Part 2 Losing their way - Part
3 Results, table and transfers - printer
After the high drama of the club's
promotion campaign, a dilemma faced Leeds United supporters
in the summer of 2010: should they be satisfied with consolidation
or dreaming of a first-time advance into the top flight? A relegation
dogfight was just not on the agenda, but the club's last
experience of the Championship had been a desperate one.
According to the eve of season poll in the Leeds Leeds Leeds
magazine, 'Building a platform for 2011/12' was the priority for
more than half of respondents, though 43% expected United to finish
in the Play Off places.
Manager Simon Grayson was bullish: "We are not in the Championship
to make up the numbers, we are in it for promotion… but the sensible
aim would be to make sure that we don't waste a lot of seriously
hard work by going straight back down. It took the club three
years to get out of League One and the last thing we want is to
risk going back there.
"I'd like us to have a go at the Play Offs and if the squad here
realise their potential then I think we can. But if it doesn't
happen and we end up halfway down the table then we have to be
honest enough to class it as a decent season and remember that
we were new to the league.
"We believe we have a group capable of performing at this level.
The younger ones who haven't played in the Championship should
be excited about the places they are playing and the teams they
are playing and the crowds they will play in front of. Those that
have played here before, we will be looking at them to help the
The team was unquestionably stronger than that
relegated in 2007, but most of the players were untried at
this level and it was difficult to predict how they would adapt.
back to top
The announcement of the retained list on 14 May confirmed that
Casper Ankergren, Rui Marques and reserve player Andrew Milne
would not be offered new contracts, while Alan Sheehan, Lubo Michalik,
Andy Robinson and Tresor Kandol were advised to "actively seek
to find a new club for the 2010/11 season even though they are
still under contract"; veteran striker Paul Dickov had already
departed at the end of a short term contract to take up his first
managerial appointment, at Oldham Athletic; and young reserves
Tom Elliott, Tom Lees, Alan Martin and Liam Darville were loaned
out to lower league clubs.
Andy Hughes accepted a new one-year deal but Jermaine Beckford
ended a four-and-a-half year stay by completing his widely-anticipated
Bosman transfer to Everton. Leeds agreed to terminate Beckford's
contract on 28 May, rather than allowing it to run to its formal
end on 30 June.
Since signing from Wealdstone in March 2006, Beckford had scored
in 150 appearances for United. He paid an emotional farewell on
the club's LUTV channel, saying that he broke down in the dressing
room after scoring the goal
that clinched promotion: "I got to the changing rooms and
put my head in my hands and the tears dripped down my face… I
can still feel it now talking about it. It felt like such a weight
had been lifted.
"I've enjoyed every single moment… The fans have been amazing
and they have opened up my eyes to what football should be about."
The exodus left United manager Simon Grayson free to reshape
his squad and he was quick off the mark, impressing with his first
signing, goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, son of Manchester United
legend Peter. Signed from League Two champions Notts County, where
he had kept 24 clean sheets and been named PFA League Two Player
of the Year, the 23-year-old Dane agreed a two-year contract.
The rest of Grayson's summer signings were more mundane: Paul
Connolly (Derby, right-back), Fede Bessone (Swansea, left-back),
Billy Paynter (Swindon, striker), Neill Collins (Preston, centre-back,
returning after a successful loan period), Lloyd Sam (Charlton,
midfield), Alex Bruce (Ipswich, centre-back), Honduran international
forward Ramon Nunez and loanees Sanchez Watt (Arsenal, winger)
and Adam Clayton (Manchester City, midfield).
There were rumours of other arrivals, but such interest as there
was in midfielders Nick Montgomery, James McArthur and John Eustace,
former United men Ian Harte and Rob Hulse, and strikers Billy
Sharpe and Gary Hooper came to nothing.
Perhaps the most important deal was the three-year extension
signed by the manager himself on 13 July, thwarting interest from
Chairman Ken Bates said: "I'm very pleased. Simon has committed
his future to the club despite enticing offers from elsewhere.
