Saturday, April 30, 2011
Leeds United 1 Burnley 0
The Scottish striker, Ross McCormack, making only his fifth start of the season, provided an emphatic first-half finish as Leeds clinched their first win in six matches to climb seventh in the table, level on points with Nottingham Forest, who play Scunthorpe later today.
Simon Grayson's side leapfrogged Burnley in the process and inflicted on the Clarets their first defeat in five matches, leaving them two points adrift of the last play-off spot that Forest can all but make their own with victory over Scunthorpe. Burnley had won three of their last four games to give their travelling fans genuine hope of gatecrashing the top six and played their full part, with only a last-minute fingertip save from Leeds goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel from substitute Ross Wallace's free-kick denying Eddie Howe's side a share of the points.
Midfielder Neil Kilkenny, on-loan Sunderland right-back George McCartney and striker McCormack returned for Leeds, while Burnley were unchanged.
Leeds settled quickly and Burnley goalkeeper Brian Jensen was made to stretch to hold McCormack's delicate chip in the sixth minute, while Paynter fired inches wide soon after.
Burnley midfielder Wade Elliott's shot was blocked by Leeds skipper Richard Naylor at the other end following Chris Eagles' marauding run.
Burnley were denied strong claims for a penalty in the 18th minute when Leeds defender Andy O'Brien climbed over the back of Chris Iwelumo and Kasper Schmeichel was then at his best to smother Burnley skipper Michael Duff's angled shot.
Eagles' long-range effort flew over the crossbar after another incisive run from the Burnley midfielder and Max Gradel's powerful drive kept Jensen on his toes as the action flowed.
McCormack curled a 26th-minute free-kick just wide and from his cross moments later Billy Paynter's fine header was turned away at full stretch by Jensen.
Leeds then made the breakthrough. Bradley Johnson's raking first-time pass caught Burnley's back four flat-footed and McCormack, played onside by Burnley centre-half Andre Bikey, raced through to shoot low inside Jensen's bottom right-hand corner in the 33rd minute.
Kent referee Phil Crossley booked Clarets skipper Duff for pulling back McCormack as Leeds held on to their lead at the break.
Paynter headed straight at Jensen from McCormack's cross in the 54th minute and then shot into the side netting after rounding the goalkeeper.
Chris McCann's high tackle on Gradel sparked a mass melee in the 57th minute for which the Clarets midfielder was booked.
O'Brien's header from McCormack's subsequent free-kick was brilliantly saved by Jensen, who then matched that with a full-length dive to keep out the Scottish striker's deflected shot as Leeds chased a second goal.
But Burnley were playing their part and midfielder Jack Cork thundered a 25-yard effort inches wide.
McCormack had the chance to wrap the points up in the 83rd minute when sent clear by Gradel, but he dragged his shot wide, while Burnley thought substitute Ross Wallace had rescued a point when Schmeichel tipped over his last-minute free-kick.
Home substitute Sanchez Watt spurned two late chances to score the second killer goal, failing to trouble Jensen when well placed in the area, but Leeds ran out winners to just about keep their season alive when they head to champions-elect QPR on the final day.
Gradel wins back fans after ‘mad’ moment
By Phil Hay
The votes cast for Max Gradel in this year’s YEP player-of-the-year poll all carried an identical theme.
To quote one specific comment: “Never before has a player owed so much and delivered so much more.”
An apology to Sir Winston Churchill is due, but the point still stands. The player of the year for 2010-11 is an improbable winner.
When I meet Gradel at United’s training ground, it is the first thing he says. “The fans voting for me is not what I imagined. Not this time last season.”
Gradel would prefer not to talk about last season, or the way it finished for him. But when he starts, he can hardly stop himself. Crazy, mad, stupid and horrible – his self-analysis is scathing and he does not attempt to spread the blame.
“It felt like the end of the world,” he said. “I’d like to never think of it again.”
The story of the red card shown to Gradel on the last day of the 2009-10 season does not need revisiting in full. All 38,234 spectators will remember his rash attack on Daniel Jones, the Bristol Rovers left-back, his attempt to confront referee Graham Salisbury and the combined struggle of Jermaine Beckford, Michael Doyle and two security staff to escort him from the pitch.
That some of those same spectators named him as their player of the year this month, in preference to other high-performing members of United’s squad, says everything about the reconciliation between Gradel and his club.
“The award means so much to me,” he says. “It says to me that the fans have forgiven or forgotten what happened – that I’ve repaid some of what I owed.
“That moment was crazy, like hell really and I’ve worked so hard to come back from it. I let a lot of people down and I always felt that I had something to prove. It’s about repaying people who could have said ‘get rid of him’. Maybe I’ve done that now.”
Gradel has looked like an indispensable asset this season, scoring 17 goals while playing predominantly on the left wing.
At the end of last season he looked like a liability. His dismissal after 34 minutes of Leeds’ win over Bristol Rovers jeopardised their promotion from League One, invoking a desperate act of salvage from a team of 10 players.
Gradel risked their entire season, but goals from Jonathan Howson and Beckford rescued it at the moment when second place seemed to be lost. You can only wonder how Gradel felt while he sat in United’s changing room, isolated and in tears.
“It was like the end of the world,” he said. “I wouldn’t wish that moment on any player ever. The feeling I had was like being empty – like you don’t exist any more. I couldn’t look anybody in the eye and I couldn’t speak – I just sat in the changing room, crying and regretting everything.
