30 October ~ Today's We-Hate-Bates-More-Than-You contest at Elland Road is quite a prospect. Leeds United, famously fallen poster boys of an era when football nearly ate itself, against a Cardiff City desperate, although latterly less garishly so, to validate themselves by getting into the Premier League. Nine years ago third-tier Cardiff dumped top-of-the-Premier League Leeds out of the FA Cup at an exultant Ninian Park. Since then everything, apart from the names of the clubs, has changed.
With City boasting a ten-game unbeaten streak against Leeds, the game is vital to each club’s consolidation of a top-ten place. Leeds have done well after a slow start, and there have been 19 goals in City’s last three league games. But few will travel from South Wales, given a Sky-inspired lunchtime kick-off and rip-off £36 tickets doled out at the motorway services by the same abusive police who forced many visitors to miss the start of City’s stellar 4-0 win here last season. Many fans have simply had enough of being treated so shoddily.
On the field a decent contest awaits. There are doubts about the depth of the Leeds squad, but for now Simon Grayson has them on track. Their midweek defeat at Birmingham City ended a seven-game unbeaten run where goals had been plentiful, principally from former Cardiff man Ross McCormack who is pushing double figures in the league already.
This season’s Bluebirds, League Cup quarter-finalists for the first time in nearly half a century, are less flashy than last term’s loan-laden outfit, but that is broadly a relief. The current edition threatens fewer goals up front, with Kenny Miller and Robert Earnshaw looking ill suited each to the other’s game, but optimism is founded upon the preternatural workrate of Don Cowie, guilefully supported by Peter Whittingham and Aron Gunnarsson.
The two highly promising Joes in midfield, Mason and Rails, have scored excellent goals and are pushing for a start. Silver-haired deity Kevin McNaughton continues his astonishing consistency at right-back but questions surround the best centre-half partnership alongside him despite (or maybe due to) a multitude of options.
This will be as fiercely contested an engagement of the old rivalry as ever. Whatever you think of these two opinion-dividing clubs, it won’t be dull. Mark Ainsbury