We have every confidence in him. He has won two promotions in
his managerial career - one here and one at Blackpool - and we're
hoping he can make that a hat trick at the club where he first
Pre-season injuries sustained in Slovakia and Norway by Paynter
and Robert Snodgrass meant they would miss the opening weeks;
Grayson was disappointed with a 4-0 defeat at Bury, though there
was one decent performance against higher class opposition, with
a Max Gradel cracker crowning a 3-1 defeat of Wolves.
For the opening day fixture, at home to Derby County, Grayson
was deprived of Gradel, Snodgrass, Paynter and Davide Somma through
suspension and injuries and was forced to go for Luciano Becchio
as lone striker, flanked by Watt and Sam. Schmeichel, Connolly
and Bessone debuted in defence and the side was made up by skipper
Richard Naylor, Collins, Neil Kilkenny, Jonny Howson and Bradley
United didn't look out of place in their new surroundings, but
in the end only a sterling debut in goal by Kasper Schmeichel
staved off a heavy defeat.
Derby took the lead after 13 minutes: midfielder Paul Green robbed
Howson at midway and United defenders backed off as he played
in former Elland Road favourite Rob Hulse. Hulse took the pass
in his stride and clipped a shot around Schmeichel's
despairing dive. The striker declined to celebrate the effort,
perhaps in deference to his former employers.
United sprang back to equalise within two minutes. As Derby sought
to work their way out from the back, Becchio chased down Leacock
and the defender's loose ball left Robbie Savage in trouble. Howson
was on it in a trice and slipped past the wrongfooted Savage,
running on into the area as two County defenders converged on
him. Spotting Becchio in yards of space on the blind side, Howson
clipped the ball back nicely, allowing the South American to slide
back to top
Shortly afterwards, Naylor's shot clipped the Derby crossbar
but after 26 minutes the Rams regained the lead, when Kris Commons
scored from a penalty after Sam was adjudged to have tripped Tomasz
Cywka in the United box.
Collins was the second man to rattle the Derby woodwork, but
the rest of the action was with the Rams and Schmeichel denied
them with a man of the match performance, prompting Simon Grayson
to comment, "Kasper Schmeichel made some fantastic saves for us.
He is a big personality with a big stature like his dad. His distribution
and shot-saving were very good."
It was United's first opening day defeat since August 1989 -
the same season Howard Wilkinson led the club to promotion - and
Grayson said there were plenty of things to take from the game:
"I thought we did well at times and I was pleased with a lot of
things, but there's also things to work on if we are to do well…
You have to play your football in the right areas. We want to
be known as a team who like to pass the ball around but it has
to be done at the right time and we didn't do that against Derby.
We were done twice on the counter attack and it showed me that
we needed to work on when to play, when to go long and how to
combat good players… When teams break, they break quickly and
they have the quality to punish you. You can't give opportunities
in this league because the players at this level take them more
often than they did in League One."
After that, the Carling Cup-tie against Lincoln City was a breeze;
United won 4-0, any nerves settled by a 2nd-minute goal from Howson.
Becchio doubled the advantage five minutes later and Sam and Neil
Kilkenny completed the rout.
United next faced Nottingham Forest at the City Ground and, after
falling behind to a ninth-minute Dexter Blackstock header, fought
back to share the spoils with a Sam equaliser.
An 18-man melee ten minutes from time dominated the headlines.
Forest full-back Chris Gunter probably should have been dismissed
for stamping on Watt after a coming together, but the referee
satisfied himself with cautions for the two players. United were
later fined £7,500 and warned as to their future conduct, while
Forest were fined £12,500 and Gunter given a three-game ban.
The Yorkshire Post's Richard Sutcliffe credited Grayson
for a tactical switch: "United, employing the same 4-3-2-1 formation
and personnel that Derby County had found to their liking on the
opening day, simply weren't in the same class as their hosts.
Run ragged in midfield and with Luciano Becchio receiving little
support as a lone frontman, Leeds offered nothing to suggest a
fightback was on the cards. But, after having seen his side opened
up almost at will once too often, United manager Simon Grayson
took decisive action as Sanchez Watt was pushed forward in a 4-4-2
formation. The transformation was instant. Freed from the duties
that had come with being the holding player in a three-man midfield,
Neil Kilkenny began to exert more and more influence. Bradley
Johnson also became a major threat along with Lloyd Sam and the
pair combined beautifully for United's 36th minute equaliser."
