The current year can be best described as an inconsistent one with Leeds following up comfortable wins with mediocre results and unconvincing defeats. The Whites brushed aside Tranmere Rovers 4-1 only to follow the impressive score by a defeat at Southampton a few days later. The inconsistency has been both aggravating for the supporters and disappointing for Simon Grayson. The Manager put a brave face following the 1-0 loss at Southampton declaring his players are still in prime position to claim one of the two automatic spots for promotion to the Championship. Leeds might be seven points behind Norwich City in League One but the table shows the Whites are enjoying a five-point cushion over Charlton Athletic.
The Manager admitted his troops were below par against the Saints and the Whites were lucky not to have lost by bigger margin. On the flip side Grayson pointed out the fact that Southampton are a strong side and would have been competing for a play-off spot if it were not for the 10 points deducted from their total haul. Indeed the Saints have only lost twice at home but Grayson refused to use the statistics as an excuse. The Boss has been trying to create some sort of stability following a largely inconsistent run in 2010 which contrasts with the stunning run in 2009. The Whites have won just two home games and one away game in League One since the beginning of 2010. Cup competitions and injuries have played a detrimental role but the players have had enough time to put behind their FA cup exploits.
Unfortunately it appears some players have failed to show the same commitment against League One teams as displayed in their dedicated performances against both Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. Grayson is proving to be a charismatic Tactician yet he has not succeeded in overcoming the fatigue and injuries suffered by stars such as Patrick Kisnorbo and Jermaine Beckford (both have returned recently), and was certainly unable to convince the players to move beyond the disappointing exit to Spurs in the FA Cup.
The Boss is eyeing the highly anticipated home clash against Millwall as a turning point with Leeds in desperate need of a victory to create more space between them and the chasing pack. The visitors were the first team to inflict defeat on Leeds this campaign and the players will be looking for revenge against a side currently in fourth place and fighting for a play-off spot. Grayson will be looking to Beckford to fire in the goals and lead the Whites to victory after the prolific striker scored twice against Tranmere and was awarded the FourFourTwo award for the best player in League One this season. Ironically the award was accepted by Grayson on behalf of his striker and the Manager did not hesitate to praise Beckford’s natural instincts in front of goal which have helped him score 27 goals so far this season.
Perhaps Grayson’s wisest comment in the wake of the away defeat to the Saints was his acknowledgement most of the other results in league play went Leeds’s way but he warned the players cannot continue to count on this happening in the remaining 10 fixtures of the current campaign. With fighters such as Paddy Kisnorbo, a dangerous player in Robert Snodgrass and a goal poacher in the shape of Beckford, the Whites should be able to gain a least the second place and guarantee automatic promotion to the Championship. Anything else and disaster might strike since the Whites have famously struggled in the play-offs in recent years. All eyes will be on the clash with Millwall to get an early indication of whether the blistering start to the season will go to waste or if it will serve as a cushion with the club struggling for consistency.
It does not get any easier for the Whites with the coming weeks featuring clashes against division leaders Norwich City and third place Charlton Athletic. Grayson will need to pull his players together particularly those providing pedestrian performances. The supporters were hoping to win the division but given the circumstances they will settle for second place as long as they do not have to go through the agony of another play-off experience.
The fight for promotion begins from now and as Grayson claimed all is not lost. The key is for the players to acknowledge the significance of the moment and realise the fastest way to returning to top notch football is through promotion. The players must take things one match at a time and aim to win as many as possible from the remaining fixtures.