Season 2009/10 Part 3
Cup highs and league lows
After six years of decline, 2010 promised to be the turning point for Leeds United: on 1 January they led the League One table, eleven points clear of the third-placed club. They would never have a better opportunity of getting out of the third tier of English football.
To add to the excitement they pulled off a memorable victory over Manchester United in the FA Cup at Old Trafford on 3 January. They won a passionate encounter by virtue of Jermaine Beckford's 19th-minute goal and a magnificent all round team display.
Simon Grayson claimed it as a 'fantastic day for this football club', echoing the feelings of United fans everywhere as Leeds ended a 29-year drought at the Theatre of Dreams.
Strangely, however, the triumph triggered a loss of form in the League. Many laid the blame at the feet of Beckford's agent as he tried to secure a move to the Premiership.
There were ongoing rumours of a big money bid in the transfer window. Beckford's existing contract was due to end in the summer when he would be available on a free transfer. This was the final opportunity for Leeds to cash in on him.
Newcastle tabled a £1.25m bid, later increased to £1.5m and then £1.8m. Leeds insisted they would wait for a "ridiculous" offer, rumoured to be nothing less than £2m.
In the days following the Old Trafford victory it was revealed that Beckford had submitted a transfer request on 30 December. Within a fortnight, however, he withdrew his request, saying, 'I have decided to withdraw my transfer request and commit my immediate future to Leeds United. It was never a comfortable decision to ask for a transfer in the first place, but after the game against Manchester United and the unbelievable reaction from the Leeds United supporters in the Wycombe match I have decided I want to finish what I have been striving to do for the last two seasons - and that is to help promote Leeds United out of a division which the club doesn't belong.'
A couple of days later, Beckford was reported to have signed a pre-contract agreement with Everton, with a move scheduled for the end of the season.
The Cup win at Old Trafford led to unanimous predictions that Leeds would quickly cement promotion. Their immediate fixtures looked straightforward, struggling Wycombe and Exeter, followed by the home leg of their Johnstone's Paint Trophy Northern Area final. However, they drew one game and lost the other two.
9 January at Elland Road against Wycombe began with happy recollections of Old Trafford but then the lowly visitors rattled a few cages.
Michael Walker in the Daily Mail: 'Manager Simon Grayson named Beckford in the team and when his name was read out there was a smattering of boos, but no wailing. There was even a song sung in honour of Beckford's FA Cup winner. Part of this reaction stems from Leeds fans' knowledge of Beckford as a miss-and-hit striker who has started only one Championship game in his career. If the club can get £2m for the 26-year-old five months before his contract expires and invest it in a forward who will help push them to promotion, then supporters will settle for that. "Who the f*** are Newcastle?" chanted the Kop at one stage and the irritation is with their northern rivals as much as the player.
'Beckford did little in this game, but he did not get injured. Leeds, unbeaten at home in the League since this day last year, took a fourth-minute lead when Wycombe goalkeeper Scott Shearer dived under Jonny Howson's shot. It felt like the beginning of a thrashing. We would be able to eulogise Leeds as the vanguard of an overdue Yorkshire revival. But no. Wycombe's long underrated Tom Doherty took over. Jon Paul Pittman, plucked from non-League like Beckford, hit a post. So did Scott Davies. Leeds keeper Casper Ankergren made a smart save from Stuart Beavon. Eventually, in the 64th minute, Pittman fired in a low equaliser. Second-bottom Wycombe remain second-bottom. Leeds remain top.'
Simon Grayson: 'It was a very average performance. People thought we would win the game and the phrase "after the Lord Mayor's Show" springs to mind ... We didn't win enough tackles and show enough application, but Wycombe came and played without fear and caused us more problems than Man U last weekend. But it's another point.'
Even worse was to come: the following week United lost 2-0 at Exeter City.
Grayson: 'The most disappointing thing was the way we started the game … We were still in the dressing room for the first five, 10, 15 minutes and we didn't play to the conditions as well as we should have done. It was a very difficult pitch and we wanted to play as if it was a normal, dry pitch. We had to play the percentage football and we didn't do that.'
Grayson hoped that the Johnstone's Paint game against Carlisle would see his men back on form, but they lost 2-1. They played well but could not convert their chances.
