New year sees Bates filled with optimism for Leeds

KEN BATES insists Leeds United are ready to push on as a club in 2012 after a year of consolidation.

The Elland Road club have had an eventful 12 months with Cup clashes against Arsenal and Manchester United being interspersed with a promotion challenge that has seen Simon Grayson’s side occupy a play-off place for almost half the year.

Along the way, there have also been plenty of lows to go with the considerable highs, not least missing out on a place in the top six last May due to a late collapse in form.

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A further blow came yesterday with the news Robert Snodgrass is out for at least two weeks following an operation on his appendix.

The Scot has been, without doubt, the club’s best player over the past couple of months and his loss will be keenly felt, starting with today’s trip to Barnsley.

Grayson, however, is expected to move fast to bring in a replacement with the Yorkshire Post understanding Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Andros Townsend could be on board at Elland Road in time to face Burnley on Monday.

Before then, Leeds must travel to Oakwell without Snodgrass, whose absence will make it that bit harder to claim a victory that could see Grayson’s side end the year back in the play-off places.

Regardless of whether United can reclaim a top-six berth by ending their three-game winless run, chairman Bates acknowledges that the club will look back on 2011 with mixed emotions.

However, with just a point separating Leeds from sixth-placed Reading at the halfway stage of the campaign, the Leeds chief is also adamant that the coming year can be an exciting one.

He last night told the Yorkshire Post: “In many ways, it is not too bad a time to say goodbye to 2011 as we haven’t done too well of late.

“We didn’t have a good start to this season and we have also had a bit of a blip in recent weeks. But we are still in contention and we expect to remain so.

“A new year is an opportunity for a new start and we want to push on. It can be an exciting year for Leeds United, starting with a home game against Burnley (on January 2) and then our annual trip to the Emirates.

“A game like that (against Arsenal) in the (FA) Cup is great for everyone at the club, not just the players. It causes a sense of excitement and we realise the club has been fortunate in the luck we have had in terms of Cup opposition in recent years.”

Southampton lead the way in the Championship with 47 points, three ahead of West Ham United and Middlesbrough. Despite that, no team has yet looked capable of dominating the division in the way QPR did last term and Newcastle United in 2009-10.

On the race for the Premier League, Bates added: “West Ham and Southampton have had a good first half of the season but they are still reachable.

“There are 23 games to go and that is a lot of points to play for.

“If we get the same number of points in the second half of the season as we did the first then we will be there or thereabouts. But, of course, we want to do better.”

Leeds have claimed 67 points from 45 games in the calendar year with one game to play today at Oakwell.

“Last season, they finished seventh while this time around at the halfway stage the club is sitting eighth in the table.

Bates added: “In many ways, it has been a year of consolidation and slow development.

“The low has been the end of year blip while the high, for me, has been the success of the Academy in bringing youngsters through to the first team.”

Before Leeds can think about pressing on in 2012, they must first negotiate the hurdle of their last game of this year at Barnsley.

It will not be an easy task, especially now Snodgrass is out following surgery.

The Scot fell ill earlier in the week and United had been hoping to keep news of the problem under wraps only for it to emerge on the internet.

United manager Grayson said: “Rob had an operation on Thursday.

“It wasn’t something that was planned but we were hoping to keep it quiet until after the team sheets had been exchanged at Barnsley in order not to alert our opponents. We are not putting any timescale on his absence but, hopefully, it won’t be for too long.”

With Snodgrass out, Grayson has stepped up his bid to strengthen and Townsend, who is also a target for Leicester City, could arrive as early as tomorrow. Danny Pugh’s £500,000 permanent switch will also go through on January 1, while it is understood United are looking to bring in at least two other new faces before the FA Cup trip to Arsenal on January 9.

Barnsley v Leeds preview: Page 30.