Overcoming Bristol Rovers proved many critics wrong – particularly after Leeds United were reduced to ten men when Max Gradel was sent off and bickered with everyone, including his teammates before leaving the pitch. The Whites fell behind to the Pirates 1-0 courtesy of a goal by Darryl Duffy but with Leeds expected to fold, as has become habit in recent weeks, the players put up a strong fight, launching a sensational comeback to beat Rovers 2-1 to secure promotion to the Championship. Following three dark years in League One, the Whites can finally look up as they have successfully achieved their main objective of earning promotion.
Over 38 000 were in attendance to witness Leeds overcome a dogged display by the visitors, who refused to roll over and must be commended for their show of grit as they attempted to match Leeds’s superior talent with their determination. The crowd was the largest at home for the season and second largest to see Leeds play behind the Old Trafford crowd, when the Whites shocked hosts Manchester United 1-0 in the F.A Cup. While Leeds deserve credit for their fighting spirit and for not giving up when everything appeared to be sailing against them, Simon Grayson must be applauded for his bold decisions. The manager made some mistakes during the campaign yet often displayed great confidence by making brave choices based on his belief of what would serve the team best. Against Rovers, he decided to drop Robert Snodgrass following a number of unconvincing performances – validating some of the commentary by A Different League, which hinted at the sub-par showings by Snodgrass and how Leeds looked ineffective going forward in some matches due to the Scot’s surprising futility. The pedestrian showings by Snodgrass deprived Leeds of one of their main attacking threats, considering his ability to create scoring opportunities and to finish them as well.
Furthermore Grayson entrusted Jermaine Beckford with the captain’s armband in the absence of injured Richard Naylor in a surprise move considering the prolific striker had spent time on the bench in recent matches. Grayson has shown a canny ability to analyse situations and use psychological strategies to the squad’s advantage, and assigning Beckford as skipper gave the striker extra motivation to try his utmost to help secure the precious victory. Beckford scored the winner to regain the appreciation of the supporters and tried his best to lead by example as shown in his attempts to pull away Gradel and have him leave the pitch. The manager took a gamble on Beckford and it paid off. Grayson’s willingness to take risks when necessary was evident not just in the starting lineup but on the bench as well after selecting giant Slovakian Lubomir Michalik along with goalkeeper Casper Ankergren as the only defensive-minded players.
Grayson, for all his skill at assessing situations properly, has made errors with regards to formations and team selection. To his credit, he has enough character to accept the blame, such as taking full responsibility following the defeat against Charlton Athletic. Grayson was aware of needing to beat the Addicks since a draw or defeat would have done little to change the desired result against Rovers. On Saturday, Elland Road breathed a collective sigh of relief when Leeds registered a famous comeback win to keep hold of the coveted second place considering the last 20 minutes were visibly tough on the players who did exceptionally well amid the tense environment. The coaching staff and players deserve to be credited with putting behind three miserable years in the division and the club will be able to rely on some core players from the current campaign yet the main concern for Grayson will be in attack where Beckford is likely to be lost to free agency with Gradel and Luciano Becchio liable to struggle to replicate his scoring achievements. Beckford must be hailed for his killer instinct after becoming the first Leeds player to end consecutive seasons with at least 30 goals in all competitions since the legendary John Charles. The prolific striker has managed to find the back of the net on 31 occasions this season and replacing him will be quite the tough task for the club.
A healthy return for defender Paddy Kisnorbo will be valuable considering his grit, passion and never-die-spirit which saw him numerous finish games despite carrying some sort of injury. Unfortunately the influential Australian has been sidelined by injury and was not able to contribute towards achieving promotion yet he deservedly swept the individual honours at the Members end of season awards dinner. The event took place on Saturday and served as an opportunity for the players to celebrate their success and to be recognised for their achievement with some 700 guests giving the squad a rapturous round of applause. While Leeds celebrate the rise to a higher division as a club and as a city, Gradel will be one of the happiest players after his teammates turned his grave mistake into a mere footnote at the culmination of a great group effort.
The attack will not be the only area in need of reinforcement as the defensive line is rather slow and short on talent compared to the better equipped offensive players in the Championship. The hope is for the club to sign the necessary players to add depth and talent to the squad to compete at the next level. It is too much to expect Leeds to earn back-to-back promotion to the Premier League but with proper planning anything is possible under a manager willing to take risks as a boss first and as a fan second. Grayson grew up a Leeds supporter and started his playing career at the club prompting him to declare the win over the Bristol Rovers, and the promotion it confirmed, as the best moment in his career.