“When Becks scored, it was like being born again. I don’t think I’ve been so happy or so lucky. From then on, I knew I had to play in a way which said ‘yes, I made a horrible mistake but I’m sorry and I want to make it right’. I didn’t want anyone to think that I didn’t care or didn’t realise what I’d done.”
To expect indifference in Gradel is to misunderstand his personality and his background. There is no wider smile than his amongst United’s players but his life has been difficult and trying; hard enough to make him appreciative of his career.
Three-and-a-half years ago, the death of his mother burdened Gradel with a sudden responsibility for the well-being of family in both the Ivory Coast and Paris. He was a teenager at the time, on loan at Bournemouth from Leicester City and too young in the eyes of Bournemouth manager Kevin Bond to be in such a pressurised position.
“No one of his age should ever be asked to deal with that,” Bond once said. “I don’t know how he coped.”
Gradel agrees. “Losing my mum and going to look after my little brother and sister – it was too much pressure for me,” he says. “I had family in Paris and in the Ivory Coast and I felt like I was responsible for them. That was very hard.
“Coming to the last game of last season, I look at a moment of madness like that and wonder if it was everything coming out. I don’t mean it as an excuse but maybe all the hard times give you a bit of a madness – sometimes it has to come out.
“For years I’ve had frustration in me and you saw that side of me on that day. It didn’t look good, but I really think it’s gone now. I crossed a line and opened my eyes.
“I’ve only had four yellow cards this season and that’s a good sign. I told myself to stay in control and the coaches did too – they’d say ‘discipline, discipline, discipline’.
“People at this club maybe don’t know where I’ve come from or what my life has been like. It’s been good and it’s been tough, but that doesn’t matter.
“When you play for Leeds United you have expectancy and responsibility and, whatever happened in the past, you’ve got a duty to your club.”
Gradel wondered last summer whether United manager Simon Grayson would ostracise him completely. He would have accepted that decision with good grace.
But Grayson’s repeated use of him in pre-season friendlies – in spite of the fact that Gradel was to start this term with a four-match ban – gave the most forthright answer to questions about his future.
If Grayson needed that judgment to be vindicated then the 23-year-old’s immense form over many months has done so. It was telling that two of United’s most revered former players, Eddie Gray and Peter Lorimer, both selected Gradel as their choice for player of the year.
The winger will receive the Jackson Trophies-sponsored award before today’s match with Burnley.
“This has been the best year of my career and in the Championship too,” he says. “I know that a lot of people weren’t sure if I was good enough but I’m pleased to have proved them wrong. I’ve shown that I can play in this league and maybe in a division higher.
“I’ve always felt like a goalscorer and if I get opportunities then I think I can take them. Seventeen goals is great, but at the start of this season I wasn’t thinking about goals. I was thinking about getting in the team.
“The manager was asked so many times in the summer ‘will you play Max’? and ‘is he in your plans’? Everyone was asking the question and I couldn’t be sure of the answer myself.
“At one point, I was worried about what could happen. I’d have understood his decision if he wasn’t going to play me or didn’t want me any more.
“I let him down. I don’t blame anyone else – what I did was crazy, totally crazy and the reason I’m in good form is because of his faith. If I deserve any award this year then it’s down to him – the manager transformed me by picking me.
“He played me in pre-season and played me lots of times, even though I wasn’t going to start the campaign. That told me that I had a second chance.
“He stood by me when a lot of people wouldn’t have done. I heard people say ‘Max shouldn’t be playing after what he did’ but you can change opinions. If someone hates you or thinks you’re no good, be a better player and make them think again. It’s amazing how things change and you can always change – I needed to.”
There is a story from Gradel’s loan spell at Bournemouth in 2007 which sums him up perfectly – the night when he returned unexpectedly from his mother’s funeral to play and score in an FA Cup victory over Barrow.
“I hadn’t played for two months,” he recalls. “Everyone was surprised but they had a game and I wanted to help.
“I walked into the changing room and said ‘put me in the team’. I was just happy to be on the pitch again, a bit like the start of this season.
“When you’re back on the pitch, it’s a chance to move forward – to go on to happier things and put the hard times behind you.”
Ken Bates and Leeds United shift focus onto next year
By Richard Sutcliffe
KEN BATES has revealed Leeds United’s plans for next season are already gathering pace due to the club’s involvement in the Championship play-offs now seeming “unlikely”.
A haul of just six points from the last eight games has seen United go from chasing automatic promotion to being three points adrift of the top six.Sitting ninth in the table, Simon Grayson’s side need to win their final two matches – at home to Burnley on Saturday and at leaders QPR a week later – to have any hope of reclaiming a play-off place come May 7.
Leeds, who were sitting pretty in second place at Christmas, are still hoping to force their way into the top six but Bates admits thoughts are already turning to next season and the bolstering of the Elland Road squad.The United chairman last night told the Yorkshire Post: “Last August, we would have taken a top 10 place after winning promotion but, of course, in football expectations rise all the time. Basically, the more you get then the more you want.
“At Christmas, we beat QPR to go second so we expected a lot more. I must confess I expected us to go close but, unfortunately, that has not turned out to be the case.
“Despite all the noises being made that it is mathematically still possible to get into the play-offs, it is unlikely because there are three clubs between us and sixth place.
“If we beat Burnley this Saturday, that would mean we move up to eighth. But we would still have to rely on Millwall and Nottingham Forest losing, and even then they have a better goal difference than us.“Of course, it is still possible. So, the players must concentrate on winning our last two games. But, as a club, we are already looking towards next season.”