On 23 January United faced a star studded Tottenham Hotspur side in the FA Cup fourth round at White Hart Lane. It was every bit as thrilling an encounter as that at Old Trafford.
After seven minutes Spurs were awarded a penalty but Ankergren made a remarkable stop. Peter Crouch put Tottenham ahead just before half time, hinting at an avalanche of goals, but after 52 minutes Beckford flicked home an equaliser. When substitute Roman Pavlyuchenko restored Spurs' lead in the 76th minute, it looked all over, but not a bit of it. United were awarded an injury time penalty when Michael Dawson sent Beckford tumbling. With seconds remaining, Beckford was the coolest man in the stadium as he equalised.
The next day Simon Grayson completed a transfer deal he had been pursuing for several weeks, signing Max Gradel from Leicester City for a fee rumoured to be £500,000.
Gradel first arrived to Elland Road on a one month loan in October, later extended to January. Foxes manager Nigel Pearson had insisted that the Ivorian forward was not for sale, but his hand was forced when Gradel put in a transfer request.
The winger was an instant hit with the Elland Road fans, who had repeatedly pleaded with Grayson to 'Sign him up.' He had been used in the main as an impact substitute, with thirteen of his sixteen appearances coming from the bench.
Gradel was among the subs again when United visited fifth-placed Swindon Town on 26 January. They crashed to a 3-0 defeat, badly outplayed by motivated opponents.
Grayson: 'This was the complete opposite of Saturday at Tottenham. We were outfought and outbattled and got what we deserved. They seemed to want it more than us, they ran further than us, they tackled more than us ... We have to get back to being hard to beat.'
Steve Wilson in the Telegraph: 'What was telling about that defeat ... was the comprehensive nature of it. The first time Simon Grayson's side had been truly thumped this term, it marked an end to their already fading veneer of superiority.'
It looked ominous for Leeds' chances of promotion and their home game with fourth-placed Colchester United on 30 January was a crucial test.
They had two players on debut after the arrival of Aston Villa defender Shane Lowry and Birmingham City forward Gary McSheffrey on loan deals. The duo made promising contributions to United's best performance for weeks; Beckford scored both goals in an emphatic 2-0 victory that came as a major relief to Grayson.
'We were back to our usual selves,' said the manager. 'We were on the front foot, we were closing people down and created good chances ... They are a hard side to play against, but we managed to show our battling qualities. We were dogged, resilient, and when we got the chance to play we did. The penalty just before half time gave us a boost, but we had half chances before then and in the second half we put the pressure on.'
On 1 February, David Prutton completed a permanent move to Colchester after an initial loan period went well. United's official website carried an open letter of gratitude to the fans from the popular midfielder, who signed himself off 'aka Jesus' in acknowledgment of the supporters' nickname for him.
Two days later United faced Tottenham in the replay of their fourth round tie. England striker Jermain Defoe missed a bagful of chances, but gave Spurs a 37th minute lead with a miscued shinner. Never-say-die United were level at the break, however, after Becchio scored. Defoe finally came good in the second half, completing his hat trick in the third minute of injury time to end United's Cup adventure.
There was another anti climax when United returned to League action at Hartlepool on 6 February. They were 2-1 ahead through two Becchio goals as the game went into injury time. With only ten seconds remaining, Antony Sweeney rose to head an unexpected equaliser.
Happily, chief promotion rivals Norwich lost 2-1 at Millwall and United closed the gap on the Canaries to a couple of points with two games in hand; Charlton's own loss of form continued as they drew at Swindon to register a fourth game without a victory.
During the following week, Leeds faced Carlisle in the second leg of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy Northern Section final, desperate to overturn the 2-1 deficit from the first game and qualify for the national final at Wembley. It was an exciting encounter.
Becchio, looking to maintain his scoring run, had a chance after nine minutes but dragged his shot wide from the edge of the penalty box and Carlisle drew first blood in the 33rd minute. A mistake by Michalik was seized upon by Adam Clayton, who found the gap between Ankergren and his post to stretch Carlisle's aggregate advantage to 3-1.
