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Matches
24 April 2010 - Leeds United 4 Milton Keynes Dons 1
League One - Elland Road - 25,964
Scorers: Becchio (13 mins), Gradel (33 mins), Beckford 2 (79 mins, 84 mins pen)
Leeds United: Higgs, Hughes, Naylor, Collins, Parker (Howson 59), Snodgrass (Beckford 76), Kilkenny, Johnson, Watt (McSheffrey 81), Gradel, Becchio
Milton Keynes Dons: Gueret, Doumbe, Lewington, McCracken, Powell, Howell, Chadwick (Chicksen 63), Leven, Randall, Easter, Baldock (Gobern 51)

Gillingham's Mark Bentley puts them 2-0 up against Unitedprinter friendly version

What had once seemed to be a smooth passage to promotion from League One for Leeds United stuttered badly when they suffered a shock defeat at struggling Gillingham on 17 April.

In March and early April the Whites had lost four successive games, but had got back on track with a 2-1 victory at Yeovil on Easter Monday. They followed up with emphatic wins over Southend and Carlisle and when fierce promotion rivals Millwall lost at Huddersfield on Friday evening, 16 April, Leeds were left knowing that three victories out of their final four fixtures would be enough to guarantee promotion.

With a growing feeling of confidence, the United party departed for Kent the next day intent on bolstering their chances.

Manager Simon Grayson did everything in his power to keep the players' feet on the ground. He reflected, "In the early part of the season we played fluid football but at this stage, as much as you'd love to be winning by getting the ball down and knocking it around, you'll take any victory however it comes. That's what we needed after Swindon - a victory to stop the rot.

"I said that we could win seven out of our last seven games and we've won three so far. It would be a great achievement to win all seven but what we've done is to turn around a minor blip and give ourselves an opportunity again. I expected my players to stand up and be counted - to go out and prove people wrong... You can sense the confidence in the players now and that plays a big part in any team in any sport."

United had never experienced victory at Gillingham, albeit from few meetings. Their previous trip to the Priestfield in September 2007 ended in controversy when, after being reduced to nine men, Dennis Wise's side succumbed to a late equaliser, bringing an end to a 100% start to life in League One.

Grayson admitted he was expecting a tough encounter, despite the Gills' lowly position in the table: "They have a good home record and we know what to expect... It won't be easy, but it's a game we are capable of winning."

The game turned out to be every bit as challenging as Grayson had feared and Leeds were 3-0 down within 33 minutes and being played off the park.

Richard Sutcliffe in the Yorkshire Post: "It was not only in defence, either, where Leeds were distinctly second best, with Neil Kilkenny unable to provide his usual passing spark in midfield and Jonny Howson joining Robert Snodgrass in being largely anonymous.

"The first goal took just nine minutes to arrive, Naylor's poor attempted header only reaching Miller who calmly looped the ball beyond Shane Higgs from 15 yards. Howe then struck the post with a low shot before the home side doubled their advantage on the half hour as Leeds again failed to deal with an arrowed cross from the flank and an unmarked Bentley powered Miller's Jermaine Beckford gets United's second at Gillingham from the penalty spotfree kick into the net.

"Worse was to come just three minutes later as Naylor again got his angles all wrong, his header flying beyond the helpless Higgs - though there was a suspicion the final touch had come off Leigh Bromby.

"Thankfully for the 2,241 fans who had followed their team from Yorkshire, a lifeline came just seconds before the break courtesy of a smart turn and finish from Luciano Becchio. Suddenly, belief was restored and the suspicion, as the visiting players left the field at the interval to an encouraging roar from the travelling support, was that the fight back could be on.

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"Ten minutes into the second half and with no further goals, Grayson thrust Jermaine Beckford into the fray and switched to an attack minded 3-4-3 formation. However, while Leeds continued to dominate both territorially and in terms of possession, Gillingham goalkeeper Alan Julian was still rarely called into action. Instead, a succession of increasingly ambitious shots from distance sailed wide of the target as United huffed and puffed with little finesse. They did pull a goal back five minutes from time courtesy of Beckford after the club's top scorer had been bundled to the floor by Bentley inside the penalty area and Alan Wiley pointed to the spot.

