MARK O’HAIRE’S (@MarkOHaire) been in fine festive form of late. Can he continue his hot streak on Sunday in the live Championship encounter?
Nottingham Forest v Leeds | Sunday 16.30 | Sky Sports 1
Leeds United manager Steve Evans has attacked an “absolutely disgraceful” Christmas schedule and claimed the Whites are victims of “the power of our brand” as the club prepare for three matches in seven days.
The fiery Glaswegian had his players in for Christmas Day training and has promised to rotate his squad heavily in the coming week-and-a-half as United make their feelings known to the Football League.
Last week Leeds had contested a televised game at Wolves on Thursday night and returned to the city at 3am, leaving the group with limited recovery time ahead of Preston’s visit to Elland Road. Evans’ men did record a 1-0 victory in that encounter but the rotund boss blamed tiredness for a fairly lacklustre performance.
Still, I’ve every faith in Evans and Leeds continuing their revival on Sunday as they take on Nottingham Forest at the City Ground. Going into the festive period, Leeds would sit 6th in a league table based on results since Evans took charge (W5-D3-L3), including a current four-game unbeaten streak.
In the aforementioned Wolves fixture, the Whites were on the back foot for the first half hour but the ex-Rotherham manager switched formation, hauled off midfielder Tom Adeyemi and put on striker Souleymane Doukara and the change worked a treat.
Leeds ran out 3-2 winners and were totally in command for the final hour. Doukara led the line excellently, star midfielder Sam Byram scored twice and Stuart Dallas was a constant thorn for the Wolves defence. It was United’s fourth win on the road this season (W4-D5-L2), with the sixth best away record in the division.
The ‘Evans effect’ has clearly galvanised the group and even supporters. There’s a growing siege mentality and the squad are playing with a fire in their belly, all garnered from the fiery Scotsman’s appointment. Leeds are no longer looking over their shoulders and the top-six is no longer a fanciful option.
The Whites sit a solitary point above their hosts coming into this contest with both sides managing just 22 goals from their first 22 games. Like Leeds, Forest are enjoying a decent roll of results with Dougie Freedman’s troops unbeaten in five and suffering just one loss in seven.
Last Saturday’s 2-1 win at home to the MK Dons could and probably should have been by more. It was their fourth consecutive success at the City Ground having dispatched Derby, Reading and Fulham previously, and in doing so, probably saved Freedman’s job in the process.
It wasn’t all good news, mind. An anterior cruciate ligament injury to left-back Daniel Pinillos, one of the stars of their recent upturn in fortunes, will keep him out for the campaign, meaning Freedman will need to tinker with his back-four – they’ve only kept five clean sheets on home soil under his tutelage.
Anyone who’s seen my Half-Term Report will know I’m sweet on Leeds and whilst I’m not willing to get involved with the visitors from a win perspective – there was just one away victory in the Premier League and Championship on Boxing Day – I do think there’s a touch of value in keeping the Whites onside.
Resurgent Leeds can be backed at 17/20 (Bet365) with a +0.50 Asian Handicap start, meaning we’ll make money should the travellers avoid defeat. The visitors have won five of their last eight, leaking just five goals in the process and since the start of last season have returned decent W11-D10-L13 figures away from Elland Road.
So with Leeds avoiding defeat in 61% of their road trips during that sample and just two away losses in 11 during 2015/16, getting not far off even-money on a repeat looks the most sensible solation for what’s likely to be a tight and gritty encounter on the box.
Nottingham Forest v Leeds – Leeds +0.50 Asian Handicap (17/20 Bet365)
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