Since the famous win at Old Trafford, Leeds United have not registered a victory in three matches in League One and JP Trophy. The club lost to Carlisle United, albeit undeservedly given the opportunities wasted by none other than Jermaine Beckford who will remain at Elland Road for the remainder of the season.
Perhaps Leeds should have sold him as he has not scored since the winner against Manchester United and he has been quite erratic against Wycombe Wanderers and Exeter City recently. Simon Grayson may have publicly endorsed Beckford’s stay but deep inside he has already begun planning for a future without the prolific striker. Grayson is clearly interested in bringing back Max Gradel following the winger’s contributions and positive attitude in training sessions. The latest reports indicate Leicester City have rejected an initial offer by the Whites but such is the manager’s admiration for the player Leicester have been re-approached with an improved offer.
Leeds have been tracking Southend United striker Lee Barnard and there were reports in the Press claiming a deal is almost done, yet Southend confirmed no offers have been accepted as of today. Barnard has a decent scoring record for the club with 35 goals in 73 appearances and at 25-years-old he has room for improvement. Against Carlisle the Whites wasted a number of goal-scoring opportunities and Beckford was not the only culprit. Argentine Luciano Becchio came off the bench late in the game and missed an easy chance while his last couple of matches were not impressive. American Mike Grella has barely featured this season and started the Carlisle clash but did not manage to hit the back of the net. Grayson seems to acknowledge these shortcomings upfront and hence his persistence with bringing back winger Gradel and the high interest in striker Barnard.
One notable link to the club which springs a surprise is David Healy’s name. The Northern Ireland international barely makes the Sunderland squad on game days and he is growing frustrated with the lack of playing time. Healy is a unique case as he has been prolific for Northern Ireland while his club career has not been as impressive. Healy made it clear he would welcome a return to Elland Road. He was with Leeds from 2004-2007 and made over 100 appearances for the club scoring over 30 goals. At 30-years-old Healy can still be a useful player and it would be hard to bet against Grayson helping the striker resurrect his flailing career. If Leeds continue their push for promotion, then Healy will only have to be in League One for a few months and then he can use his experience to aid Leeds in the Championship.
Despite losing at home to Carlisle, Grayson appeared to put on a brave face insisting the JPT tie is still evenly poised with the Whites more than capable of turning around a one-goal deficit. On the evidence of the events during the cup clash, Leeds did create a host of opportunities but it did appear the club would continue to miss opportunities if another 90 minutes were played on this specific evening. The form of Beckford is a concern for Grayson because all the rumours could have distracted the striker even more than some have predicted. Leeds need to kick-start their league campaign as well before Norwich City and Charlton jump on any perceived weaknesses and oust the club from top spot.
The FA Cup tie with Tottenham Hotspur could serve as the perfect tonic for Leeds to emerge out of this mini-slump. Another upset could very well signal Leeds can go the distance in the cup despite the feeling the Spurs will pose more of a problem to the Whites than Manchester United did. Tottenham will be keener on advancing in the FA Cup than the Red Devils as this serves as perhaps the only avenue for the club to win a trophy this season. The players went through a fine spell prior to the Liverpool defeat which may very well create a backlash for the Whites as Spurs players look to rebound from their weak performance at Anfield.
Grayson will be focused on making sure his players put in a solid performance regardless of the result while avoiding any injuries to key players. Chairman Ken Bates summed it up best when he acknowledged there are no expectations for this cup clash and stressed the important factor is to defend the club’s pride without suffering from injuries.