Club Focus – Leeds United – Extended rest for the Leeds ahead of crucial clash against Millwall

Simon Grayson and his players will probably welcome the brief respite from not having to play three games per week and actually having a break on Saturday as the highly anticipated home match with Millwall is scheduled for Monday.

The Whites have not had such an extended break for a long time and the Manager will look to regroup, recover any players suffering from minor knocks and focus on preparing properly for the visiting side. Millwall were the first to inflict defeat on Leeds this season when they registered a hard fought and eventful 2-1 win at the New Den. Leeds will be looking to avenge the loss and the Manager will be happy to know Max Gradel scored a hat-trick in reserve football to highlight his readiness to stake a claim for increased playing time in the remaining 10 fixtures of the current campaign. Interestingly the same match witnessed the successful return of goalkeeper Shane Higgs who completed the match without experiencing any problems, while recent signing Paul Dickov registered a goal for the side. The reserve match has little meaning in terms of the club’s League One fortunes but the contributions of players such as Gradel and Dickov could convince Grayson to give them additional playing time.

While Jermaine Beckford is a certain starter (unless he unexpectedly misses due to injury,) Grayson will contemplate whether Luciano Becchio will continue to start alongside the prolific striker. Grayson might opt to start Gradel on the wing while pushing further up the field Gary McSheffrey to partner Beckford who has already amassed 27 goals. Another option would simply involve bringing in Gradel once again for Becchio but in this case with Robert Snodgrass pushing forward. The problem with having Snodgrass upfront next to Beckford is the fact Robert often provides extra threat with his surging runs, dangerous crosses and raking shots. No matter which lineup starts for Grayson, he will be expecting the players to put in a committed performance filled with the same passion shown against the likes of Manchester United in the FA Cup. Leeds need to string a few wins together in order to create a sense of consistency and edge closer to automatic promotion. The Millwall clash is a potential six pointer with a victory for the home side effectively condemning the visiting Lions to the play-offs at best. The Manager knows he cannot use exhaustion as an excuse ahead of this match considering the nine day break between the two games. This was made more evident by Grayson’s decision to allow a number of first-team squad members to participate in the reserve match in preparation for the clash with the Lions.

For the Whites there is little room for error considering 2010 has ushered in a period of inconsistency in results and a drop in performances. Leeds started the season with eight consecutive wins in all competitions yet have been unable to win two games in a row this year and have five victories since the beginning of 2010. Grayson will be hoping the club’s leaders such as Patrick Kisnorbo will stamp their authority on the match with their commitment and hard work. While all eyes might be on Beckford to fire in the goals the Lions will be mistaken to overlook Snodgrass and the Argentine Becchio if he does start. Becchio has only recently recovered from injury and is still rounding to form but he has managed to score a few goals since his return from the sidelines. Goalkeeper Casper Ankergen will be on his toes given the successful return of Shane Higgs yet the Dane is likely to start having impressed since taking over the starting role from the injured Higgs. Ankergen was particularly impressive in the FA Cup matches against Manchester and Tottenham when he made a plethora of classic saves to keep Leeds in the respective matches. The Whites have a squad highlighted by depth and quality when compared to the majority of the other clubs in the division yet the main problem remains the apparent lack of enthusiasm amongst the players in recent weeks.

At the start of the campaign players such as Paddy Kisnorbo were putting their body on the line while the midfielders and forwards were tormenting the defensive lines of opponents. The drop in both form and commitment can be attributed to two factors, physical and psychological. Once again the peak moments in the FA Cup clashes against top sides have distracted the players from the main objective which is to secure automatic promotion.

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