Elland Road was the venue as Leeds eventually disposed of non-league side Kettering Town in front of a mere 10,670 fans in the second round replay of the FA Cup. The extra-time victory setup a much anticipated clash with Manchester United at Old Trafford which will be shown live on ITV1 and will bring Leeds around £750,000 in revenue.
Manager Simon Grayson, acknowledging the historic significance of the fixture, took a firm stance and insisted the focus must be on the league games as promotion to the Championship remains the club’s priority. Grayson made it clear the players who perform well in the next five fixtures (four in League One and one in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy) will be the ones to travel and feature at Old Trafford. The declaration is a savvy move by the Manager to ensure his charges will not be distracted by a match which will serve as a financial reward before anything else. Fans may consider it as a massive clash and have encircled the date, yet the focus as far as the management, coaching staff and players are concerned will be on winning the next four league games.
The upcoming weekend clash away to Brentford will likely see Grayson rotate his squad as he fears heavy playing time since the fixture pile-up may result in fatigue and lead to detrimental injuries. On-loan players Max Gradel, Sam Vokes and Hogan Ephraim are likely to feature at some point as they were ineligible to play in the FA Cup. Gradel has so far impressed the most in Grayson’s eyes and the Boss is hoping the rumours of a potential recall to Leicester City are groundless. With Luciano Becchio back from injury and closer to full fitness, Jermaine Beckford continuing to knock in the goals and promising American Mike Grella scoring twice against Kettering to kill-off the tie, it is perhaps hard for Vokes and Gradel to start unless Grayson opts for change in an attacking lineup.
The all-around positive news extends to the training sessions as both Shane Higgs and Bradley Johnson have returned to practice following injury. Aussie defender Patrick Kisnorbo is nearing a return as well. The Australian – who can operate in midfield – has been one of the season’s revelations with his commanding and committed displays. Patrick was born in Melbourne, Australia and has Mauritian and Italian roots. He previously played for Leicester City and prior to his spell with the Foxes he represented Scottish club Hearts.
What separates Kisnorbo from other professional players is the drive and passion for his club while others may call it lunacy as he rejected surgery after suffering from a head injury. The 28-year-old defender wears a protective headband to shield his injury which required 12 stitches. Kisnorbo holds a highly ceremonial yet impressive honour which basically took effect on August 12th as he became the 100th Leeds player to play for his country (Australia) while representing the Elland Road side. Kisnorbo has become a fans-favourite amongst the Leeds faithful just as he established himself amongst the supporters of Leicester despite a difficult start to life at Walkers Stadium.
Leeds Manager Grayson and the fans both wish there are more players of the caliber and mentality which drives the Aussie centre-back to endeavor with gutsy displays against any opposition. The trip to Griffin Park comes too soon for Kisnorbo but the management will be hoping to have him sooner rather than later to contribute to the Leeds cause and help the side achieve promotion.
The next four league games for the Whites are all winnable and Grayson will be aiming to achieve the maximum 12 points in order to create some distance, with second place Charlton Athletic lurking four points behind. The depth of the squad in all positions with several strikers competing to start and many midfielders jostling for starring roles makes Grayson’s task tougher as he will have to balance and properly rotate the team without risking any points being dropped. Coaches would love to have more options but in some cases the large number of players available may cause either discord or concern about the lack of playing time. One player who has set about doing his business in an efficient and professional manner is American striker Grella who insists his main objective is to have Leeds playing in the Championship next season. Grella has already scored four goals this season, including three in the FA Cup, despite his infrequent appearances.