The first Championship victory of the season came a week later
when Leeds hosted Millwall in a fixture that had become infamous
over the preceding six seasons.
United had beaten the Lions just once in six meetings; memories
of Millwall's Elland Road win in March were still fresh in the
memory and Kenny Jackett's side had been victorious in the Play
Off semi-finals in 2009.
Millwall took the lead after 15 minutes when Naylor, under token
pressure from Kevin Lisbie, headed into his own net, but Sam equalised
just after the half hour. Becchio played the ball into Sam's path
and the winger struck a fierce low drive past keeper David Forde.
That boosted the Whites' confidence, but they couldn't find a
cutting edge and failed to turn possession into clear cut opportunities,
though Collins headed against a post.
After 75 minutes, Grayson brought South African striker Davide
Somma on for his League debut in place of Fede Bessone as United
looked to force a win.
Within four minutes the change paid dividends; Forde, under pressure
from Becchio, flapped at a Connolly cross and Watt returned the
ball; Somma, with his first touch of the game, hammered home his
first Leeds goal to send United supporters into raptures.
back to top
That was only the prelude to extraordinary injury time scenes
when Somma added a third goal,
showing brilliant footwork to score after taking a 50-yard Howson
The South African's clinical finishing made him an instant cult
hero. "I felt I had a point to make after missing the start of
the season," said Somma, who spent the previous campaign on loan
at Chesterfield and Lincoln. "I believe I can take on the role
of main striker that Beckford filled… I'd always back myself to
take a high proportion of the chances that come my way and I am
confident of my ability to score 20 goals a season at this level."
There was an unbelievably positive tone among the community of
United fans after the game, more so than at any other time since
the coming of Tony Yeboah in the mid-90s and 'Somma-Time' rapidly
became the new catchphrase.
The display earned the striker a start in the Carling Cup-tie
with Leicester during the week, when Max Gradel made his first
appearance of the season.
Somma headed a 32nd-minute opener from a Gradel centre, and United
seemed set to build on the Millwall result. However, they lost
their way in the second half after Richie Wellens brought City
level and Steve Howard netted a penalty two minutes from time
to put Leeds out of the competition.
A couple of days later, Cardiff's Scottish international striker
Ross McCormack joined United on a three-year contract and before
the end of August the loan signing of Adam Clayton was converted
into a permanent arrangement.
In the midst of this, United won 1-0 at Watford, courtesy of
a sixth-minute Richard Naylor tap in. The victory edged United
up into the Play Off positions as they took a couple of weeks
off for the international break.
By the time they next took the field, on 11 September at home
to Swansea, United had enlisted two more players, 33-year-old
Senegalese international midfielder Amdy Faye, on a short term
contract, and Blackburn keeper Jason Brown on loan for a month
after Schmeichel sustained a foot injury.
After falling a goal behind to Stephen Dobbie's 13th minute effort,
United hit back strongly to beat Swansea with second half goals
from Bradley Johnson and Luciano Becchio, but their steady advance
abruptly halted three days later at Barnsley.
6,732 United fans in a crowd of 29,309 saw Jonny Howson smash
home a Neil Kilkenny corner in the third minute, but were in despair
as the game was thrown away by a feeble defensive display.
In the 42nd minute Bessone conceded possession inside his own
area, allowing Adam Hammill to cut the ball back for Garry O'Connor
to find the bottom corner for an equaliser. The lapse infuriated
Simon Grayson, who replaced Bessone with Andy Hughes three minutes
after the break. It was the South American's final appearance
in the United first team.
Barnsley took the lead after 49 minutes when Connolly and Higgs
failed to deal with Hammill's through ball and Jim O'Brien tapped
Matters went from bad to worse: in the 65th minute Diego Arismendi
scored from a Barnsley corner; 81 minutes - Neill Collins put
through his own goal; 82 minutes - Hammill crowned an excellent
performance by netting the home side's fifth of the night.
Substitute Somma collected his fourth goal of the season in fine
style with three minutes remaining, but it was mere consolation
on a disastrous evening, which left Simon Grayson furious and
the Barnsley fans chanting, "One team in Yorkshire…"
Grayson: "It was hugely disappointing, we were on the wrong end
of a 'doing.' We'd started well enough, got an early goal which
gave us a platform and we looked comfortable in the first half…
We made some wrong decisions and that contributed to their first
goal and that gave them a lift… The way we went to pieces in the
second half was hugely disappointing. We lost our hunger and desire.
