Leeds United manager Simon Grayson was a disappointed man following the 2-2 draw against Hartlepool United, which cost the Whites two precious points in the race with Norwich City to win League One. The gaffer claimed he had nothing to complain about in terms of the commitment shown by the players, yet he must have been appalled at the manner in which the club conceded the last-gasp goal.
Grayson is aware of his side’s potential and acknowledges the players should have put the match beyond doubt during the first-half, but the efficiency in front of goal seems to be lacking of late. Despite scoring twice through the rejuvenated Luciano Becchio, the Whites missed enough chances to seal a key victory away from home. Leeds need a boost following the inconsistent form which has plagued the side ever since the historic win at Old Trafford. In eight games in all competitions since the famous 1-0 win against the Red Devils, the Whites have only won one encounter – unacceptable considering the talent that they can field in League One. The FA Cup run has revived memories of their heyday in the Premier League and brought in some valuable funds to the club’s coffers, but it must be stressed that the side effects have been quite visible on the pitch. The congested fixture list, the resulting player fatigue and more importantly the distraction of competing against the bigger sides, have all contributed to this negative spell in the league.
The players are not able to focus on facing the smaller sides and Grayson must deal with the unenviable task of preparing his squad to face the less celebrated outfits as opposed to giants of the game such as the Red Devils in front of over 70,000 supporters. The Press, blogs and gossip columns have been magnifying the struggles against smaller opposition, using titles such as ‘Leeds Faltering to Minnows’. This has only intensified after holding Tottenham Hotspur to a draw and forcing a replay at Elland Road. The target of the Press is to sell stories to increase viewership and consequently demand more for advertising. Nothing sells more than some juicy story about a fallen club trying to regroup and earn promotion to the higher echelon of English football. The Press used the loaded term ‘fairytale’ to describe the unexpected FA Cup run, which has added to the unnecessary pressure to a group of players not accustomed to playing on the big stage.
Grayson must have made sure he stressed that the club’s main objective is to get promoted to the Championship with success in cup competitions just an added bonus, albeit a potentially costly one in terms of injuries and exhaustion. The manager needs to hammer the concept into the squad’s psyche as the players appear to struggle when the level of opposition drops. Leeds supporters are certainly a proud bunch and no one can blame them because their players were competing in the Champions League not so long ago, but now is not the time to dwell on past glories. The FA Cup run has ended and the players need to get back to earth and work hard to earn automatic promotion. Nothing can be taken for granted as all the other clubs in the division will aim to cause an upset against Leeds just like the Whites attempted to do against Spurs.
The Elland road outfit are competing in the current division for a reason and they are not on the same level as English top-flight teams. Leeds have shown in the FA Cup that anything can happen in a one-off game provided the will and determination is present, but if the players were in the Premier League then Leeds would be fighting for relegation. The focus is on returning to the top and this can only happen gradually with realistic, short-term ambitions.
The manager made a smart move against Hartlepool by replacing Jermaine Beckford in order to avoid any lengthy injury as the striker is desperately needed to fire in the goals for the rest of the season. Grayson must be pleased with Becchio’s steady improvement after finding the net against Spurs and scoring a brace in the last league match. The Argentine’s form was one area of concern considering Leeds did not bring in a prolific scorer to compliment Beckford. Next up for Leeds is the JPT return leg at Carlisle, with Grayson aiming for a positive reaction from his players tonight.