Club Focus – Leeds United – Brave fight but FA Cup journey comes to an end

The Elland Road faithful left the stadium disappointed with the result but certainly proud of their team as they finally succumbed to Tottenham Hotspur in a pulsating encounter, highlighted by Jermain Defoe’s winning hat-trick. The Leeds players were full of commitment and their endeavour was almost rewarded if it were not for Defoe’s double strike inside the final 20 minutes of the match.

Leeds trailed to a Defoe opener only to claw their way back courtesy of a Luciano Becchio goal at the stroke of half-time. The difference in quality was compensated with effort and dedication as Leeds did not disappoint in their third clash against Premier League sides this campaign. Simon Grayson was proud of his players and perhaps deep inside he was relieved as the FA Cup exploits were taking their toll on his squad from an emotional and physical standpoint. The team have struggled since the start of 2010, registering one victory in League One while suffering two away defeats, forcing the club to forfeit first place to Norwich City. The Canaries top the table, three points ahead of Leeds but the Whites have two games in hand.

The fairytale run in the FA Cup was bound to end sooner or later but the exploits allowed Leeds to bring in extra cash, provided the players with tremendous experience in front of big crowds and confirmed the passion of Leeds supporters. Against Spurs close to 38 000 fans were in attendance and the boisterous crowd was deafening. Elland Road is once again a fortress, as witnessed by the excellent home record in league action. Another major plus point for Grayson was the exploits of in-form goalkeeper Casper Ankergren. The Danish keeper was a rock against Spurs in both matches, saving Leeds from a plethora of goals, as he performed a number of stunning saves. Grayson was quite concerned after Shane Higgs became sidelined with injury. Higgs earned his starting role after impressing the manager during the pre-season games but will probably have to settle for the bench if Ankergren keeps up his stunning form.

Another positive to emerge from the clash was Becchio’s return to scoring ways and his committed display following a number of unconvincing displays which forced Leeds to consider bringing in other strikers. The main concern for Grayson will be whether the defeat will linger in the minds of the players resulting in a negative psychological impact. The Whites must maneuver a tough schedule on the road to guarantee promotion and avoid the dreaded play-offs scenario. They will have to travel to play both Norwich and Charlton before the end of the season. The signing of Max Gradel, which was followed by bringing in two players on loan, Gary McSheffrey and Shane Lowry, should provide more options for Grayson. All three players were ineligible for the Spurs match but they are likely to start or at least feature at some point when the Whites travel to take on Hartlepool. Leeds are expected to secure three points from their trip barring any letdown following the cup defeat.

Grayson will have his hands full at training as he attempts to turn the attention of the players to Hartlepool after facing Tottenham who sit as high as fourth in the Premier League. Club legend Jack Charlton declared he is itching to see Leeds back in the top flight playing the likes of Manchester United and Spurs on a regular basis. The paradox lies in the fact the Whites cannot live through their past. The reality is Leeds are mired in League One and the only way out is by winning as many as possible of the division’s remaining fixtures. Relying on history will not do much for Leeds as smaller clubs will be looking to do onto the Whites what they succeeded in doing against the Red Devils.

Pride is a great commodity as Leeds have displayed in the FA Cup but playing for a famous win can certainly turn the odds against the Whites when they travel to play clubs such as Gillingham. The charismatic Grayson will work diligently to ensure his players do not fall in the same trap they placed for Premier League giants Manchester United. The manager knows the best way to move forward from the cup defeat will be by beating Hartlepool.

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