Simon Grayson was relieved of his duties as the manager of Leeds United on Wednesday, after just over three years in charge of the Elland Road club. The 42-year-old paid the penalty after a 4-1 home defeat to Birmingham City on Tuesday night, a result which left Leeds in 10th place in the Championship table, although only three points off the play-off positions.
It ended a mostly successful spell at the club which Grayson supported as a boy and where he started his playing career in the late 1980s. After a successful career as a defender at Leicester City, Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers, Grayson came to the attention of Ken Bates, the Leeds chairman, after successfully guiding Blackpool to the Championship in his first managerial position.
Grayson joined Leeds at possibly the clubs lowest ebb. In their second season in League One, United were in a dismal ninth position and on a run of five successive defeats, including an FA Cup humiliation at non-league Histon. Replacing Gary McAllister, Grayson guided Leeds to a club record 11 consecutive home wins and a place in the play-offs, but a two-legged defeat condemned United to a third season in the third tier. The pain of the defeat was used by Grayson to motivate his side the following season.
United started the following season in blistering fashion. Leeds won their first seven games of the campaign before running Liverpool close in the Carling Cup. At the turn of the year, United were well clear at the top of the League and had an FA Cup tie against Manchester United to look forward to.
The victory at Old Trafford will live long in the memory of all Leeds fans, the Whites earning their first win in 31 years against their most bitter enemies. From there, however, Leeds suffered a huge case of the wobbles, blowing their lead at the top and at one point dropping out of the automatic promotion places. Grayson’s mission was finally accomplished on the last day of the season, with a come from behind, 10-man victory against Bristol Rovers. Inevitably it was Beckford who scored the promotion clinching goal with his last meaningful action in a Leeds shirt.
The following season saw United without Beckford, who had joined Everton, and nothing but consolidation in the Championship in the thoughts of most fans. However by Christmas, Leeds were in the automatic promotion places and looked set fair for a tilt at a second successive promotion. However, for the second consecutive campaign, the club fell away in the second half of the season to finish seventh and just a place outside the play-offs.
Grayson achieved success on a relative shoestring, but has been unable to repeat the success this campaign. He can claim mitigating circumstances – the loss of key players such as Bradley Johnson and Neil Kilkenny, both of whom left after failing to negotiate new contracts, and the sale of Kasper Schmeichel, Max Gradel and most recently Jonny Howson has severely weakened the squad. Despite this further damage to the squad, Leeds remarkably had still managed to find themselves in the shake up for the play-offs, but a poor run of results in December was the beginning of the end.
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