Club Focus – Leeds United – Second place finish is back in own hands

The Whites are back on the right track after registering a comfortable win against Carlisle United to jump into the coveted second place. Leeds had recently relinquished the second spot which guarantees automatic promotion to the Championship following a sequence of four consecutive defeats. The Whites have won three on the trot and the sense of belief amongst the players is growing with each victory. The trip to Carlisle confirmed the Leeds players were simply in need of winning games to restore confidence and commence a new run of positive results.

Simon Grayson showed for the second match running his commitment to making changes which could help Leeds reignite their quest for automatic promotion. He opted to start Luciano Becchio instead of top scorer Jermaine Beckford who has struggled in recent weeks. Beckford was substituted against Southend United with his replacement being none other than Becchio who went on to score a goal in the 2-0 win. The Argentine has been in fine form repaying the Manager’s faith by scoring twice against Carlisle while partner Max Gradel continued his run of impressive performances.

Gradel capped his display against the Cumbrians with the second goal in the 3-1 victory and acted as the perfect complement to Becchio. They have now scored five goals between them in the last two appearances with Gradel looking particularly lively since being moved to an advanced attacking role from his customary wing position. The change in positioning sanctioned by Grayson has been a master stroke which could serve as the turning point in a rather unpredictable season for Leeds defined by extremes ranging from the heydays of early season victories to the recent dismal run prior to the three-match winning streak.

While Becchio and Gradel have been performing admirably, Robert Snodgrass has been gradually returning to form showing he can be a handful for defenders when playing at his best. During the losing run Leeds could not score a goal and appeared to drop heads whenever they conceded first. Leeds have basically struggled when conceding first and often losing those matches. While the inability to launch a comeback after conceding a goal appeared to give the impression the Whites did not have the will to strike back, it was more a case of the players lacking in confidence and having to deal with one psychological blow after another. The players were not able to lift themselves whenever things went against their wishes and Manager Grayson appeared incapable of providing his squad with the necessary jolt. At the end all it took was for Grayson to make the bold move of pushing Gradel to attack while dropping Beckford to the bench. Jermaine made a cameo appearance against Carlisle and it is unlikely he will start against Gillingham unless one of the two starters gets injured. This could signal the end of Beckford’s career in a Leeds shirt with Grayson will likely to stick with the achieving duo and use Jermaine off the bench in urgent cases.

The schedule will give the players ample time to recover and train with fixtures set for just once a week before closing out the season on May 8. Grayson appears to trust his current lineup which he deems as the one most suitable to create better odds at winning matches. With Paddy Kisnorbo missing out for the rest of the season and Beckford nearing the end of his Leeds adventure, Grayson has lost two key first-team components.

The injured Paddy has shown great commitment all season and can defend with passion while Beckford is a prolific striker despite his lack of scoring in recent games. Having one fixture a week allows Grayson to rely on Becchio who has had to deal with injuries for most of the season and skipper Richard Naylor who has shouldered most of the defensive duties in the absence of Kisnorbo. Grayson cannot afford to lose any of the remaining first-team players with Millwall and Charlton Athletic as well as Swindon Town all within three points of Leeds.

Leaders Norwich City have struggled and their weekend clash with Charlton could offer Leeds the opportunity to draw closer yet the Whites cannot get distracted by the other fixtures. Grayson will make sure his players are aware of the significance of concentrating on each opponent one at a time in order to win all the remaining matches to reach the objective of automatic promotion. With Gradel and Becchio working efficiently together the Whites might be able to achieve this target despite the recent drop in form.

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