United, who were yesterday linked in the national media with a move for Coventry City’s highly-rated goalkeeper Keiren Westwood, seem set to lose two of this season’s regulars come the summer due to Bradley Johnson and Neil Kilkenny having last year rejected offers of new contracts.
Loanees Barry Bannan and Jake Livermore will also return to parent clubs Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur, respectively, as will Arsenal’s Sanchez Watt, George McCartney of Sunderland and Villa’s Eric Lichaj.
Captain Richard Naylor, 34, is another likely to he heading to the exit door with goalkeeper Shane Higgs when the duo’s existing contracts expire at the end of June. Bates added: “How the existing players have performed is in our thinking. Obviously, our assessments of some of them will have changed a lot since January. Some have performed well but others have disappointed.
“In terms of bringing players in, a lot of factors come into play. If, for example, we wanted to sign Billy Bloggs then a lot of things have to happen. His club might not want to sell him. And if they do, then he has to want to come here.
“There is also the possibility his agent is a greedy so and so. There are a lot of good agents out there but also some bad ones.
“Simon has always said that he only wants players that can come in and improve the squad. Looking for players is always an ongoing situation.
“The attitude of clubs can change come the summer. Look at ourselves last season when we turned down a £1.8m bid from Newcastle (in January for Jermaine Beckford) because we wanted to win promotion. He left for free in the summer.”
United’s slide down the league since the peak of going second with victory over Neil Watrnock’s QPR at Elland Road on December 18 has been caused by a run of 22 games that have yielded just six wins.
Such a barren run has led to criticism in some quarters that Leeds should have been more active during the January transfer market.
Bates, however, said: “The criticism we didn’t do much in January does not hold water. We signed Andy O’Brien on a permanent deal and also agreed a new contract with Luciano Becchio (who, like Johnson and Kilkenny, had a deal that was due to run out this summer).
“People say we should have signed so and so, but the reality was that there wasn’t much about. It seemed our promotion rivals found the same. A few wanted to sign our players but that wasn’t going to happen.”
Ahead of this weekend’s final home game of the regular season when the visit of Burnley will be watched by a sell-out crowd, United chairman Bates added: “Our league position is disappointing, even allowing for what intentions we set out with last August.
“But it has still been an exciting season with the Arsenal FA Cup tie probably being the highlight. We acquitted ourselves very well down there.
“In terms of the league, our season probably peaked with that victory over QPR just before Christmas when we went second.
“Unfortunately, since then we have not been able to maintain that form and now it seems this will be a year of consolidation for the club.
“The key now is to use what has been achieved this season as a platform to push on next year.”
We’ll fight to the finish - Grayson
By Phil Hay
Leeds United manager Simon Grayson spoke of a “quiet and flat dressing room” after another away loss left the club down and almost out of the race for a Championship play-off place.
Grayson refused to admit defeat in the fight for a top-six finish but conceded that United’s fate was wholly reliant on other clubs with two league games remaining.
Leeds’ season is on the verge of a disappointing conclusion following yesterday’s 1-0 defeat to Crystal Palace, a result which cut them three points adrift of sixth position.
The result in south London extended United’s poor run of form to one win from nine league matches, dropping the club to ninth, and their term rests precariously on Saturday’s home clash against promotion rivals Burnley.
Grayson’s squad will be out of the running for a play-off spot if they lose to the Clarets at Elland Road, one of just two fixtures they have to overturn the advantage currently held by Nottingham Forest.
“If we win on Saturday and other results go our way then we’ve still got an opportunity,” Grayson insisted. “We’ve got a fighting chance.
“It was in our hands before and now it’s in other people’s hands but football can be unpredictable. We’ll try and win both our games and see where that takes us.
“Whatever happens, we’ll look back and say that we’ve had a good season, if slightly disappointed that we couldn’t finish it off. We still believe we can do it though.“But it was a quiet, flat and down dressing room at full-time because we’re obviously disappointed with the result.”
Neil Danns’ deflected second- minute goal all but secured Palace’s Championship survival, and another unconvincing performance from Leeds forced Grayson to revise his tactics after a fruitless first half.
Jake Livermore was substituted at the interval, making way for Neil Kilkenny, but Grayson defended his team selection saying: “I put out a side that I thought would win us the game.
“We just needed to get Kilkenny on to pass the ball and affected things. We had a go at them in the second half.
“But we didn’t get the breaks we needed and that was down to a lack of quality, a bit of bad luck and good defending from Palace as well. My players couldn’t have done much more.
“There’s pressure on this football club, but it’s good pressure, and the players should thrive on it. For large parts of the season, they have.
“We’ve been a bit naive at times but this season will be a fantastic experience for a lot of them.
“We’ve had a good season, and I still want it to be a great season, but the players can be proud of themselves.”
Leeds were watched by more than 5,200 away supporters at Palace, and Grayson said: “We wanted to go out and do it for them; to show passion, commitment and quality. I’m disappointed for them but we’re still going to fight.
“One day this club will be back in the Premier League. When that will be I don’t know, but our fanbase deserve to be there.”
Crystal Palace 1 Leeds 0: Danns' early strike edges Eagles closer to Championship safety
By Sami Mokbel
Simon Grayson came close to calling time on Leeds’ promotion tilt after his side suffered a devastating defeat against Crystal Palace.
Neil Danns’ second-minute goal was enough to secure all three points, and virtually guaranteed Palace’s Championship status.