When McSheffrey wasted an opportunity by shooting straight at keeper Adam Collin, Leeds were heading out of the competition, but they were back in contention a minute after the resumption. Snodgrass pounced on Ian Harte's poor headed back pass to score his first goal of 2010.
Grayson replaced Doyle and Howson with Johnson and Kilkenny in the 66th minute, and three minutes later Crowe had the ball in Carlisle's net, only to be ruled offside. The home side restored their two-goal advantage after 72 minutes, Kevan Hurst finding the net from inside the 18-yard box with Michalik again at fault.
Grella came on for Naylor in the 79th minute. Within sixty seconds Crowe powered home Leeds' second goal of the night to make it 3-4 on aggregate. United needed another goal to take the tie to penalties and it came with four minutes to spare, Grella heading in McSheffrey's cross.
The momentum was with Leeds, but Carlisle regained the advantage when Johnson missed United's first penalty after Harte had converted. Snodgrass, McSheffrey, Grella and Gradel were all successful and, when Keogh missed the penultimate Carlisle spot kick, the contest entered the sudden death stage.
Horwood scored for Carlisle, but Kilkenny kept Leeds alive. Robson put the Cumbrians ahead and Lowry missed to condemn United to a 6-5 defeat.
Ecstatic home supporters poured onto the Brunton Park pitch to celebrate and it appeared that Lowry and Snodgrass were assaulted. Simon Grayson complained to police officers afterwards: 'I can put up with the exuberance but players want a little bit of safety. I have a problem with the people in charge not doing anything about it. I'm disappointed with how the stewarding and policing reacted. Three of my players have been caught by punches.'
He was pleased with the performance, though, saying, 'From the first whistle until the last it was a fantastic effort and with a few more breaks we would have won the game. We created opportunities, and while it was disappointing to let them get back in the driving seat, we kept pressing and got our rewards by taking the tie to penalties ... We're all disappointed, but we can't dwell on it.'
United's match at Leyton Orient on 13 February was another draw which was settled by an injury-time goal, but this time it was Leeds who were the fortunate team, with Charlie Daniels' own goal in the fourth minute of injury-time getting the Whites back on terms. Mamika Mkandawire's 83rd minute header had looked like earning all three points. United's goal came from Bromby's long throw. Orient failed to clear the ball and Becchio's miscued effort was deflected into the net.
In the circumstances, it was a point gained rather than two dropped and United now had an opportunity to bolster their faltering challenge with three successive games at Elland Road.
The sequence started badly: a 2-1 defeat to Walsall prompted an angry rant from Grayson: 'The first half was unacceptable ... We were devoid of too many things and I made my feelings known at half time… We got what we deserved.'
Three days later a goal from Snodgrass in the fifth minute of injury time was required to rescue a point against Brighton. The United bench were understandably delighted by the late reprieve, but their celebrations prompted a fierce spat with Albion manager Gus Poyet, assistant manager at Elland Road under Dennis Wise.
Poyet: 'I am very surprised by the manager, playing against a team in the bottom four, going across the fourth official and celebrating the way he did in front of our players. I am really sad for him and his assistant (Glynn Snodin) ... I would be very disappointed if Leeds didn't beat Brighton but they celebrated the goal as if they were winning the league.'
Two second half Becchio goals secured a 2-0 victory against Oldham on 23 February. United had now taken ten points from the nine games played since Old Trafford. Further draws at Huddersfield and at home to Brentford left them seven points behind Norwich, with Charlton Athletic now just two points adrift. There was a massive collective sigh of relief when United bounced back with a 4-1 victory at Tranmere on 9 March.
Robert Snodgrass got United off to the perfect start in the ninth minute. His wicked free kick was missed by Kisnorbo but the ball sailed on into the net. Seven minutes later Beckford doubled that advantage, netting from the penalty spot after McSheffrey had been brought down.
Even when John Welsh pulled one back for the Merseysiders in the 19th minute after a short corner move, it could not hold the Leeds charge.
Neat midfield play in the 34th minute by Howson gave Beckford some space on the right and his instant high centre was met perfectly by a diving Becchio to put United three up.
Leeds continued to look assured in the second half, with Beckford showing some clever touches. He went close with a speculative drive but his second goal and Leeds' fourth soon arrived as he latched on to a long ball to lob keeper Luke Daniels. He was only denied a hat trick by a smart save from Daniels after Becchio's inventive back heel.
