Leeds United travel to Birmingham City on Saturday in search of a first win of the Championship campaign as the pressure mounts.

Apart from the precious three points,  American ownership bragging rights will also be at stake.

The two sides go into battle with almost identical early-season records too.

Like Leeds United, Birmingham City, part-owned by Knighthead Capital Management, kicked off their season with a share of the spoils courtesy of a creditable 1-1 draw at Swansea City.

Both sides will be buoyed by respective Carabao Cup victories against lower League opposition in midweek.

John Eustace’s men beat Cheltenham 2-0 on Tuesday evening. Twenty four hours later, Leeds United came from a goal down at half-time to beat Shrewsbury Town 2-1 and book a place in the second-round at Salford City.

Joe Gelhardt and second-half substitute Pascal Struijk were on target for the Whites, who will be hoping to continue their unbeaten start to the season at the expense of the Blues.

Juggling playing resources

Daniel Farke made six changes to the side that started the 2-2 draw against Cardiff City on Sunday. Goalkeeper Karl Darlow, defender Charlie Cresswell, midfielders Jamie Shackleton and Darko Gyabi, forward Ian Poveda and striker Joe Gelhardt, all came into the starting line-up against Shrewsbury Town.

As if to emphasize the dire shortage of defensive options, Ethan Ampadu was moved into central defence alongside Cresswell, with Shackleton and Gyabi in central midfield.

I was rather surprised to see Archie Gray playing from the start. I thought he would have been a candidate for a rest. Obviously the manager thinks otherwise.

That Gray started his second match in four days is testament to his growth as a player and a ringing endorsement for the 17-year-old’s talent and temperament. Clearly, he has already earned the manager’s trust.

I expect Gray to resume his midfield partnership with Ampadu for the Birmingham City tie, with the latter likely to be restored to his central midfield role for the fixture.

Otherwise, Luis Sinisterra, Crysencio Summerville, Pascal Struijk, Ilan Meslier all look set to be restored to the starting line-up for the trip to St Andrew’s.

The striker poser

Patrick Bamford won’t return until after the international break, while it remains to be seen whether Georginio Rutter will have recovered sufficiently to feature after missing the last two matches.

Question marks also remain over Wilfried Gnonto’s future at Elland Road. The Italy international was left out of the squad for the Shrewsbury Town win, not because of injury or illness, but due to a situation Farke described as “not in my control”.

Everton and Burnley continue to be linked with the forward.

Gelhardt sent a reminder to the manager with a goal against Shrewsbury. Whether that was enough to force his way into the starting line-up for Saturday remains to be seen.

Central defensive headache

Who will partner Struijk in central defence in Liam Cooper’s extended absence?

Cresswell came in for the injured captain against Cardiff City, slotting in alongside Struijk. The 20-year-old also started the tie against Shrewsbury. Both outings were pretty decent auditions for the role long-term.

Will Farke put his faith in the youngster or opt for the experience of Ampadu in defence?

Moving Ampadu to central defence would have a knock-on effect. It would mean rejigging the midfield.

I would rather keep the tweaking to a minimum; keep Ampadu in midfield and give Cresswell a fair crack of the whip in defence alongside Struijk.

Mind the gap

It’s too early (or is it ever?) to start talking about falling behind in the promotion race. However, there is no doubt all promotion hopefuls would rather be among the front-runners than the chasing pack. That will be the thinking of all associated with Leeds United, including the manager.

Nothing is ever won or lost after two games, but Leeds United won’t want to drop too many points early on and leave themselves with all to do in the latter stages of the campaign.

A defeat or a point against Birmingham City won’t be a disaster. A win, however, will engender confidence and fan promotion ambitions.


I'm Barrie Jarrett, born in Leeds, lived over a decade in South Africa, CEO And Co Founder of Planet Sport Limited and Planet Bet Limited.

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