Palace looked destined for the drop when Freedman replaced sacked George Burley in January. Now only a nine-goal swing from Sheffield United or an 18-goal turnaround from Scunthorpe could condemn Palace to relegation.
However, Freedman’s route to survival was the last thing on Grayson’s mind last night as he came to terms with a defeat that looks to have ended his side’s battle to earn a play-off spot.
Leeds are three points adrift of sixth-placed Nottingham Forest with only games against Burnley and QPR to follow.
‘We know it’s out of our hands now,’ admitted Grayson. ‘We are relying on other results going our way. There is pressure playing for this football club but it is a proper pressure.
‘The players should thrive on it and they have done for large parts of it. But somewhere down the line we were going to hit a bad run and unfortunately it has happened at the wrong end of the season.
‘I am not sure the pressure has got to the players — it is just things have gone against us. When you look back, we have been a little bit naive at times this year — but it has been a fantastic experience for the players.’
He added: ‘We just didn’t create as much as we would have liked in front of goal today. But that’s football.’
The vital moment came inside the opening 80 seconds, when Danns’ drive from the edge of the box deflected off Andy O’Brien and past Kasper Schmeichel to give Palace a dream start.
Jermaine Easter and Danns both missed headed chances to double Palace’s lead before the break, an advantage they would have deserved given their dominant first-half display.
Leeds laid siege to Palace’s penalty area in the second period as they looked to salvage something from a red-hot Selhurst Park. But despite their pressure, Davide Somma’s tame effort with just Julian Speroni to beat was the best chance they could conjure up before Danns was shown a red card for a second bookable offence deep into injury time.
And the impact of the result was there for all to see at the final whistle.
Palace players, staff and fans celebrated in the knowledge that survival — barring a miracle — was complete, Leeds looked dejected at knowing the defeat all but ended their play-off dream.
Managerial rookie Freedman was left to reflect on completing the job co-owners Steve Parish and Martin Long asked him to do four months ago — to keep Palace in the Championship.
‘Management is certainly not easy,’ said the Scot. ‘If you said that to my wife, she would give you a right good answer to that. I just felt that the lads in the dressing room were good enough to stay up and I told them that.
‘There was no magic wand. We defended very well, we defended for our lives. And a performance like that can change peoples’ lives in terms of what division they are playing in next season.’
He added: ‘Because we didn’t know what division we would be playing in next season I’ve not been able to speak to players about next season. But this result will help us keep hold of some of those players.'
Bradford Telegraph & Argus 25/4/11
Leeds United fading out of play-off hunt
Crystal Palace 1, Leeds Utd 0
Leeds crashed to their fourth away defeat in a row and slipped to ninth in the Championship table after losing 1-0 at Crystal Palace.
Nottingham Forest stay in the final play-off spot after beating Bristol City – while Millwall and Burnley climbed above Leeds, who are now three points behind sixth-placed Forest.
United’s 5,000 travelling fans could hardly believe how lacklustre their side were, lacking inspiration and toiling in the heat against a side threatened with relegation.
With games against Burnley and leaders QPR to come and a poor goal difference, the odds are against Leeds making the play-offs – but manager Simon Grayson will not give up hope until it is mathematically certain.
He said: “Until it’s impossible, we’ll keep going. But whatever happens, we can look back on a good season and if we don’t make the play-offs we’ll use this season as experience for next year.
“The result against Palace is obviously disappointing. In the second half we held them in their half for long periods but we didn’t have our usual quality in the last third. There wasn’t enough care in that area. Our crossing was poor.
“But there are still two games to go and we have to dust ourselves off and see where they take us.”
Leeds had a nightmare start, falling behind after only 73 seconds when Neil Danns’ shot took a deflection that flew past flat-footed keeper Kasper Schmeichel.
Despite that setback, United had plenty of possession but lacked a cutting edge in the final third and could well have turned round 2-0 down, only for Jermaine Easter to head an easy chance wide of the post.
Grayson had stuck with the team that drew 0-0 with Reading but he had seen enough by the break and made two changes at the start of the second period, taking off Paul Connolly and Jake Livermore and sending on Neil Connolly and Sanchez Watt.
Leeds stepped up the pace and jangled the nerves of Palace and their fans but still Grayson’s side were struggling to make a clear chance.
Bradley Johnson and Watt went close but, with time running out, Grayson sent on Davide Somma for Billy Paynter, who had been anonymous.
There was plenty of huffing and puffing from Leeds but their passing lacked quality and Palace keeper Julian Speroni was never called on to make a difficult save.Palace scorer Danns was sent off late on for a second yellow card.
Saturday, April 23, 2011
Leeds United v Reading: Unlucky Whites end Royals ascent
By Phil Hay
The theory went that Reading’s sequence of victories was bound to run its course eventually, and their spectacular run met its end.
How much value Leeds United can place on a goalless stalemate will only become clear in a fortnight’s time.
Parity with Reading is not to be sniffed at, not when their previous eight league fixtures ended in resounding wins, but the point accrued by Leeds at Elland Road only achieved so much. It fell short of defending their long-held play-off position, snatched by Nottingham Forest in the night’s earlier kick-off with three games to play.
United shook themselves free of the mediocrity responsible for defeats to Millwall and Derby County and an unconvincing draw with Watford, and their willingness to fight fire with fire told the club’s manager, Simon Grayson, that his players are far from giving up the ghost.
The same could be said of a crowd which dropped to 24,564 but regained its famous, resounding voice.