You want to harry and hassle and they did it better than us. We
looked out on our feet with 15 minutes to go."
back to top
While many of the travelling fans headed for the exits following
Barnsley's fifth goal, they had been outstanding all night, with
the mood of those that remained defiantly positive. "They are
unbelievable," said Grayson. "How our fans can cheer our players
off amazes me after that. We bring 7,000 which is huge and they
were still singing and cheering."
When asked if there was a possibility of team changes for the
Friday night encounter with Doncaster, Grayson snapped, "Too right…
There were players sitting on the bench, players who travelled
to the game and players sitting at home who could have been playing.
Bessone got a bit of a knock but he would have come off anyway.
No-one who started the game did himself any justice whatsoever.
Whatever decisions I make on Friday, nobody will have any arguments
about the team I put out at Doncaster.
"Davide Somma came off the bench, had a couple of half chances
and scored and that is all you can ask of a player who comes on.
Obviously the damage was done at the other end of the pitch in
terms of mistakes made. We have training sessions on keeping the
ball but we gave it away too often. It was dreadful.
"I expect the players to bounce straight back in the next match.
They are hugely disappointed and rightly so. Every time we have
had a setback - and I don't want any more like this one - we have
responded in the right manner. That is what I am looking for now."
Connolly, Naylor and Bessone were unceremoniously dropped and
Luciano Becchio rested. Andy Hughes, Alex Bruce and Aidy White
were drafted into a new look back four and Ross McCormack and
formed a fresh attacking partnership with the fit again Robert
Snodgrass added to the bench.
There was some improvement and Doncaster had 40-year-old former
Leeds keeper Neil Sullivan to thank for keeping them in the game
as United did most of the pressing.
Somma struck the Rovers crossbar in the 23rd minute and then
flashed another effort inches wide. Then the South African was
denied by Sullivan when played in by Johnson's pinpoint pass.
United continued to dominate and thought they had earned all three
points when Somma netted after 74 minutes, but the effort was
disallowed for offside. United were disappointed again when Somma
appeared to be fouled in the area but referee Andy Woolmer was
unmoved by the appeals and the game finished goalless.
Days later, Simon Grayson reinforced the defence by bringing
in Northern Ireland international George McCartney on a month's
loan from Sunderland, an arrangement that was later extended.
McCartney made his United debut on 25 September against Sheffield
Richard Sutcliffe in the Yorkshire Post: "'I want to go
home, I want to go home,' sang the travelling Sheffield United
fans early in the second half before questioning the quality of
life in Leeds compared to their own home city.
"For much of this dreary and disappointing Yorkshire derby, the
sentiment about getting as far away as possible from Elland Road
was surely shared by many in the Football League's highest crowd
of the season. But, then, just when the 75th meeting between these
two old rivals seemed set to peter out into an equally unremarkable
finale, the game suddenly sprang into life.
"Perhaps fittingly, considering some of the dross that had been
served up over the previous 84 minutes, it was a mistake that
led to the winning goal. The unfortunate miscreant was Stephen
Jordan, the left-back being guilty of a horrendous fresh air kick
on half way when attempting to deal with an apparently aimless
clearance out of defence by Leeds.
"It allowed Robert Snodgrass, making his first appearance at
Elland Road since May following an injury-plagued start to the
season, to race clear before cleverly rolling a pass into the
path of Bradley Johnson who finished from close range.
"Now behind, the Blades belatedly cast aside their caution to
hunt an equaliser and, at last, the 33,622 crowd had a contest
"Robert Snodgrass' 89th minute dismissal for blocking a run by
Leon Britton - the Scot's second
booking of the afternoon after earlier being cautioned for not
retreating ten yards at a free kick - further cranked up the tension
and noise levels.
"Even then, there was still time for one last dramatic twist
as referee Anthony Taylor evened up the numbers by dismissing
Jamie Ward for what he deemed to be an over the top tackle on
"Such a thrilling finale to an otherwise wretched game of football
underlined just why the Championship is considered the most unpredictable
league of all."
