Club Focus – Leeds United – Whites force Elland Road replay as Beckford silences his critics

Manager Simon Grayson declared prior to the clash with Manchester United the FA Cup would be a reward for his achieving troops. He made it clear the starting lineup would feature those who were performing to their best in League One fixtures.

Two matches later (A historic win at Old Trafford and a hard fought draw in London) and Grayson is perhaps wondering deep inside whether this emotionally charged run in the FA Cup will begin to have undesirable consequences on the club’s main objective which remains promotion to the Championship. The League One table suddenly looks unappealing for Grayson with Norwich City on top on goal difference. The manager will have to bring his players back to earth as the club will face two tricky fixtures against tough division opponents in the shape of fifth place Swindon Town and fourth Colchester United. For the players involved and the loyal Leeds fans those two FA Cup clashes against Manchester United and Spurs have been absolutely an experience to cherish but they are likely to take their toll on the players from physical and psychological perspectives. One night you are playing at Old Trafford in front of over 74,000 fans and then you have to regroup and prepare for a side such a Colchester who managed to muster close to 9,000 supporters when Leeds won 2-1.

The schedule did not read Manchester and then Colchester in this exact sequence but the numbers, details and results hold true to serve as an example of the daunting task the manager must deal with in motivating his players. Following the Old Trafford triumph Leeds managed an unconvincing home draw against second from bottom Wycombe Wanderers who have a single away win this season. The supporters are in boisterous mood and cannot be blamed. Those two spectacular achievements went down in the history books and will be remembered for some time, in particular the triumph over the Red Devils. The adverse consequences of such an energy sapping and emotionally draining FA Cup run have already been felt by the Whites who lost to a mediocre Exeter City side and then tumbled at home against Carlisle United in the JPT. The manager must adjust to the monumental task of bringing the best out of his players against League One sides as they are competing in this division and not the Premiership. Grayson cannot publicly divulge his awareness of these difficulties because he will be seen as foolish by a set of faithful supporters desperate for a rapid return to the elite echelon of English football.

Those same committed fans are the main reason why the Whites remain a big club despite the recent struggles in the lower divisions of league football. The key is for the fans to keep their feet on the ground and not expect the impossible as the players are human after all. Elland Road will be the theatre as Leeds host Spurs during the first week of February in a cup-tie sandwiched between two league games- the first being the aforementioned home game against Colchester and the second a trip to take on Hartlepool United. If Leeds overcome both League One teams then the manager would have succeeded in the unenviable task of striking a fine balance between what could be considered a dream run in the FA Cup and the realities of League One. The Whites will have a first crack at achieving this when they travel to take on Swindon later today. Fortunately for Grayson he will be able to rely on the services of one hungry player in the shape of winger Max Gradel. Leeds signed the 22-year-old Ivorian from Leicester City on a permanent basis. Gradel will be itching to prove his worth and Grayson will likely grant him the desired start by inserting him straight into the lineup against the Robins.

With Luciano Becchio struggling for form and Mike Grella still a work in progress, the onus of scoring has fell squarely on the shoulders of prolific striker Jermaine Beckford who once again delivered on the big stage. The striker was on the receiving end of criticism in some circles for not showing his commitment to the Leeds cause and for his apparent lack of effort during games yet he responded gleefully with two goals against Tottenham. Beckford has shown his knack for scoring on the big scene after his Old Trafford winner was followed by his double at White Hart Lane. Sources close to the club have informed the Whites are still shopping for a striker while the search for a cover in goal may start as Shane Higgs is expected to miss time.

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