"It was, though, a case of too little, too late - though fears that, on a weekend when much of Europe was brought to a standstill by volcanic ash, United's promotion hopes had gone up in smoke were soon eased when news filtered through of results from elsewhere."

Charlton lost at home to already promoted Norwich, while Swindon were held at the County Ground by Walsall, so no lasting damage was done. Leeds remained in second place, still in charge of their own destiny.

Nevertheless, Simon Grayson was furious at the way his players had let themselves down: "We said to the lads before the game that this could be the hardest of the four games we had left... You can't start the way we did and expect to win a game. We didn't do the things we'd done at Carlisle a few days before. We didn't match them physically... We didn't play to our shape as we have done and we were too open. We didn't defend the ball coming into the box for the first one and for the first two, two people were nowhere near the players they were supposed to be picking up.

"We can do all the preparation we want, but players have to take responsibility in situations like that and be tight to people. The third goal summed up our first half performance. It was a calamity. Sometimes you can't work out how they can go from a professional performance on the Tuesday to a shambles like that on Saturday."

In the circumstances, the home game with MK Dons on 24 April assumed 'must win' status.

The manager had to consider whether to make changes to his line up following the second half contribution of Jermaine Beckford at Gillingham. He had also been given food for thought by the display of United's second string during the week, when they had moved within touching distance of top position in the Totesport.com League East Division by beating leaders Middlesbrough 2-0 at Elland Road. Ben Parker, Bradley Johnson, Aidy White, Tresor Kandol and Mike Grella all featured.

Grayson: "Of course you think about it, but at the same time you don't want to make too many radical changes for the sake of it because you want consistency. Maybe you go down the line and give the opportunity because one or two didn't do what we Ben Parker tangles with Gillingham's Rene Howe - after a decent performance as sub at Priestfield, the left-back was recalled to start the game against MK Donswanted last weekend. That's why we had a strong reserve team out, plus they were playing Middlesbrough, who were strong, and it was important to keep fitness levels up. One or two have done well and put themselves into contention... And Jermaine did well when he came on last Saturday, it was a great penalty strike, and he has worked really hard in training. There's three games left and he wants to play a part.

"Jermaine is trying to score the goals that will get us promoted, whether he is starting games or coming on from the bench. We have stressed all along that we are not a one-man team. His goals have obviously helped but we dropped him for a reason... Jermaine is looking lively and sharp, which gives me a decision to make on Saturday, but I have other decisions to make regarding the team as well.

"I just hope everyone realises what's at stake. I'm sure they do. The crowd are very intelligent and they understand what we want to achieve and what the players are going through to achieve it. I'd definitely prefer to have two games at home than two away from home. The opposition might find it intimidating, as they did earlier in the season, and I'm expecting a great atmosphere tomorrow."

In the eventuality, Grayson made three changes to his starting eleven, though Beckford was left on the bench. Ben Parker, who had come on as a second half substitute at Gillingham, was given his first start since August, Bradley Johnson was recalled in midfield and Sanchez Watt, on loan from Arsenal, was given his full debut on the left flank after three appearances as substitute. The players omitted were Leigh Bromby, Jonny Howson and Michael Doyle, missing just his fourth League One match of the campaign.

MK Dons arrived at Elland Road without a permanent manager, Paul Ince having resigned his post a week earlier after the club's failure to reach the Play Offs. He had been told that the club would have to cut back on its costs and he just could not stomach presiding over such a scenario.

Ince would remain in nominal charge until the end of the season but was banned from the touchline after being found guilty by the FA of two charges of improper conduct.

Karl Robinson, the Dons' assistant manager, was acting up in the absence of Good natured United fans were intent on enjoying themselves during the game against MK DonsInce. He had just seven senior players fit enough to train on Thursday. "If you don't smile you'll cry," he said. He wasn't joking.

The game at Elland Road marked the second game of Ince's five-match touchline suspension, though he was nowhere to be seen at the game. Having agreed to stand down as manager, his tenure had ended to all intents and purposes, and he left Robinson to do what he could with a paper thin squad.