Simon Grayson was as happy as he had been for months: 'We said after the weekend a result and a big performance was just around the corner ... We were composed on the ball. It's what we needed and what's been coming. You could sense over the past week we've been getting back to that ... We looked solid at the back and our midfield was excellent. On Saturday we didn't get our rewards, but at Tranmere our quality came through.'
It was just as well that United had got their act together, for the four games that followed promised to test their nerves to the limit: Southampton away, Millwall home, Norwich away and Swindon home.
St Mary's on 13 March was a stern examination and former United full-back Dan Harding put the Saints ahead after twenty-five minutes. The goal rattled Leeds and young left-back Aidan White was given such a run around by Jason Puncheon that he was replaced at half time by Bromby. The home side continued to dominate but failed to add to their tally.
It was disappointing, but what came next against Millwall was a major setback. United lost Kisnorbo with a ruptured Achilles inside five minutes, an injury which ended his season; they then conceded an 11th-minute goal and went on to lose 2-0. Millwall had won 10 of their previous 12 matches and were now third, within three points of second-placed Leeds.
Tony Paskin in the Daily Express: 'Leeds were without Jermaine Beckford due to a hamstring injury but Paul Dickov was as keen as ever to make an impression. Veteran forward Dickov raced on to Andrew Hughes' clearance but bundled Darren Ward to the ground in his enthusiasm to reach the net. With only five minutes on the clock, Patrick Kisnorbo had to be dragged away from Neil Harris.
'The first real chance fell to the visitors when Chris Hackett's long clearance picked out Morison. Former Stevenage striker Morison raced through but could only angle his s'ot wide, with Kisnorbo, who had to be taken off on a stretcher with what looked to be a knee injury, lying on the floor in agony. But with just 10 minutes gone, Millwall took the lead with a goal of quality. They cut through Leeds, with Danny Schofield feeding Liam Trotter. His cross picked out Morison, whose shot cannoned off keeper Casper Ankergren's chest and in at the near post. With 10 minutes remaining, Batt took the ball away from Hughes and cut in from the left before squeezing his shot just inside Ankergren's post.'
Simon Grayson pulled no punches: 'It wasn't good enough ... They were the better team. They were hard to beat, got in tackles, and with the ball they were better. We have players who can do a lot better and they didn't do it … None of our players won individual battles. Everybody can accept the plaudits when things are going well but you have to roll your sleeves up.'
United's astonishing collapse was featured on the BBC website four days later, under the headline, 'Has beating Manchester United undermined Leeds' season?'
'After a series of false dawns, the shock victory [at Old Trafford] seemed to confirm what the first five months of the season had suggested; that the revival of the fallen Leeds United Football Club was well under way. Going into the game at Old Trafford, the Yorkshire side had played 23 games in League One and had won 17 of them. They led the table by eight points, with a game in hand on second-placed Charlton. Since that successful trip across the Pennines, Leeds have recorded only four wins from 18 fixtures and now trail pacesetters Norwich ... by the same eight-point margin they once held themselves.
'Now the momentous win over Manchester United may possibly prove to be the result that undermines their whole campaign.
'Former Leeds striker and BBC Radio Leeds summariser Andy Ritchie believes the win at Old Trafford and the two subsequent fourth round ties with Tottenham have affected the side. "Their form since the Cup exploits has been very patchy," admitted Ritchie. "Some of the players are looking jaded. It looks as though the FA Cup run has taken its toll. When Leeds were on song early on, whatever teams did to them they had the energy and pep to still go and outpass them, but this last month they have looked very tired. They have had some good performances since January, but it has been in fits and starts. You need a lot of energy to play how Leeds are aspiring to do and maybe they are just not getting the rest between games."
'Teams also appear to have worked out how to neutralise the threat Leeds pose. By flooding midfield and denying players time on the ball, the opposition frustrates and forces them to resort to long ball tactics, through desperation more than design. Ironically, Leeds found more time and space to play their desired style of passing football against Manchester United and Tottenham. But that time and space is not so readily available in League One.