There was a rude awakening three days later when United hosted
Preston in a remarkable game: after falling behind in the fourth
minute, Leeds came storming back to lead 4-1 by the 39th minute,
with Somma snaffling two of the goals. Even when Jon Parkin pulled
a goal back a minute later, the game seemed in the bag. Cue a
startling second half comeback with Preston
rattling in four goals to complete an astonishing 6-4 triumph.
It was heartbreaking stuff for Simon Grayson who acknowledged
the result as "embarrassing", going on to say, "I was lost for
words... ashamed… In the second half we completely capitulated
in terms of doing all the wrong things. There were too many players
playing as individuals and not as a team. There were too many
mistakes. I could be here all day and night talking about the
back to top
A 2-1 defeat followed against Ipswich Town with Alex Bruce dismissed
against his former club and goalkeeper Shane Higgs limping off,
to be replaced by Jason Brown. Amdy Faye made his debut and lasted
90 minutes in his first competitive outing for 14 months, giving
Grayson some cause for optimism: "He was comfortable. He did a
very tidy job for us in the middle of the pitch and he didn't
look out of place… He'll improve with every game he plays for
With Schmeichel and Higgs both injured, and loanee Brown the
only fit keeper, 36-year-old Tony Warner spent some time training
with a club for whom he played a few games in 2006. In the end,
however, it was 22-year-old Spurs custodian, Ben Alnwick, a former
England Under-21 cap, who filled the gap, arriving on a 28-day
loan deal, though he never featured in the United first team.
Jason Brown was on duty at Middlesbrough on 16 October and United
returned from Teesside with a 2-1 victory which effectively brought
an end to Gordon Strachan's reign as manager at the Riverside.
United took the lead after 12 minutes when Davide Somma continued
his impressive goalscoring run, accurately guiding the ball into
the bottom corner of the net from a left wing cross by Sanchez
Watt. Eight minutes after the break, Kris
Boyd brought Middlesbrough level when he scored from close range.
The equaliser did not stay United's momentum, and Luciano Becchio
fired home a spectacular left-footed volley in the 63rd minute
after Johnson had pulled the ball back across goal. Five minutes
later the South American almost netted his second when he struck
the woodwork with a terrific long range drive.
With Amdy Faye bringing some much needed stability to midfield
and Jonny Howson playing as well as he had all season, United
controlled long periods of the contest and fully merited their
victory, which Grayson hailed as a "big result". He added, "I
thought we showed that lessons have been learned from previous
games. We looked like a side who had learned how to deal with
the situation. It may have been boring to watch at times, as we
took the ball into the corner. But, to me, that trait showed we
have learned from mistakes.
"We showed character in the way we started and the way we came
back, but we also showed naivety at the start of the second half.
We have a belief we will get goals, but we have to know how to
kill games off as well, and we did that, and got a valuable three
Grayson's optimism proved unfounded; three days later United
lost 2-1 at home to Leicester.
An unchanged Leeds eleven was clearly out of sorts and Leicester
could have been four goals ahead in the opening quarter of an
hour. They got the goal their swift and intelligent football merited
when Tottenham loanee Kyle Naughton shrugged off challenges from
Somma and Snodgrass to come in from the right and score with a
shot which was deflected by Neill Collins.
Grayson threw on Gradel and Kilkenny for Snodgrass and Faye,
but there was no improvement and Steve Howard doubled the advantage
in the 81st minute.
Becchio got a consolation goal a couple of minutes later, but
United never looked like getting back on terms and Grayson described
the narrow scoreline as a flattering reflection of a display with
"no life or energy". It was all too familiar after the feeble
defeats to Barnsley and Preston and he admitted that his men had
been comprehensively outclassed.
Nevertheless, he expressed satisfaction with United's placing
in the table, saying, "If someone had offered us this position
at this stage I would have taken it. I know people have expectations,
but did people expect us to be at the top at this stage and steamrollering
the league? We've just come out of League One, we're playing better
quality opponents than we were last year, and this is a tough
division. We're in a decent position, but the frustration is that
we go to Middlesbrough on Saturday and perform well, then perform
how we did against Leicester a few days later."