There was a welcome surprise for the Elland Road faithful before kick off with former favourite Lucas Radebe making a guest appearance. The former United captain was besieged by autograph hunters. He was in the UK on a brief visit from South Africa to collect a Merit Award at a PFA dinner a couple of days later.

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The Leeds fans had already had the chance to pay tribute to another former United great.

During the week, the statue of Billy Bremner which sits on the corner of Elland Road, adjacent to the East Stand, had been restored by Frances Segelman, who had created the tribute in 1999. It had been returned to its original colouring after suffering from a decade of harsh weather conditions. The sculptor spoke of her pleasure that the statue meant so much to so many people and revealed that she planned to start coming back periodically to recolour it, telling the Yorkshire Evening Post, "I'm not going to let it get dowdy and dull."

After the customary riotous welcome from United's supporters and the obligatory pre-match huddle, the 2010-era United heroes kicked off the match in a stadium bathed in warm spring sunshine, intent on sweeping away their opponents. They enjoyed most of the early pressure and within twelve minutes got the breakthrough.

Sanchez Watt, who had started well, dispossessed Luciano Becchio gives United the lead against MK Donsright-back Mathias Doumbe and slipped the ball through smartly from the left. Luciano Becchio made no mistake, collecting the pass before sliding a shot incisively past keeper Willy Gueret.

If home supporters thought that would open the flood gates, they were mistaken; six minutes later the visitors equalised. From Peter Leven's free kick into the penalty area, Dons captain Dean Lewington took advantage of slack marking to poke his team level and silence the expectant crowd.

United were undeterred by the setback and were instantly back at their opponents. They caused problems with a couple of set pieces and promised much, without quite fashioning any clear openings. They had to wait until the 33rd minute for their dominance to pay off.

Goalkeeper Gueret was forced into a save when Max Gradel chased down a long ball. As the Dons tried to break out, Neil Kilkenny intercepted a stray pass from Leven and then Watt won possession with a determined challenge on the edge of the area. He fed Gradel, who made no mistake, scoring with an accurate left-footed finish past the keeper.

Matters got worse for the visiting team as the game neared the break. With two minutes remaining, Gueret landed his defence in more hot water with a poor throw out and Watt went outside Doumbe for the umpteenth time. The frustrated defender felled Watt with a lunging high challenge. Referee Michael Oliver was very quick to whip out the red card for the offence; it seemed a somewhat harsh and hasty decision.

The position might have become even more embarrassing for the Dons in the seconds before the interval. Gueret slipped in his attempts to collect a nothing pass and Gradel seized on the ball. As the wide man looked for the third goal, Gueret appeared to catch his feet and send him sprawling. The referee, perhaps regretting his earlier decision and feeling a twinge of sympathy, ignored the appeals and waved play on.

In first half injury time, Gueret atoned for his errors by using his legs to block an effort from Robert Snodgrass.

Leeds were first to show attacking intent after the break and Gradel got in two early crosses which were safely cleared.

As the game reached the hour mark, Dons substitute Lewis Golbern, a replacement for Baldock, tested Shane Higgs but the goalkeeper was up to the task.

Seconds later there was a moment of rather greater concern for Leeds: the luckless Ben Parker caught his studs in the turf and had to be withdrawn, holding his knee and clearly in some distress. After such a long time on the sidelines, it was a bitter blow for the left-back. Jonny Howson was summoned from the bench to take his place.

Gueret was in action again after 63 minutes as Leeds continued to impress. He denied Watt's effort after Gradel manufactured the opportunity. Then Richard Naylor's header cleared the crossbar.

After 76 minutes, Simon Grayson made his second change, calling on Jermaine Beckford to replace Snodgrass in an attempt to put the Dons to the sword. Released from his leash, United's leading goalscorer was determined to prove heJermaine Beckford acrobatically snatches United's third against MK Dons could still have a major say in the outcome of United's season. The change paid off quickly; after some good combination work by Watt, Becchio and Johnson, Beckford finished off Becchio's delicious cross with an acrobatic flying volley.

