Club Focus – Leeds United – Gradel leads the charge as pressure grows on Beckford

The Whites were finally able to string two wins together courtesy of Max Gradel and Luciano Becchio yet the unfolding drama was once again the status of Jermaine Beckford. The club’s top scorer came under heavy criticism from a section of the Elland Road faithful who were visibly upset with his lackadaisical approach. Beckford’s current slump in form and the lack of goals have not helped with the supporters who are increasingly aggravated by the forward’s antics. The prolific scorer has twice handed a transfer request only to rescind his demands and remain with Leeds.

Beckford will be gone at the end of the season with Everton and West Ham United amongst the favourites to secure his signature on a Bosman considering. The status of Beckford, his erratic behaviour and the difficulties he has been going through in front of goal have created an uncomfortable situation for the coaching staff and the players. Simon Grayson has called for a united front with the Whites entering a delicate stretch in the current campaign which could make or break their season. The Whites started off in stunning fashion in League One only to be crippled, beginning 2010 by the uncertainty surrounding Beckford, the lack of other scoring options, the congestion in fixtures and the fairytale run in the FA Cup.

The Manager insisted he has no qualms about benching star players and making the necessary substitutions during games. Grayson’s continued experiment of using Gradel as a striker is paying off with the Ivorian impressing in the previous match and scoring the first against Southend United before turning provider to assist on Becchio’s goal. The work ethic and the commitment shown by Gradel have won over the Leeds supporters who have become frustrated with the club’s top scorer. Beckford was jeered by sections of the supporters who deem him unworthy of wearing the team’s shirt. Grayson asked the fans to back Beckford because he is aware of the striker’s natural instincts in front of goal, but he did seem resigned to accept the current status quo. The Boss perhaps gave the most damning hint yet regarding his top striker when he admitted Becchio was not healthy enough to start the match while stressing he has no problem benching his star striker if he was failing to deliver the goals.

The delicate situation pertaining to Beckford has been carefully analysed and one alternative offered was to start Gradel and Snodgrass upfront while giving on loan signing Sanchez Watt the opportunity to impress or have Gradel and Becchio form the attacking duo. Grayson duly obliged and made adjustments as the frontline was appearing toothless. Grayson brought in Becchio and from there on the attack took on a different dimension with the barely fit Argentine striker combining well with the lively Gradel. The Leeds attack simply needed a little jolt in order to get back on track and Beckford has proven to be the weak link in recent games.

Beckford’s head is clearly elsewhere considering he is probably contemplating the quickest way out of Elland Road while securing the remainder of his paycheck before free agency. The Whites cannot afford to gamble on Beckford anymore and must begin to use the best players available for selection. Perhaps the injured Paddy Kisnorbo foresaw something like this happening as he urged Grayson to substitute Beckford when he was merely a pedestrian during the first defeat to Millwall. Grayson is right about needing to remain united but the first step starts within the Leeds camp where the committed players ought to be chosen as starters.

When Gradel opened the scoring for the Whites just when despair was about to set in the supporters were overjoyed and took note of how delighted Gradel was to see his work ethic rewarded with a decisive goal. The supporters are desperate to see players who are willing to sacrifice and put their body on the line for the club. Gradel is a good example and his status as one of the favourites with the fans was not born out of coincidence. The Ivorian showed heart and put in solid performances whenever Grayson called upon him earlier in the season while he was on loan at Elland Road. Gradel impressed enough to earn a permanent move to Leeds but was given little time to shine until the last couple of games. He has grabbed his opportunity where others have failed to do so.

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