He was even more furious after the following game, which saw
United crash to a third successive home defeat, by 4-0 to promotion-chasing
Cardiff City, an absolute disaster from start to finish.
Kasper Schmeichel made a surprise return in goal but was involved
in a comic misunderstanding with Alex Bruce in the 22nd minute
which gifted the opening goal. Bruce allowed a long clearance
from Cardiff keeper Tom Heaton
to bounce and then got in Schmeichel's way as he sought to make
amends, leaving Jay Bothroyd the easiest of tasks to place the
ball into an unguarded net. United never recovered and though
there was only that goal between them at the break, City added
three further scores before the hour and were simply in a different
Grayson acted swiftly to address the defensive shortcomings,
recruiting Irish international centre-back Andy O'Brien on loan
from Bolton. The manager commented: "We need a new centre-back
in there to give us dominance and experience.
back to top
"Andy has had a fantastic career, and has great experience. He's
a leader and will be a valuable member of the squad for the next
month. He brings to the table what maybe other people can't at
this moment in time. He's here for a month and hopefully all those
qualities that he has will rub off on our players over the next
few weeks... I want to see him organising people. He's an experienced
player who can bring out more from those around him. We have players
who we know are good players and I'd like to think Andy will help
O'Brien was given an immediate debut, on 30 October at Scunthorpe.
United came storming back to form, achieving their second win
in six games, inspired by a hat trick from skipper Jonny Howson
in the space of fifteen second half minutes.
After Max Gradel's opening goal was wiped out by a Scunthorpe
equaliser, the game slumped into a midfield stalemate, but in
the second period Howson was in scintillating form, scoring with
right foot, left foot and head as United ran riot, returning a
The 22-year-old, who continued to sport the captain's armband
in the absence of Richard Naylor, said afterwards: "It's my first
professional hat trick and on a personal note it's a good achievement.
It's always nice to get a goal whatever the circumstances, but
Saturday was extra special. I had the licence to go forward when
I wanted with Amdy and Killa sitting in behind. For me I think
that's my best position. I like to go forward and get in the box
and chip in with a few, and on Saturday I did that."
The game marked a switch from 4-4-2 to a more fluid 4-2-3-1 with
Howson given scope to push forward behind lone striker Becchio;
United looked far more impressive with the revised formation and
they stuck with it for the rest of the campaign.
United followed up with an impressive victory at Coventry, as
reported by David McVay for the Telegraph: "How many times
in the course of a lifetime does the neutral leave a football
ground feeling empathy for Leeds United? If the answer is an entirely
predictable 'never', then that legion of non-partisan supporters
should have been at the Ricoh Arena on Saturday, where the
visitors prevailed in a rousing contest of contrasting styles.
"Despite Coventry City's spirited second half recovery, Leeds
emerged with their third successive away win, a victory for fluent
football that lifted them to the fringes of the Play Off places.
"Even their often maligned followers deserved credit, booing
substitute Marlon King's every touch, a timely prick of the Coventry
conscience, perhaps, after their decision to employ a player who
has only recently been released from prison following his conviction
last year for sexual assault and actual bodily harm on a slight
20 year-old student.
"Those 6,000 travelling fans were rewarded early on when Jonathan
Howson headed Leeds into a fourth-minute lead after a clever dink
across the six-yard box by Robert Snodgrass. The same combination
created what should have been a second goal, but Howson's header
was off target this time. However, Snodgrass redeemed his captain
just before half time with a fine left foot shot to double the
"This was the largest League crowd, 28,184, at the Ricoh Arena
since it opened five years ago, the pity being that the lush,
flat turf befitting such a splendid stadium is seldom troubled
by the crude, long ball tactics employed by manager Aidy Boothroyd.
But the plan reaped a dividend early in the second half as a high
ball into the penalty area eventually fell to Lukas Jutkiewicz
whose close range header reduced the arrears. On the hour, however,
Richard Keogh's clumsy challenge felled Max Gradel in the 18-yard
box, and the Leeds winger converted the penalty to restore the
"That was eroded when Ben Turner's low effort eluded Leeds goalkeeper
Jason Brown in the 64th minute, again the result of a lofted centre
falling from the skies. Leeds, though, held on deservedly.
