Saturday, October 23, 2010

Yorkshire Evening Post 19/10/10
Somma and Becchio are striking up top partnership
By Phil Hay
It is a compliment to the squad at Elland Road that many weeks have passed since Simon Grayson was last asked to discuss Jermaine Beckford, a striker who once seemed irreplaceable.
Grayson was questioned throughout the summer about the likely implications of losing an asset as reliable as Beckford had been, and the 26-year-old's name might easily have cast a shadow over Leeds United's season. As it is, Beckford is yet to be missed.
United's resources are not without weaknesses or their performances free of imperfections, but no issue can be taken with their reliability in front of goal. Again on Saturday, they showed themselves to be a team who know how to find the net.
Davide Somma's seventh goal of the season and Luciano Becchio's fifth claimed a 2-1 victory from a game at Middlesbrough in which United's shots on target numbered five. On only one occasion in 13 matches have the club drawn a blank, and only then because of a crossbar and an offside flag at Doncaster Rovers. It is the area of proficiency in which Leeds are most suited to the Championship.
The partnership of Becchio and Somma was a telling factor at the Riverside, and their volleys in either half decisive. Grayson was not the only person present who looked on with admiration as Somma opened the scoring and Becchio concluded it with one of the finest goals he has scored in three years with Leeds. His finish deserved to win the game.
Even comparisons with Beckford are flattering, with a quarter of the Championship season completed. Somma's record is better than Beckford's was at the same stage of the 2009-10 campaign, a season in which the latter scored 31 times; Becchio's is fractionally worse. The Argentinian was a popular choice for man-of-the-match at Middlesbrough.
"Luciano's goal was fantastic," Grayson said. "Him and Somma were very lively. They got our goals but I'm just as pleased with their work-rate and their retention of the ball. It allowed the midfield to get up and support them.
"They're a real handful at the moment and they complement each other well. They're playing with a lot of confidence which doesn't surprise me because of all the goals they've got.
"Scoring regularly is always a good trait to have and those two are backing up their ability with goals. They're causing the opposition problems and it makes my job easier – when they're scoring on a regular basis, I don't have to look for anyone else to do it."
Becchio's performance at the Riverside was typical of him, a display of tenacity and tireless aggression that yielded an exceptional goal in the second half. Somma, meanwhile, had the rare pleasure of scoring in a Leeds win having seen his previous four downgraded to consolations in defeats to Leicester City, Barnsley and Preston.
The pair were not necessarily Grayson's obvious strikeforce, particularly once Ross McCormack moved north from Cardiff City for a six-figure fee at the end of August, but they are likely to be his preferred combination for the foreseeable future. Only Jamie Mackie and Chris Iwelumo, of QPR and Burnley respectively, have bettered Somma's tally of Championship goals.
Grayson first brought the South African and Becchio together for Leeds' Carling Cup tie against Leicester at Elland Road on August 24, a night when City fought back from a goal down to win the second-round tie with goals from Richie Wellens and Steve Howard.
United did not lament their elimination at length but they would rue a repeat of that result tonight after a precious away win from Middlesbrough. Both Grayson and his Senegalese midfielder, Amdy Faye, spoke afterwards about the pressing need to establish consistency, beginning with Leicester's second visit to Elland Road. Victory at the Riverside was Leeds' second in six games.
"It's a big result because we wanted some momentum," said Grayson. "After 10 or 11 games, I wanted us to be in the top half of the division and in a good position."You need consistency in every division but even more so in the Championship. Middlesbrough's a good start."
Leicester made their first outing under Sven Goran Eriksson in a 1-1 draw with Hull City on Saturday and the former England coach has a demanding job on his hands. Relegation is a concern for Leicester, months after their appearance in the Championship play-offs, and their defence leaked 10 goals in their previous two away fixtures.
Grayson did not witness that porous tendency when Leicester won at Elland Road in August, or the crisis of form and confidence that cost Paulo Sousa his job as manager at the end of last month. How much he will draw from that contest is questionable after the change of personnel that brought Eriksson to the Walkers Stadium a fortnight ago.
Eriksson took immediate action to repair City's defence last week by signing Curtis Davies on loan from Aston Villa and Kyle Naughton on a temporary basis from Tottenham Hotspur but he has already asked the viewing public to wait until Christmas before evaluating his tenure. The Thai owners who now control Leicester would doubtless expect him to improve the club's league position much sooner than that.
City's appearance at Elland Road is the first of two home fixtures awaiting Leeds this week; Cardiff City, on account of their impressively high ranking in the Championship, are arguably the more daunting proposition. Eriksson's attacking options are meagre with Matt Fryatt serving a three-match suspension but Grayson wisely guarded against under-estimating a besieged Middlesbrough team and will promote the same message to his players.
"Leicester's a big game as well," said Grayson. "Every game in the Championship is.
"I don't think you can single out matches that are easier than others or say that because we're at home we'll win tonight. You have to look at each game in exactly the same manner."