Date: 30 March 2018
Time: 15.00 GMT, 10.00 AM EDT
Venue: Elland Road
All-time Record: Leeds United v Bolton 27W 15D 23L
Reverse Fixture: Bolton 2 - 3 Leeds United
Leeds United take on Bolton at Elland Road on Good Friday, 30 March with not a whole lot riding on the match for Leeds, but a whole lot riding on the match for Bolton. Bolton sit in 19th place in the table on 39 points, six points away from Birmingham City and the relegation zone. A win against Leeds would go a long ways towards guaranteeing their safety, while Leeds have looked awful since Boxing Day, only winning once.
Paul Heckingbottom doesn’t seem to be suffering under any pressure, despite the poor run of results, as the brass at Leeds seems to have acknowledged that the goal for the season, a spot in the playoffs, isn’t going to be reached. Even without the pressure of the fear of the sack, however, as much as Heckingbottom says the right things, he needs to start winning matches to be taken seriously by the Leeds faithful at this point.
Bolton, however, are a side on a mission. Relegation seemed almost a forgone conclusion at the beginning of the season, but they’ve managed to drag themselves up the table and out of the drop zone. Despite selling their top goal scorer, Gary Madine, to Cardiff City in the January transfer window, Bolton have still achieved positive results. They’ve only lost one game in their last five, and if Sheffield Wednesday, who have been on a nose dive this season, can beat Leeds at Elland Road, anyone can.
The team selection lately has been focusing on including some of the youth players that have shown promise. Bailey Peacock-Farrell is likely going to be the starting goalkeeper the rest of the season, and Tom Pearce’s debut was about the only positive thing that came out of the Sheffield Wednesday match.
Paudie O’Connor was spotted in a picture of first team training this week, meaning the U23 player who was part of the team during preseason might get a chance to play for the first team again. He sounded like he wanted to get an opportunity to get into the first team, either at Leeds or someplace else, back in December, so this would be an opportunity for him to show that he belongs.
Other than that possible change, don’t expect a lot of changes to the team that faced Sheff Wednesday before the international break. Caleb Ekuban has inexplicably gotten a run in the first team over Pierre-Michel Lasogga, and while the Hamburger SV loanee seems to be campaigning for a move to the Premier League, he’s still the best option that Leeds have at striker. I’d start him, but I’m not Heckingbottom. So Ekuban might yet get the nod up front, even if it appears he can’t finish his dinner.
Samu Saiz is rumoured to be fit for the Bolton match after being a late, unexpected scratch against Wednesday. If he does play, expect to see Stuart Dallas and Pablo Hernandez play on the wings with Saiz in the number 10 role. If he’s not fit, Gjanni Alioski will take up the one of the winger slots with Hernandez sliding over to the number 10.
Central midfield should be Adam Forshaw and Ronaldo Vieria, but unless Vieira changed the mind of Heckingbottom over the break, expect to see Kalvin Phillips or Eunan O’Kane in the centre of the pitch. Hopefully the U20 call-up for Vieira indicates that he’s fit again, otherwise he shouldn’t be risked at this point in the season. If he’s fit, Vieira should start, but we’ll see what happens.
In defence, Pontus Jansson is a lock to start, despite him popping off in the Swedish press about Pawel Cibicki and the “ambition” of the club. Matthew Pennington tries hard, but he’s been making simple mistakes the past few weeks and even without Liam Cooper fit, he shouldn’t automatically be a starter in central defence. Could Paudie O’Connor feature? It wouldn’t be the strangest thing in the world, but it still might be a long-shot.
Tom Pearce already looks like he deserves to get another run out at left back, as Laurens De Bock hasn’t looked good at all since arriving from Club Brugge and Vurnon Anita has been poor at left back almost all season. Gaetano Berardi should get the nod at right back.
In goal, Bailey Peacock-Farrell will almost certainly get the nod. BPF got the start, and a clean sheet, for the Northern Ireland U21s over the international break and it appears like he’ll continue his run during between the sticks for the rest of the season.
Predicted Score: I have no faith in Leeds ability to win a football match at this point in the season. They’ve looked really, really shaky on defence for the better part of four months, and only the heroics of Felix Wiedwald, before he descended into a bundle of nerves and a lack of confidence, kept Hull City and a few other teams in December and January from pasting Leeds, even at Elland Road. Bolton has a lot to play for, and honestly, besides the youth, most of the team at Leeds doesn’t have a lot to play for either. Some mind-numbing mistake will be made by one of the defenders and Bolton will snatch a few goals from almost nothing and Leeds won’t be able to respond. 2-1 Bolton.
Leeds United: (4-2-3-1) Peacock-Farrell; Berardi, Jansson, O’Connor, Pearce; Forshaw, Vieira; Hernandez, Saiz, Dallas; Ekuban
Bolton Wanderers: (4-2-3-1) Alnwick; Robinson, Beevers, Burke, Flanagan; Henry, Osede; Buckley, Pratley, Ameobi; Le Fondre