Thoughts Ahead Of Crystal Palace (A) TSS January 13, 2012 Leeds United 22 Comments After an all too predictable FA Cup exit to Arsenal, The Whites return to Championship action this weekend with a trip to Selhurst Park to take on 12th place Palace. Defensive Hopes Return The chances of Leeds keeping a clean sheet, or at least keeping the amount of goals conceded to a respectable number, increased exponentially with the return of Tom Lees on Monday night. Partnered by Darren O’Dea in central defence, this is undoubtedly Leeds’ strongest central pairing at present. Before injury problems and selection reshuffles, the Lees-O’Dea partnership were the first central pairing to secure back-to-back clean sheets in over a year against Portsmouth and Doncaster Rovers earlier this season. Hoping to make their lives easier on the flanks will be Aidan White and possibly Zac Thompson after his impressive performance at The Emirates – this would make the average age of Leeds United’s defence just 21. Fear not though, because if Simon Grayson decides to go with the 28-year-old Paul Connolly ahead of young Zac Thompson, we can drag that average age up by two whole years. Nothing says ‘experienced back-line’ quite like an average age of 23. Midfield Monotony There is some hope of a Robert Snodgrass comeback after he returned to training yesterday. Whether he’ll start or line-up on the bench however is tough to call. Generally speaking, I’d expect the latter, but considering the problems we’re experiencing in midfield, Simon Grayson may feel it’s worth the risk. If Snoddy doesn’t start we’ll once again be relying on Andros Townsend for any semblance of creativity. If Palace have done their home work – and I’m sure they have – you can expect to see him swarmed by red and blue shirts every time we try and play him in – which, considering he’s our biggest hope, will be a commonly repeated theme. Making up the numbers in midfield is the toughest part to call. Adam Clayton is a certainty with Danny Pugh not too far behind, but after that it’s a guessing game. It largely depends on whether we go 4-5-1 or revert back to 4-4-2. Mika Vayrynen seems to have taken some stick following Arsenal, but he worked hard and it was only once he tired second half his performance really dropped. The lack of game time means he’s a little shy of full fitness, but in a five man midfield, he’s in with a good chance. Also in contention will be Michael Brown and Ramon Nunez, neither of which have impressed much recently but benefited from injuries to Jonny Howson and Robert Snodgrass. I’ll stick my neck out and predict 4-5-1 and a formation of Snodgrass – Pugh – Vayrynen – Clayton – Townsend. If Snodgrass doesn’t start then Pugh will probably switch back to the wing. This leaves a central spot open Simon Grayson will most likely fill with Ramon Nunez considering the lack of attacking threat the midfield has shown recently. Lonely Up Top A predicted formation of 4-5-1 leaves room for only one striker and since Luciano Becchio has looked well out of sorts lately, the obvious choice is Ross McCormack. However, Leeds’ top goalscorer never looks fully comfortable in the lone striker role so Simon Grayson may yet decide to stick with Becchio, who has scored four times in three starts against our opponents. The Opposition Palace are missing a few players themselves, but don’t seem to be suffering quite as dramatically as The Whites have – least not if their League Cup Semi Final victory over Cardiff City is anything to go by. Palace team news here. Predictions Tough to call. The return of Tom Lees gives some cause for optimism, as does the thought of Robert Snodgrass and Andros Townsend tearing down the flanks with two young full-backs in support. We’re also a team more suited to playing away – a bizarre concept, I know – so three points is a realistic enough outcome. However, Crystal Palace have only lost twice at home all season and their League Cup win over Cardiff City will be a further confidence boost for them. Leeds’ strong away record speaks for itself, so what we’re left with is no clear cut favourite. A draw seems probable, but confidence breeds success so I’m predicting: Palace 0-1 Leeds United.