'Leeds have not been helped by the tail off in form of some of their principle performers from the first half of the season. Midfielder Bradley Johnson ... is a shadow of the player he was pre-January, but most alarming of all is the contribution of star striker Jermaine Beckford, who has scored 5 goals from 12 League matches games since. There are mitigating circumstances. He has been troubled by a persistent hamstring injury and, more significantly for the team, remains at the centre of a destabilising transfer saga ... Whether Leeds were right to hold on to their 27-goal leading scorer and risk losing him for nothing in the summer when his contract expires remains an open debate, particularly among Whites fans.
'It is a similar situation in defence, where a series of injuries and dip in form have seen the team's goals-conceded-per-game average in all competitions increase from 0.59 to 1.56 either side of the Manchester United game. Anyone who has watched Leeds over recent months ... will testify to a team bereft of confidence.
'Perspective is important: Leeds remain second in League One by three points and with a superior goal difference to those below them. Automatic promotion remains in their own hands.'
The replacement for Kisnorbo was Preston centre-back Neill Collins, joining on loan for the rest of the campaign, as did 18-year-old Arsenal left winger Sanchez Watt. Collins played at table topping Norwich on 27 March and did well in a strong team performance, though it yielded them nothing.
Jonathan Liew in the Telegraph: 'The boots were flying as early as the 11th minute, with the unfortunate Luciano Becchio on the receiving end. Stooping to head the ball, he was instead met by the foot of Norwich's Michael Nelson. An anxious five-minute delay ensued, and after receiving oxygen on the pitch, Becchio left the field on his back.
'What the game was sorely lacking was a decent chance. Grant Holt had the best of them on the stroke of half time, blazing over from 16 yards when he had ample time to compose himself. The second half was little better. Stephen Elliott sliced wide for Norwich, while Jonathan Howson and Mike Grella, Becchio's replacement, should both have done better with shots from the edge of the area.
'Stalemate beckoned. Then, with time leaking away, Holt headed the ball on, Stephen Hughes ran down the right and delivered a cross for Martin, who flicked a near post header past a despairing Shane Higgs. It was crushingly unfair on Leeds.'
In the circumstances, the home game with Swindon on 3 April acquired the status of a 'must win' (or at least 'must not lose') game.
Will Swanson in the Telegraph: 'Millwall's home draw with Brentford the previous night had seen them snatch second spot in League One from Leeds United and push the Yorkshire club outside of the automatic promotion positions for the first time since the early days of the campaign. Leeds had the opportunity to re-address the balance, but reckoned without the guts and guile of Swindon Town. Danny Wilson's men arrived at Elland Road buoyed by their recent form which had propelled them to within one point of Simon Grayson's outfit.
'By the 55th minute the match was over as a contest when Swindon's Charlie Austin headed home his 17th goal of the season to give the Robins a 3-0 lead they never looked likely to relinquish. They now stand proudly in second place behind Norwich City. For Leeds ... the Play-Offs beckon now and it is by no means certain they will have the wherewithal to face them given the mental hammering they have endured over the last three months. They started brightly, but as has so often been the case since the turn of the year, they failed to turn their superiority into meaningful chances.'
Simon Grayson must have been getting as bored as the fans with his after match interviews, but he stuck steadfastly to the script: 'For 40 minutes I felt we did the right things, we created chances, and played some decent football. But once we conceded we never looked like coming back into the game.'
For the game at Yeovil on 5 April, Grayson made two changes to his starting eleven, bringing in Bromby and Gradel to replace Lowry and Grella; this was his last chance saloon.
The game kicked off early, giving United the chance to steal a march on their rivals.
Football is often more to do with psychology than physical effort, and something was different about United's demeanour in the opening half: they displayed the assurance that had been lacking, despite having failed to score in four successive games. Perhaps it was the return of Gradel, starting his first game since 13 February, playing in an advanced role. He was outstanding, recovering the zest of his early Leeds appearances.
Grayson: 'Max has enthusiasm and real quality. We saw his tremendous work rate and desire to affect the game at Yeovil. I left out Mike Grella because I wanted a fresh pair of legs a couple of days after the defeat against Swindon and Max grabbed his opportunity.'
