to us will be something they will know won’t be easy.

“Elland Road when it is packed, I am not sure anyone fancies that as the opposing team.”

Dallas joined Leeds in the summer of 2015 so can appreciate as much as any fan the big strides that have been made this season.

Garry Monk’s arrival, after a testing start, has galvanised United to such an extent that the club occupt their highest league position since Christmas, 2013.

That came under Brian McDermott but, in reality, it is three years before that since Elland Road boasted optimism similar to that felt today.

United, fresh from that League One promotion, headed into Christmas, 2010, occupying second place in the table.

An attacking midfield trio of Robert Snodgrass, Jonny Howson and Max Gradel behind lone frontman Luciano Becchio was truly firing under Simon Grayson and there was a genuine belief that a Premier League return was just around the corner.

A wretched end to that season, however, saw United finish seventh and, even allowing for a couple of brief spells in the top six over the next couple of years, the top flight seemed a long way off.

That may yet prove to be the case this time around. Newcastle and Brighton look like taking some stopping in the hunt for automatic promotion, while Norwich City must surely soon come out of their current travails.

Rejuvenated Villa and Derby County also look well placed to make a play-off challenge, while last season’s beaten finalists Sheffield Wednesday possess a squad that should be up there.

But, even allowing for the strength of the field, Leeds are shaping up as a good side – as was underlined in front of watching Villa manager Steve Bruce in Tuesday night’s League Cup quarter-final exit to Liverpool.

Monk’s side took the game to the Reds in impressive fashion and came mightily close to breaking the deadlock on a number of occasions before two goals in the final 14 minutes saw Jurgen Klopp’s men progress to the last four.

“There were a lot of positives to take from Tuesday night,” said Dallas, making his first start in almost two months following a calf injury picked up on international duty.

“It was disappointing to lose the game, but we went there to have a go and I felt we did that. We had chances. There was one early on for Hadi (Sacko).

“Hadi has so much pace that it frightens teams and he got away but the goalkeeper made a good save. I wouldn’t say it was a miss, more the goalkeeper doing well. That set the tone, it was like we had set our stall out and Liverpool knew they were going to be in a game after that.

“Obviously, going to Anfield you are not going to dominate the ball. But we had our fair share and, on another night, maybe one of those chances goes in and it turns out very different.

“Over the 90 minutes, we could be proud of what we did. We had good chances, including hitting the post. (Kemar) Roofe was really unlucky there.

“I was right behind his shot and thought it was definitely going in. But there were so many positives to take into Villa, which is a game we are looking forward to.”

Leeds could have slipped out of the top six by kick-off this tea-time due to Wednesday, Huddersfield Town, Norwich and Derby all being in action at 3pm.

Dallas, though, insists the only focus among the Elland Road squad is on their own jobs and not what any rival is doing.

“We know if we are to be successful that we have to be on it 100 per cent at all times,” added the wideman.

“If not, it can come back and bite us. Last weekend (at Rotherham) showed that. We weren’t on it for the whole game at Rotherham and almost paid the price.

“We were fortunate to come away with a 2-1 win after dominating for long periods. But I do feel things are coming together. There is a real belief among the squad that we can do something special.”