It was still the case that Leeds found themselves beneath sixth place this morning, a scenario unseen for almost five months.
No shortage of irony could be found in the fact that, during a season when United’s defence has made so few friends in the city, a goalless draw under-whelmed Elland Road.
On account of Forest’s earlier result, it was unequivocally a game that Leeds were required to win, and the crossbar prevented Bradley Johnson from doing so midway through the second half.
By the last of three minutes of injury-time, Reading were hanging on grimly, though hang on they did against a rejuvenated club.
Grayson’s line-ups have been as unpredictable as Leeds’ results over the past month and last night’s selections were in keeping with a general lack of continuity.
Four changes followed four against Watford, the most striking the appearance of Richard Naylor in a starting side for the first time since October, but Reading’s team was as notable for the absence of Jimmy Kebe, the victim of a sudden and unpublicised injury.
Kebe’s pace was an obvious concern and his omission did more for Grayson’s spirits than Forest’s desperate win over Leicester City, a result which dropped Leeds into seventh position half-an-hour before the start of last night’s fixture at Elland Road.
United’s form had been threatening that downward shift for several weeks.
Grayson accepted himself that the outcome of their season was impossible to predict, regardless of Forest’s victory, and the result against Reading provided no more clarity.
Monday’s match at Crystal Palace might be more decisive, and Palace’s manager, Dougie Freedman, made a swift journey from Doncaster to be in Leeds yesterday evening.
Even without Kebe, the threat to Leeds was liable to come from either wing and the Royals took less than a minute to feed Jobi McAnuff on the right flank and tee up Shane Long for a scuffed touch that rolled safely towards Kasper Schmeichel.
United’s immediate attempt to assert themselves in the ensuing seconds warmed the crowd and primed the game perfectly.
It took 12 minutes for McAnuff to see the whites of Schmeichel’s eyes after a swift one-two with Long, and the goalkeeper’s sliding block was crucial.
When Noel Hunt broke into the box and forced an anxious tackle from Andy O’Brien, the danger already seemed to be building.
Grayson knew to expect that approach from Reading but his defence rode their earliest attacks at full stretch.
Hunt and Matt Mills collided with each other when Ian Harte, the former Leeds full-back, offered up his first telling cross of the night, and Hunt diverted a weak header wide, but United’s failure to open the scoring three minutes later was fractional.
Johnson angled the ball towards Robert Snodgrass at the far post, and his headed finish flew over the crossbar, encouraged by a swipe of Alex McCarthy’s fingertips. Elland Road needed that encouragement and more besides, but Naylor failed to go any closer than Snodgrass when he met the resulting corner with his forehead.
The intensity of the game was such that the first booking of the game might have come earlier than it did.
Jake Livermore asked for it in the 27th minute, sliding through McAnuff’s legs on the edge of Reading’s box, and risked a second nine minutes later when he hacked down Long on the edge of the centre circle. Referee Eddie Ilderton chose to let the tackle go but could easily have taken a less lenient view.
Before that point of controversy, McCarthy had denied Leeds by inches once more. Zurab Khizanishvili lost the ball to Max Gradel inside his own half and Gradel’s shot at McCarthy slipped off the keeper’s palms.
Unlike Chris Weele’s horrific error in Nottingham earlier in the day, the ball slipped by McCarthy’s right-hand post.
Both near-misses witnessed in the first half came at Reading’s end of the field, and a goalless scoreline at the interval did no harm to United’s mood or that of the supporters around them.
As for Reading, their performance failed to explain what the fuss was about.
Their wingers aside, Brian McDermott’s players were laboured and well contained.
Both he and Grayson suspected that they would be forced to chance their arms at some stage, in a game where a draw was as unhelpful as a defeat, and Grayson played his first card at the start of the second half, replacing Livermore with Neil Kilkenny.
The substitution removed a yellow-carded player from harm’s way, but the addition of another comfortable ball-player was not at all unwelcome.
McCarthy’s involvement before half-time failed to obscure a shortage of creative nous among a competitive midfield.
What followed was a spell of concerted pressure from Leeds, in which they badly needed to score.
O’Brien glanced a header wide and Kilkenny’s shot hit a body in the box as the Kop willed Reading to fold.
McDermott’s defence held resolutely and Naylor came as close as Livermore had to two quick bookings around the hour mark, escaping a red card when he pulled Long’s shirt.
A greater run of luck nevertheless aided the visitors when Johnson rumbled through their defence and slid an improvised finish against the top of McCarthy’s bar.
The margin was agonising, as was Mikele Leigertwood’s shot which landed in Schmeichel’s side-netting with eight minutes to play.
McCarthy then denied Snodgrass when Gradel gave the Scot an apparently open goal to attack with his head, and then substitute Sanchez Watt was unable to exploit a last-gasp chance when he had more time than he realised.
Honours-even – the phrase neither Grayson nor McDermott truly wanted to hear.
Leeds United 0 Reading 0: match report
Simon Grayson insisted Leeds United’s bid for a return to the Premier League remains alive, despite seeing his team drop out of the top six for the first time since November after Reading goalkeeper Alex McCarthy’s stunning performance denied the home side a crucial victory.
McCarthy produced three reflex saves to frustrate the Championship’s 78-goal top scorers, who were knocked out of the play-off positions by Nottingham Forest’s dramatic late win at home to Leicester earlier in the day.
But with three games left to play, Leeds manager Grayson believes his team can now benefit from the pressure on those clubs ahead of them in the play-off pack.
