Football: Travel tests Leeds' legs

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The Independent Online
A SECOND defeat in 17 games is hardly the kind of form that leaves a manager fearful of the dreaded vote of confidence, yet such has been Leeds United's recent ring of optimism that David O'Leary will want his sparkling young team to quickly banish the memory of their midweek Uefa Cup third-round, first-leg defeat to Spartak Moscow when they meet struggling Derby County today.

Leeds' performances have been disappointing following trips to eastern Europe and they followed up their 3-0 win over Lokomotiv Moscow in the last round with their worst display of the season, a 2-0 loss at Wimbledon. Then last week it took a last-gasp Michael Bridges goal to beat Southampton after Leeds had again travelled back from the Russian capital, albeit on a fruitless journey due to the postponement of the tie.

A confidence-boosting victory over the Rams at Pride Park is precisely the sort of tonic O'Leary is seeking before the return leg against Spartak at Elland Road this Thursday.

For the Leeds right-back, Gary Kelly, who will relinquish the captain's armband to the returning Lucas Radebe after the South African missed the last two games through international duty and suspension, he knows it is a vital match. "This is a huge game now against Derby," Kelly said. "It's important we remain at the top of the table in the Premiership for our own confidence. With all our games coming up, it's vital we head into them in the right frame of mind and don't feel tired."

Midfielder David Batty remains doubtful with an Achilles injury which saw him miss the Spartak match, while David Hopkin is out for at least three weeks following groin surgery on Thursday.

George Burley, whose Ipswich side are seven points behind the First Division leaders, Manchester City, with a game in hand, insists today's opponents, Nottingham Forest, are proof that football's second tier is improving. David Platt's team have struggled since their relegation, taking just 21 points from their first 20 games this season. "It just shows you how tough the league is. Forest, on paper, look a very good side, but they haven't produced the results so far," he said. "We are looking for a couple of wins to put us nearer the top two positions. We have won our last two games and we want to make it three in a row."

The Scotland striker Billy Dodds yesterday completed his pounds 1.3m transfer to Rangers from Dundee United. Dodds, 30, signed a three-and-a-half year deal at Ibrox after passing a medical.