"Coventry harbour ambitions that many feel are beyond their station,
but they remain in the top six, propped up by a frenetic high-ball
tempo that is likely to defeat lesser sides than Leeds. It causes
headaches for opposing defenders but no dilemma for purists, who
surely would have acclaimed the beautiful game to which Simon
Grayson's team aspired."
The chronic home form continued on 9 November with United drawing
2-2 with Hull City, after Bradley Johnson sliced the ball into
his own net with eight minutes remaining. The midfielder had earlier
scored United's first goal, driving home from
the edge of the Hull penalty area to equalise Jon Bostock's 14th-minute
opener. When Andy O'Brien headed Leeds ahead after 71 minutes
it looked odds on a home victory.
At the time of Johnson's own goal, Hull were playing with ten
men following Bostock's dismissal for a second bookable offence;
Tigers captain Ian Ashbee was lucky not to follow suit when he
appeared to strike Luciano Becchio in the face with an elbow in
the closing minutes.
back to top
Grayson: "It's a game we should have won. When they went down
to 10 men we got sloppy and lackadaisical and if you do that you're
bound to get punished. It's cost us two points we should certainly
have picked up. That's down to our naivety because we didn't exploit
their weakness with 10 men or work them hard enough. I can't fault
the effort, commitment or attitude of the players and once we
went 2-1 up, I couldn't see us losing our lead. But we should
have stamped our authority on the rest of the game."
United were eighth, breathing hard on the Play Off positions,
and a 3-1 defeat of Bristol City on 13 November saw them rise
a place. The result came courtesy of a Becchio hat trick, completed
in the space of 22 minutes.
The club were still negotiating with the player over an extension
to his contract, and Simon Grayson commented, "Luciano has been
battered from pillar to post in the last few games, playing as
a lone striker, so I felt he needed a breather and started him
on the bench. We certainly reaped the rewards of sending him on
just after the hour. He was there in the right place at the right
time and fully deserved his hat trick because he has worked ever
so hard since he has been here. They were two great headers and
a clinical finish.
"The hat trick has probably increased his negotiation rights.
We are in negotiations with his representatives and we want to
keep him because he is a fantastic player and we want to hold
on to our best players. We will look to reach agreement but we
must stay within our wage budget. We are not going to any lengths
that would take us to the depths we've been at before. Hopefully
we can sign him on a deal we can afford."
Becchio agreed a three-and-a-half-year contract extension on
18 December, but negotiations were less successful with Bradley
Johnson, and when he refused the club's final offer, the midfielder
was transfer listed on 18 November. Another player whose contract
was in its final stages was Neil Kilkenny, and the discussions
with him proved every bit as fruitless as those with
United returned with draws from visits to Norwich and Reading
and when they recovered from falling a goal down at home to Crystal
Palace on 4 December to win the game with two Becchio goals in
the last ten minutes, they were back in the top six and starting
to believe that they could secure an unlikely promotion. The positivity
continued on 11 December with United snatching victory from the
jaws of defeat at Burnley.
Phil Hay in the Yorkshire Evening Post: "Leeds United
climbed to their highest League position for four-and-a-half years
with a sensational victory over Burnley, but captain Jonathan
Howson warned that premature focus on a second successive promotion
could destabilise the club's season.
"Howson converted an 85th-minute winner as Leeds recovered from
two goals down to claim a 3-2 victory at Turf Moor, jumping to
fourth position in the Championship for the first time since the
penultimate weekend of the 2005/06 season.
"United were on the brink of a first defeat in eight League games
after conceding twice in the first half, but Howson's sublime
20-yard finish was the crowning moment of a breathless fightback
inspired by earlier goals from Max Gradel and Luciano Becchio.
"Leeds have held a Play Off position for much of this season,
dropping down their division for a brief time during a run of
poor form in October, but the club are within two points of the
Championship's automatic promotion places following Cardiff City's
defeat at Middlesbrough on Saturday."
Promotion hopes burned ever more brightly after Leeds saw off
table-topping QPR on 18 December, a result that took them second
in the table, just three points behind the leaders.
The tractors had to be called in at Elland Road to ensure that
the pitch was playable following overnight snow and United were
one of only a handful of clubs to beat the big freeze. Relieved
to be playing, the Whites looked to pressurise during a positive
opening and took the lead after 25 minutes.