Grayson said: “It’s disappointing to drop out of the top six because we wanted to stay there, but it’s where we finish in two weeks’ time that matters.
“We have a big game at Crystal Palace on Monday, but maybe the pressure is now on the teams above us because we are chasing them and they have to keep getting results.
“We couldn’t have done much more tonight, though, apart from the score a goal. We worked the goalkeeper and created chances, but the hardest thing in the game is putting the ball in the back of the net and we couldn’t manage that.” HavIng won just once in six games, Leeds began like a team searching for confidence, and Hal Robson-Kanu was denied a 12th minute opener for Reading by goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.
Leeds attempted to respond, but they laboured until Robert Snodgrass lifted the atmosphere on and off the pitch by forcing McCarthy into a stunning save from a close range header on 23 minutes.
McCarthy followed that by almost gifting Max Gradel a 37th minute opener when he fumbled the winger’s 25-yard shot before seeing it bobble harmlessly wide of his right-hand post.
But he replicated his earlier heroics in the second-half by pulling off a double save from Gradel and Snodgrass on 87 minutes to leave Leeds needing Forest to slip up in the final three games if they are to reclaim a play-off spot.Reading manager Brian McDermott said: “Leeds played well and their fans stayed with them throughout the whole game, but we have kept a clean sheet and come away with a very big point.”
Friday, April 22, 2011
Grayson is still confident Leeds can claim spot in the play-offs
By Richard Sutcliffe
Manager Simon Grayson believes the biggest threat to Leeds United’s Championship play-off hopes is not any of the chasing pack but his own team.
The Elland Road club’s tendency to press the self-destruct button has been a major feature of this season’s Championship.
It was evident again on Saturday when, for the 10th time this term, Leeds dropped points after having taken the lead, Watford hitting back to claim a 2-2 draw.
The result meant Grayson’s men were able to double their advantage over nearest challengers Nottingham Forest to two points with four games to go.
But, with Hull City and Burnley both having won, the over-riding feeling at the final whistle was that the Yorkshire club had wasted a golden opportunity to strengthen their grip on sixth place. Grayson said: “The day just about epitomised our season. We got the goal and, after that, we just had to see the game out.
“At 1-0 when you are playing 4-4-2, you have to make sure you have two banks of four and be hard to beat.
“But, instead, we were open and players switched off. We made two mistakes and, suddenly, everything had changed.”
Hull’s 3-1 derby win over Doncaster Rovers means both Nigel Pearson’s men and Forest are now two points adrift of Leeds.
If Burnley can win their game in hand at home to Middlesbrough tomorrow night, they will also move on to 63 points – two ahead of Millwall and three in front of Leicester City.
With just five points separating six teams, it seems the race for sixth place is likely to go to the last weekend.
Asked by the Yorkshire Post if there was any team among the chasing pack that he feared most, an exasperated Grayson said: “The biggest threat to us is ourselves because we can achieve it and we are in a good position.
“If you want to use a line, we can only throw it away. If we win our games and everyone else does too, we will still be in there.
“We can throw it away but we don’t want to. Everybody else is playing catch-up with nothing to lose but there is so much at stake. We have to keep grinding away.”
United face a testing run-in with in-form Reading the visitors to Elland Road on Good Friday for a fixture that will be shown live by Sky.
A trip to relegation-threatened Crystal Palace follows on Easter Monday before Leeds finish with a home game against Burnley and a final-day visit to runaway leaders Queens Park Rangers.
Grayson, who said Leeds would know more today about the injury that forced Luciano Becchio out of the action against the Hornets, added: “We have worked so hard for 42 games and now have a great opportunity in our grasp. Once you get in the play-offs, anything can happen.
“I shouldn’t have to tell the players what is at stake. They should know what a great opportunity they have.
“We (the coaching staff) can only do so much with them. I can’t go out there (onto the field) and put them into certain positions. They have to take responsibility for their actions.
“I am stuck for words at times. I go in at half-time and after a game, and find myself saying the same things.
“The players have to be man enough at times to accept responsibility.”
As frustrated as Grayson felt after the Watford game, the Leeds chief was quick to stress how confident he remains.
He said: “Ultimately, the positive is we have a two-point gap with four games to go. I still have a huge amount of belief and confidence that we will finish in the play-offs.”
Leeds United v Watford: Slice of luck is not enough for Whites
By Phil Hay
Troy Deeney’s rash own goal gifted Leeds United a point but it was the equivalent of passing the club an umbrella after the rain had fallen.
Must-win went the theory before kick-off, and a scrambled draw with Watford fell a long way short.
Whether Leeds will do the same in the leg-race for the Championship’s play-offs is a matter of opinion. Simon Grayson says not, as any sensible manager would, but he looks less convinced than he once did and the statistics don’t lie. Four points taken from five matches and goals leaking at their usual rate. In the longer-term, six wins accrued since the club looked down from second position on Christmas Day. Grayson was troubled enough to describe United as a danger to themselves.
Saturday’s game, like Tuesday’s loss to Derby, was well within Leeds’ capacity to win. United led with 18 minutes to play but relied on Deeney’s mistake two minutes from time to exit the fixture with a point.
Lloyd Doyley was given the benefit of the doubt in injury-time after a seemingly clear handball inside Watford’s box, but Leeds deserved their luck. A penalty so late would have forgiven much of what had gone before.
Apprehension was apparent among Grayson’s team, and uncertainty too. An improvised line-up which never settled lacked the organisation of Watford’s familiar structure, and Leeds were accessible before and after Luciano Becchio scored the first of four goals in the 72nd minute.
