New faces finally on the way to lift Leeds in window

AS it is just a few hours since the New Year was welcomed in with a song asking whether old times should be forgotten, maybe the mention of the words ‘transfer’ and ‘window’ in the vicinity of Leeds United fans can, for once, elicit something other than a shudder of dread.

It will not be easy, of course. Not considering just how four of the last five windows have played out at Elland Road with a host of the club’s top players having headed through the exit door.

Robert Snodgrass, currently starring in the Premier League with Norwich City, was the most recent departure as the Scot trod a path last summer that had previously taken Jonny Howson, Bradley Johnson, Max Gradel and Jermaine Beckford away from Leeds and left supporters despairing.

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Contracts having been allowed to either run down completely or enter the final few months were invariably a factor behind United’s inability to hold on to their star names along with the riches on offer elsewhere.

The lure of the Premier League – or, in Gradel’s case, Ligue 1 in France – also played its part but this was of little interest to the Elland Road faithful who, with each significant departure, had become more and more angry at seeing United being plundered by clubs they considered hugely inferior to their own.

Had the recent takeover by GFH Capital not been completed, no doubt supporters would have ushered in 2013 earlier today fearing that Sam Byram, a target for a host of Premier League clubs including Everton, and Luciano Becchio would soon be joining the exodus.

Instead, the noises coming out of Elland Road suggest that not only will there be no key players leaving – something that has not happened since January, 2011, when Lubomir Michalik and Andrew Hughes headed the list of departures on frees – but that fresh faces are on the way.

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United chief Neil Warnock, for one, is excited as to what the coming month will bring as his side looks to close what has become a five-point gap on the play-off places.

He said: “With January here, everyone at the club is positive. We mustn’t let what happened at Hull (on Saturday when Leeds were comprehensively beaten) deter us from going where we want to go.

“January needs to be a good month. It is a vital month. And I think everyone at the club knows how vital it is. The new owners can’t wait to support us. I’ve just got to give them targets and then, hopefully, do deals.”

Just how many new faces are destined to arrive at Elland Road over the coming month remains to be seen. Or, indeed, how fresh some of them will be with Warnock having made no secret of his desire to either extend or make permanent the loan deals of Michael Tonge, Alan Tate and Jerome Thomas.

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The latter two are eligible to face Bolton Wanderers today and agreement is believed to be close on keeping Tate until at least the end of January following talks with Swansea City.

United chief executive Shaun Harvey has also been speaking to Stoke over bringing Tonge back following the end of his 93-day stay in the wake of the 2-1 win over Middlesbrough before Christmas.

Even if this trio do sign, however, Warnock still wants at least two more captures with a striker capable of easing the workload of Becchio at the top of his shopping list.

All manner of names have been mentioned with Dexter Blackstock, now in the final six months of his Nottingham Forest contract, the latest to be linked in the wake of Leeds being pipped to West Brom’s Chris Wood by big-spending Leicester City.

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Warnock has been more reluctant to divulge which other area he is keen on strengthening with left-back having proved a problem this season with neither Adam Drury nor Lee Peltier, the latter admittedly playing out of position, having convinced.

It is also unlikely that last Saturday’s experiment of playing Aidy White as wing-back in a 3-5-2 formation will be repeated any time soon after the manner in which Hull City’s Ahmed Elmohamady was able to tear United apart.

Either way, the past few weeks have surely proved that while Leeds are still yet to fill what has been a problem position for the best part of a decade, surely the most pressing problem is the lack of someone in midfield capable of dictating a game.

Sure, there have been flashes of form in the centre of the field with Rodolph Austin starting well before fatigue and then injury intervened.

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David Norris, too, has seemed capable of delivering a killer pass but only on an intermittent basis and if Leeds are to really make a challenge in the second half of the season then this has to be rectified.

Warnock, whose QPR side that won promotion had Adel Taarabt to add the attacking polish to a hard-working squad, has already been linked with Forest’s Lewis McGugan and there can be little doubt that the addition of a player with potential to be a play-maker could make all the difference.

However, as keen as the United chief is to get his recruitment drive under way, his focus today is on the need to return to winning ways when Bolton Wanderers come to Elland Road.

A host of changes are expected with Becchio set to return up front after being left on the bench at Hull with a thigh strain.

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El-Hadji Diouf also sat out the KC Stadium defeat but is in line for a recall against the club where he spent three years, the longest spell he has had with one team in English football.

Warnock added: “I had to bite my tongue a little bit after Hull because we were missing Becchio, Thomas and Diouf. Three major players for us.

“Dioufy needed a rest. I knew that when he said to me (after the Boxing day defeat to Forest) ‘I’ve never played so many games.’ I knew Becchio wouldn’t have played against Bolton if he’d played at Hull because of his thigh.

“He was also on four bookings so in a way that helped because we were desperate to have him available at home against Bolton.”

Last six games: Leeds United LWLWLL, Bolton Wanderers LDWLLW.

Referee: P Gibbs (West Midlands).

Last time: Leeds United 0 Bolton Wanderers 2; November 22, 2003; Premier League.