Connolly took the ball down the right before flicking inside
to Snodgrass. The Scot worked his man inside and out before flighting
a cross high to the back post for Howson to challenge. The ball
deflected high into the air and goalkeeper Paddy Kenny should
have come out to gather but hesitated and allowed it to drop for
Gradel to hammer home from the edge of the six-yard box.
United continued to have the better of the play and increased
their lead in the 70th minute. Max Gradel made forty yards down
the left and when Fitz Hall stood back Gradel took his chance.
He wrongfooted the defender and fired home from eight yards.
Shortly afterwards, Gradel limped off to thunderous applause
after his finest performance in a United
shirt, on a day when the side gave its best home display of the
back to top
Simon Hart in the Independent: "During the downward spiral
that brought Leeds United two relegations, two Play Off defeats
and one administration, the club's stature must have been like
a millstone around the neck. Yet such things as tradition and
support can galvanise at other times and it felt that way on Saturday
as Leeds' push for a Premier League return gained momentum with
a victory over leaders Queens Park Rangers that lifted them to
second in the Championship.
"Before the kick off Eddie Gray, a stalwart of the Don Revie
era, spoke with confidence about Leeds' squad having the quality
and depth for automatic promotion. After an hour, that belief
had gripped the whole ground as, with Leeds leading 1-0, fans
on all four sides of Elland Road stood swirling scarves and singing
an old hymn from Gray's own playing days. 'We are the champions,
champions of Europe' may not fit the second tier setting - and
QPR manager Neil Warnock accused Leeds of overdoing the celebrations
after the game as the visitors suffered a second straight defeat
after a 19-game unbeaten start - but it showed the renewed optimism
at a club last in the top flight in 2004.
"Of promotion, Grayson believes that 'somebody will eventually
take this club back because of the facilities, the fan base, the
size and the history', but knows that a tough Christmas period
beckons, including visits to Leicester and Cardiff. 'There are
big games coming up but we are going into that run with a lot
of confidence,' added the manager, whose weekend got even better
when top scorer Luciano Becchio signed a new contract after the
"Leeds have not lost since Cardiff thumped them 4-0 at Elland
Road on 25 October, an improvement which has coincided with embracing
a 4-2-3-1 formation. They look solid defensively and are fluid
in their attacking play."
The success seemed certain to continue on Boxing Day when goals
from Gradel and Snodgrass gave United a 2-0 advantage at Leicester,
but they let their lead slip, conceding twice in five madcap minutes,
and had to be content with a 2-2 draw.
Amazingly, they did the same two days later, at Elland Road against
Gradel and Howson put them two up in the first ten minutes; David
Nugent pulled one back just after the half hour, but Johnson restored
the two-goal advantage on the hour. Within sixty seconds, Pompey
reduced the arrears and in the second minute of injury time, Andy
O'Brien conceded an own goal, deflecting an innocuous cross past
Kasper Schmeichel. The defender was inconsolable after an inexplicable
lapse that ruined all his side's good work.
United had earlier looked to have had an obvious penalty denied
for a challenge by Ibrahim Sonko on Ross McCormack and a goal
by McCormack was also disallowed.
Simon Grayson: "It is frustrating because we could quite easily
have had six points this Christmas. Individual errors cost us
again, we switched off at 3-1 and then a lack of communication
led to their equaliser… McCormack had a stonewall penalty appeal
turned down, the linesman was only 15 yards away. For the disallowed
'goal', the ball went in the box and the 6ft 4ins goalkeeper couldn't
get to it. But a foul was given. Our fans are knowledgeable and
would not give the referee the stick they did at the end for any
old reason. I won't say any more. Apart from they were right."
Nevertheless, the unbeaten run stood at eleven and United were
fourth, level on points with Cardiff, who held the second automatic
At the start of the season that would have seemed a very satisfactory
position. It was confirmation of how far the club had come that
the mood around Elland Road at the end of the year was one of
disappointment, regret at not being even higher.
Could 2011 see a return to the Promised Land of the Premier League?
Part 2 Losing their way - Part
3 Results, table and transfers - printer
back to top