The striker took his initial chance as a substitute and should have taken his second with the score at 1-0. Watford were less profligate when the opportunities fell to Lee Hodson and Andy Weimann.
To Leeds’ credit, they faced down their impending loss and forced the pace through five additional minutes. Grayson had expected that urgency much earlier in the game. United’s manager is not in the habit of giving credence to matches involving other clubs but his squad had wind in their sails on Saturday morning, supplied by Nottingham Forest’s defeat in Norwich the evening before.
A draw was all Forest required to hold sixth position overnight and drop the ball into Grayson’s court. Their 2-1 loss at Carrow Road had a calming effect, though Elland Road began to twitch soon enough. United’s brittle display before half-time did not help.
However great the encouragement offered by Forest’s failure, Grayson felt obliged to rearrange his team. Four changes – the continuation of an unpredictable selection policy – included the recall of Bradley Johnson and Robert Snodgrass and the relegation to the bench of Barry Bannan and Jake Livermore.
There was a sense of Grayson falling back on tried and tested players, but his forward partnership of Davide Somma and Max Gradel had no history and Jonathan Howson’s employment on the left wing pulled him into strange territory. All three were less effective than they needed to be.
Danny Graham, in comparison, was the definition of proven.
If Grayson’s plan was to submerge the Championship’s leading scorer then Leigh Bromby threatened to wreck it after seven minutes by allowing a loose pass to slice off his shin and run towards Kasper Schmeichel’s box. Graham collected it and cut inside Andy O’Brien but his shot struck Schmeichel’s body, stopping a yard short of the goalline.
In that early period, Leeds showed a suicidal edge. O’Brien’s reckless backpass made a good attempt to curl inside his own post before Schmeichel intervened, and Graham’s cross towards an unmarked Marvin Sordell needed only a touch which the forward inexplicably failed to supply. The anxiety inside the stadium was already starting to bite.
United did not get close to Watford keeper, Scott Loach, until the 27th minute, with a passage of football which resembled Howson’s goal against Nottingham Forest on April 2.
Snodgrass lobbed a pass towards Eric Lichaj whose fierce cut-back ran to Howson but, where Forest’s Wes Morgan had been caught with his eyes closed, Deeney reacted quickly and threw himself in front of Howson’s volley. From the resulting corner, Neil Kilkenny thrashed another effort into the advertising boards behind Loach’s net.
Watford lost Ross Jenkins to a foot injury on the half-hour but the introduction of Danny Drinkwater, a loanee from Manchester United, did not affect their balance.
Grayson and his coach, Ian Miller, began to patrol the technical area, aware their tactics were failing to take hold. Somma stood isolated and Gradel found himself straying onto the flanks, in search of space and the ball.
His best sight of it was through an opportunity which seemed impossible to miss. Snodgrass picked him out at the far post after weaving between two defenders but Gradel’s sliding shot hit the face of the crossbar. Somma, following in, could only apply a weak touch with his studs which bounced into Loach’s hands. Smash-and-grab a goal would have been, but crucial also.
That lone strike of Watford’s woodwork did not disguise an aimless half and Grayson has seen too many of them in the past two months.
Gradel’s header sent Lichaj’s cross wide in injury-time but the state of the game was plain and though Grayson made no changes at the start of the second half, calls for Becchio’s arrival were soon audible. United’s manager heeded the advice in the 56th minute.
Before the Argentinian could work his charm, Don Cowie met Graham’s cross with a header which hit the inside of a post and rebounded into Schmeichel’s arms. Seconds earlier, Gradel had pulled a weak shot at Loach while Snodgrass screamed for the ball inside an empty box. The switch from end to end was symptomatic of a game waiting to be won.
Somma had the chance to do so but grazed the ball again when Johnson’s knockdown begged him to finish from close range. Bromby was then called upon to prevent Drinkwater from beating Schmeichel.
Grayson reached back into his pack and drew out Bannan, whose first invitation to influence the match was taken with aplomb. Howson was fouled on the touchline and, from Bannan’s perfectly-flighted free-kick, Becchio rose to force a header into the root of Loach’s net.
Amid the euphoria, a lone fan invaded the pitch pursued by stewards. Another 30,000 must have felt like doing the same, Grayson not least. But when Becchio missed a veritable sitter in the 77th minute, Leeds pushed their luck.
With Watford’s next attack, Hodson converted Cowie’s delivery with a pathetically simple header, nudging it beyond Schmeichel, and – as the clock reached 86 minutes – Deeney and Graham trampled through United’s inadequate defence to leave Weimann with a tap-in. A galling turnaround was not at all unmerited.
Deeney, however, twisted the plot once more when he sliced Bannan’s corner into his own net.United were grateful for that, but far from ecstatic. A draw, by the measure of those watching, was not enough or anywhere close.
Sunday, April 17, 2011
Leeds 2 Watford 2: Late Deeney leveller revives United's stuttering play-off bid
Leeds managed to keep their stuttering play-off bid alive with a home draw against Watford, but were left to thank an 88th-minute own goal by Troy Deeney after their defence had looked as though it had thrown away the game.
Going into the contest with just one win in their last five, Simon Grayson's men could feel the chasing back breathing down their necks as they clung on to sixth place, and it looked as though they had bought themselves some breathing space when substitute Luciano Becchio headed home his 20th of the season to make it 2-1 with 19 minutes left.
