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Stuart Dalgleish 6th Aug 2010 - 21:29

Striker light! United look set for opening day stalemate

Leeds United (19/20) make their long overdue return to the Championship on Saturday evening as they entertain Derby County (23/10, the draw is 11/5), but they'll be kicking-off with only one first-team striker available to them.

Their prolific marksmen Jermaine Beckford has departed (in the best possible style by scoring the promotion-clinching goal against Bristol Rovers), and his replacement Billy Paynter (11/2 to score first), who actually scored more league goals than Beckford last season, picked up an injury in pre-season and looks set to miss out.

Two other options that could play upfront, Max Gradel and Davide Somma, are both suspended after receiving red cards in the final match of last season, Somma was shown red whilst on loan at Lincoln City where he really impressed, while Gradel very nearly scuppered Leeds' promotion chances with his stupid antics in that Bristol game but thankfully for United it didn't matter in the end.

This all leaves Luciano Becchio (4/1) and Mike Grella (13/2) as the only recognised strikers available to Simon Grayson, it's likely that the manager will opt to just play the Argentine up top on his own, like the Whites have been doing in pre-season to good effect, Grella will take his usual place on the Elland Road bench.

The American would likely come on should Leeds require a change of ideas in the second half, it will still be quite an attacking line-up that Leeds field though, even though it might look to the fans like a 4-5-1.

Arsenal loanee Sanchez Watt (9/1) performed well when at Leeds in a similar capacity last season and as such will stay in West Yorkshire for all of this season, he'll take his place on the wing in a 4-3-3 with new recruit Lloyd Sam (12/1) likely to be the other option on the opposite flank.

Robert Snodgrass (7/1), United's talented Scottish winger who can also play upfront, will undoubtedly be first choice when available but he like Paynter picked up an injury from a rather unfortunate challenge in friendly and is unlikely to feature on Saturday.

The midfield three are likely to be Bradley Johnson (10/1), Neil Kilkenny (14/1) and Jonathan Howson (20/1), who scored the equalising goal in United's all-important game against Rovers last season).

If the forward line looks inexperienced, the defence is nearly entirely brand new as well, arguably their most impressive signing Kasper Schmeichel will probably get the nod in the sticks ahead of Shane Higgs.

From the back four, only captain Richard Naylor started as a Leeds player last season, his likely partner at centre-back will be Neill Collins who finished the season on loan at Elland Road, the club have signed two new full-backs in Federico Bessone (who turned down a contract at Swansea in favour of Leeds) and Paul Connolly (signed from today's opponents ironically) and both should make their debut's in the evening kick-off.

So that's Leeds' line-up covered, how about Derby?

In one of a few little sub-plots to the game, their manager is of course Nigel Clough, who's late-father Brian, it's fair to say, didn't exactly love Leeds judging from supposed events depicted in the book and film 'The Damned United!'

United and 'Old Big 'Ead's' Derby side had a few fiery games in the 60s and 70s and I'm sure the legend would've been cheering on his son's team more so than usual if he was still with us today.

Clough Jr. will hope to welcome a few new signings of his own to the Rams' team in West Yorkshire, one of them Gareth Roberts picked up an injury in Derby's last friendly against Birmingham but should be fit to start at Leeds.

Dean Leacock or Russel Anderson should partner the former Doncaster man at centre-back with John Brayford, signed from Crewe, operating at right-back and Dean Moxey at left-back.

Similar to Leeds, I expect County to play three in midfield and two wingers either side of a front-man.

The ever popular Robbie Savage (16/1) will pull the strings in the centre of the park with Paul Green (14/1) and James Bailey (16/1) lining up alongside the Welshman.

New signing Conor Doyle could get the nod ahead of Tomasz Cywka (9/1) after making his trial period a permanent contract while Kris Commons (8/1) is likely to offer support for loan man Rob Hulse (7/1), although Chris Porter (8/1) started their last couple of friendlies so he could get the gig in the opener.

Hulse would seem the obvious choice to start as he certainly knows how to play in front of this bumper Elland Road crowd after spending a successful period at Leeds, but in fairness to Porter he played well at the back-end of last season as Derby consolidated their Championship status.

The Whites' fans will hope for a strong start in front of an expectant crowd, but without some of the players available to them I think they could be for a dour opener, 0-0 could be tempting at 15/2, while under 1.5 goals could be a shrewd investment at 2/1.

United haven't lost an opening game for over 20 years, when ironically they ended up getting promoted, I can't see Derby picking up the points but if they did I'm sure sure Leeds fans would take what happened years back at the end of that particular season!



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