Gary McSheffrey came on to replace Watt after 81 minutes and the Arsenal loanee went off to thunderous applause for an impressive display on the left flank.

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In the 84th minute, Beckford wrapped up the points. After negotiating his way skilfully beyond the last defender, he was dragged down in the area by David McCracken as he bore down on goal. McCracken was the second man to be given his marching orders. Beckford took the penalty kick himself, but had to wait some time before he did so.

United's top scorer had missed high profile spot kicks on a number of occasions in his time at Leeds, but there was no hint of failure this time. Beckford fired unerringly into the bottom left hand corner of the net, beating the dive of keeper Gueret, who had gone the right way. It was the striker's thirtieth goal of a productive season.

Two minutes from the end, Beckford was inches away from a hat trick when his glanced header slipped wide of a post.

The home team continued to press hard and Howson saw his shot cleared off the line.

As the visitors lost what little discipline they still possessed, there was a chaotic finish. In the second minute of injury time, the referee reduced the Dons to eight men when he dismissed Peter Leven for a disgraceful assault on Neill Collins.

Seconds later the final whistle sounded to confirm a victory that left United within touching Jermaine Beckford looks on as referee Michael Oliver shows a red card to David McCracken of MK Donsdistance of promotion.

The impressive 19-year-old Watt said afterwards: "There is still a lot of work to do and a lot is riding on the last two games as we have to go out and win them. But I personally can't wait for the Charlton game. I am from London and this is a big game so I want to get a lot of my people to the game. Footballers are entertainers so we should enjoy the spotlight and be confident. It is our job to show people what we can do."

Phil Hay in the Yorkshire Evening Post: "Watt's involvement in the opening goal was the first act of a fine full debut, justifying Grayson's feeling that Saturday was the perfect time to make full use of his teenage loanee from Arsenal. It was a risky decision on Grayson's part and not a little brave.

"The scale of the occasion at Elland Road was never likely to hinder Watt; his debut for Arsenal was made earlier this season in front of a crowd of 56,000 at the Emirates Stadium. He needed no encouragement to involve himself in the contest, and his bubbly performance was only cut short by a series of minor injuries that eventually persuaded Grayson to replace him with the game effectively won. He left the field with two assists to his name."

The victory ensured United remained second in the table on 83 points, with Millwall's defeat of Leyton Orient keeping them a point behind. The Elland Road goal fest had restored parity between the two teams' goal difference, a matter that could yet prove decisive. Elsewhere, Charlton and Swindon both drew, leaving them on 79 and 78 points respectively. With two games remaining, the final promotion place seemed to rest between Leeds and Millwall.

Simon Grayson: "We've done well today and played exactly how I wanted us to play, a little more attack minded because goal difference could still be a big factor.

"We'd love to come back here in two weeks already promoted, in front of 37,000, but if it means coming back here needing to get a result, we'll take that... I would love to be promoted now but we have a lot of work to do... We have a belief and are on a decent run, having won four out of five games. It has been a good season but now we want to finish it off by gettingJermaine Beckford acknowledges the fans after the defeat of MK Dons promoted.

"It was a game that had everything... You'd got goals, sending offs, a penalty, and plenty of goalmouth incidents. We'd started well and really took the game to them. We did concede a sloppy goal, but we worked the ball around well after that and that told in the end. We could have had eight, but you can't complain when you win 4-1. We kept going, and it was important in terms of the goal difference."

The manager heaped praise on Beckford for his late brace: "I dropped him for a reason and he's responded in the right manner. I hope we'll get more goals from him before the end of the season. He has had criticism and maybe it has motivated him to do better... He is like any player - he can't play well all the way through the season and he was always going to have a dip in form. All our players have had one and he had it in the four or five games before we dropped him.

"Jermaine realises what it is all about. The reception he got when coming off the bench shows he is loved... Jermaine has shown patience and worked hard. He just got on with it. He scored two against MK Dons but could have got three or four. It is great for a team to have someone with 30 goals to his name on the bench, it makes opposition teams nervous.

"Thirty goals is a great achievement, especially after the barren run he went through. He is a natural scorer. Like every other player, he has flaws but the one thing he does is score goals."

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