The game marked the 10th anniversary of the killing of Leeds fans Chris Loftus and Kevin Speight in Istanbul and both teams wore black armbands. Supporters protested about the lack of justice in the case by turning their backs on the first minute of the game.
After 29 minutes' play, United got a free kick and Kilkenny fed Howson out on the right. He boomed over a cross to the far post where Naylor rose to nod the ball back towards goal. It looped unerringly into the net over a despairing dive from keeper McCarthy. The players celebrated en masse and you could see the confidence flooding back.
Within five minutes, Naylor did the trick again. Kilkenny found the captain at the near post with his corner and the centre-back headed home his second.
There were some moments of second half uncertainty after Bowditch pulled a goal back in the 66th minute, but Leeds withstood the pressure and registered a vital three points.
Grayson said afterwards, 'Set pieces are always a threat and Nayls got his rewards. It was about standing up and being counted and he was at the forefront of it all. The players have been criticised and put under pressure, but we're not getting carried away. We said before the game 'you have to win seven'. That's one out of the way. There's six more to go now. There is a unity and they did hurt after the weekend - that's why I played the majority of the same side. It shows that they're sticking together. Today we had a belief and desire to put things right. The players are wounded at times when they've underperformed and not got the results. It has been tough for them but hopefully it's been a major kick up the backside.'
When United played Southend at Elland Road on 10 April they had a disappointing (and goalless) first half. Becchio came on for Beckford in the 58th minute and within two minutes Gradel opened the scoring. Beckford had managed just three goals, one from the penalty spot, in thirteen starts since the end of January, and was off colour, as reported on United blog The Scratching Shed: 'Leeds United recorded their first back-to-back wins of the year with a 2-0 home win over struggling Southend. In a game the Whites dominated, Leeds also recorded their first clean sheet since the 2-0 victory over Oldham back in February.
'The game is unlikely to be remembered for another match winning performance from Gradel and an improved Leeds United side unfortunately, as the headlines will undoubtedly focus on the fans' continued criticism of Beckford. After failing to challenge the keeper for the ball, Beckford was booed by the fans and subjected to a chorus of 'You're not fit to wear the shirt' before the Leeds fans sang for Luciano Becchio.
'There's no denying Beckford's loss of form lately, but the fans' reaction was completely out of order. There's plenty of other players in the squad who have given inadequate performances and escaped being singled out because the fans know this squad is heavily reliant on our top goalscorer. It's an unfortunate position to be in for Jermaine as any loss of personal form usually leads to a loss of form for the entire team.
'After 58 minutes of frustration, Jermaine Beckford was replaced by the returning Luciano Becchio. It was unquestionably the right move from Simon Grayson as Beckford simply doesn't look like scoring at the minute. After his antics earlier in the season, it was good to see Beckford had learnt his lesson and left the field in a sporting manner seemingly accepting his performance was below par.
'Just two minutes after that substitution, Leeds United finally took the lead when Max Gradel's deflected shot beat the Southend keeper to give the youngster a much deserved goal and settle the nerves inside Elland Road. His excellent performance was capped with seven minutes to go when he provided the cross for Luciano Becchio to double the lead and secure the three points for Leeds United.
'Leeds United aren't doing anything different from what they were when Swindon visited, it just seems things are starting to run for us again. Against Swindon, we dominated almost entirely until they scored (rather fortuitously) and then the heads dropped and we were destroyed. Yesterday, we kept pressing and got our just desserts.'
Results elsewhere went well, with only Huddersfield and Millwall of the top six winning. United were still a point shy of second-placed Millwall, whose 4-0 hammering of Gillingham widened their goals difference superiority to four.
On 12 April, Swindon suffered a further setback by dropping two points at home to Exeter. The following day looked set to be decisive, with the other challengers all in action. Norwich were at Leyton Orient, Millwall at Yeovil, Charlton entertained Colchester, Huddersfield hosted Walsall while Leeds travelled to Carlisle.
Grayson retained the Becchio-Gradel pairing but otherwise the starting eleven was unchanged for a third successive game. Becchio gave United a 13th minute lead. Carlisle undeservedly drew level just before the break, but United scored twice within five minutes of the restart through Gradel and Becchio to secure an impressive 3-1 victory.
Elsewhere Charlton and Huddersfield won, but Norwich lost and Millwall could only draw; that made it an almost perfect evening for United who moved a point clear of the Lions.
Millwall hoped that their Friday evening fixture three days later at Huddersfield would give them a psychological advantage but things backfired badly as defender Peter Clarke headed a first half winner for the Terriers. The result left United needing three wins from their remaining four games to confirm promotion.
Leeds fans set off for Kent on 17 April convinced that they were home and dry. Anyone who has followed United for any time, though, knows there is no such thing as a formality and by the 33rd minute struggling Gillingham were 3-0 ahead and playing the Whites off the park.
It was only then that Leeds got going and Becchio pulled one goal back on the stroke of half time. Ten minutes into the second period Simon Grayson made a double change, bringing Ben Parker and Jermaine Beckford on for Andy Hughes and Robert Snodgrass as United changed to a 3-4-3 system with Parker playing on the left side of midfield.
United were now encamped in the opposition half. With five minutes left Beckford drew a penalty from a desperate Gills defender and smashed home the spot kick himself.
Four minutes of injury time brought fresh hope, and the Whites were unfortunate when Darren Dennehy escaped punishment for impeding Beckford in the area. The goal just would not come, though, and United lost by the odd goal in five.
The same afternoon, Norwich's victory at Charlton confirmed their promotion. Swindon drew at home to Walsall, when a win would have brought the Robins level with Leeds. Incredibly, the ball was still in United's court with three games remaining.
A week later, United had the chance to make amends at home to MK Dons.
Becchio and Gradel continued up front and Sanchez Watt was given his first start. It was the young loanee who made the first goal in the 13th minute, playing Becchio in. Dean Lewington popped up to equalise six minutes later, but United had no intention of missing their opportunity and Gradel restored the lead after 33 minutes. Beckford came on for Snodgrass after 76 minutes and scored almost immediately to make it 3-1. In the 84th minute, United were awarded a penalty for a foul on Beckford, who stepped up to net his second and complete a 4-1 victory.
Elsewhere Norwich wrapped up the title by beating Gillingham; Millwall kept up the pressure with a narrow victory against Leyton Orient, but both Swindon and Charlton were held to draws, leaving them four and three points respectively behind United.
On 1 May, Leeds travelled to meet Charlton, with Millwall at Tranmere.
Two men with Leeds connections helped the Merseysiders see off Millwall. Former striker Ian Thomas-Moore and Andy Robinson, on loan from Elland Road, scored as Tranmere won 2-0, the second goal coming just after the hour. At that point Leeds were goalless at the Valley, but a win was required to capitalise and Grayson went for it, bringing Beckford, Grella and Watt on to supplement the forward line.
It was Charlton, though, who scored with three minutes left, Richard Naylor being credited with an own goal. The defeat made little difference: United still required victory in their final game at home to Bristol Rovers to seal promotion, though Charlton, Swindon and even Huddersfield remained in with a shout, alongside main rivals Millwall.
8 May was a classic big day at Elland Road, with as much tension as any game in United's history. The players were understandably tense and the football refused to flow. But there was no excuse for the behaviour of Gradel, which almost destroyed United's hopes.
The winger sought retribution for an earlier foul by Daniel Jones, stamping on the Rovers left-back. Jones hit the floor like he'd been shot, and chaos ensued, with Leeds and Bristol players clashing violently. Gradel was dismissed but refused to go quietly. It required the physical intervention of Beckford and Doyle to drag him off the pitch.
Duffy gave Rovers the lead two minutes into the second half and Simon Grayson was left with little choice but to gamble. He brought Howson on for Lowry and within five minutes, the midfielder equalised with a stunning strike.
In the 63rd minute, Beckford pounced on a loose ball in the area to give United the lead. Elland Road erupted; if Leeds could hold on, they were up!
The passage was not a smooth one. There was too much at stake for that, but the Leeds players held on to the precious advantage. The final whistle was the signal for a mass pitch invasion as years of disappointment were exorcised in a gleeful, emotion-soaked display of celebration as promotion was confirmed. Players joined fans in the after match party to mark the occasion. The game had not been the most stylish, but few could query the excitement or commitment and no one would claim that Leeds did not know how to party!