But, as has often been the case for the Whites this season, where their attack has excelled their defence has failed and so it proved again as Lee Hodson nipped in unmarked to level for Watford seven minutes later.
Danny Graham then outmuscled Andy O'Brien to play in Andy Weimann for what looked to be an 87th-minute winner for the visitors.
But Leeds quickly went down the other end and, after winning a corner, were left celebrating a draw and a return to a two-point margin over their rivals after Deeney turned Barry Bannan's corner into his own goal.
Watford went into the game unchanged from the side that drew 2-2 with Norwich on Tuesday, while Leeds made four changes following the 2-1 loss at Derby, with Becchio amongst the casualties.
Eager to erase the memories of the Derby defeat, Leeds stated brightly with a Max Gradel overhead kick creeping wide, before Watford got on top.
Graham, the Championship's leading scorer, bore down on goal after a slip by Leigh Bromby and, after skipping inside O'Brien, should have done better than firing at Kasper Schmeichel.
Both Bromby and O'Brien were struggling to deal with Graham's physicality, and moments later O'Brien forced Schmeichel to tear across his goal and hack a overhit backpass to safety.
Deeney, Graham's strike partner, then beat Bromby to a bouncing ball and set Graham free, but his cross evaded everyone, especially Marvin Sordell who would have scored had he been alert enough.
Back came Leeds, though, and Jonny Howson had a shot blocked by John Eustace after good link-up play between Robert Snodgrass and Eric Lichaj, before Snodgrass danced his way into the box and crossed for Gradel who hit the bar from two yards out.
O'Brien's outstretched leg sent a Danny Drinkwater shot flying just wide of his own goal after the interval, before Grayson called on Becchio with 35 minutes remaining as he became increasingly desperate for a breakthrough.
Becchio's impact was almost immediate as he flicked on a long Lichaj throw for Bradley Johnson to head narrowly wide. Gradel then wasted a golden chance as he drove at Scott Loach rather than squaring to Snodgrass after breaking clear.
Watford then hit the woodwork, with Don Cowie's header catching Schmeichel flatfooted after Bromby allowed Graham to work in a cross, while at the other end Davide Somma could not quite get on the end of a Johnson header across goal.
Becchio then opened the scoring for Leeds, planting an unstoppable ahead beyond Loach from three yards out after a fizzing ball in from Bannan. The former Barcelona B striker should have made it two shortly after, blazing over after being played in by Johnson, before Watford leveled with 12 minutes remaining.
An innocuous-looking cross from Cowie drifted its way into Leeds' box and Hodson nipped in behind Bromby to head home.
Becchio was then substituted himself after getting injured in a scramble that followed a Johnson header being cleared off the line, before Watford stunned Elland Road into silence when Graham won a 30-70 ball against O'Brien and squared for the waiting Weimann who drove in.There was still time for further drama, though, with Deeney bundling another precise Bannan cross into his own goal.
Saturday, April 16, 2011
Derby County v Leeds United: Wilting Whites feeling the pressure
By Phil Hay
Twists and turns, Simon Grayson promised, and successive defeats to Millwall and Derby County have turned Leeds United’s season for the worse.
Beaten at Millwall on Saturday, and beaten without their customary resilience, Leeds succumbed to Derby County last night on an evening when respite seemed to be at hand.
Rarely has Grayson seen victory ripped from his grasp as swiftly or brutally as it was at Pride Park.
If nothing else, United’s manager can always rely on his team for a goal, and no source is more reliable these days than the feet of Max Gradel.
When the winger brought a key Championship fixture to the boil with a special finish in the 58th minute, Grayson saw a clear path ahead.
Five minutes later, defeat was unexpectedly in the air.
Swift replies from Jamie Ward and Ben Davies, created by a Derby side who appeared to pose no threat of a comeback, consigned Leeds to a loss that will wound them more than their failure on Saturday. United have a tendency of falling foul of Millwall; County were more vulnerable yesterday, before and after Gradel’s strike.
Leeds retained their position in the Championship’s play-off places at full-time but the pressure that Grayson long anticipated is upon them fully.
Watford are due next at Elland Road for a game of immense importance. United’s manager showed no sign of panic last night but his club’s breathing space is all but gone.
It was as clear to Grayson as it was to those watching around him that Leeds struck the wrong tone at Millwall, and his measured criticism of a team who “never got started” hinted at a rethink in Derby. Grayson’s attention focused solely on his midfield and the changes he made, while few in number, were substantial in altering the impetus of his team.
Robert Snodgrass, who carried an injury into the game in Bermondsey, took his leave of United’s squad, and Grayson made room for both Barry Bannan and Neil Kilkenny by dropping Bradley Johnson to the bench, the first time in 27 matches that he saw fit to expel the Londoner from his line-up.
The revision was a tacit admission of a shortage of creative nous in Bermondsey, where Leeds caused infrequent trouble for Millwall’s goalkeeper, David Forde, but they were no more successful in unsettling Brad Jones during a tame first half.
Kilkenny made as good an effort to examine him as anyone, retrieving his own blocked shot in the 15th minute and lashing the rebound several yards over Jones’ crossbar, but the half-chance was reflective of a cagey game.
An effort from Steven Davies bounced wide at the other end of the field with the help of a deflection, but Derby came nowhere near Kasper Schmeichel for 34 minutes.
Their mood was that of a fragile club with nothing to offer, weighed down by the strain of a forgettable season.
Nigel Clough’s defence were still able to wade through periods of pressure from Leeds, and Shaun Barker stepped in with a timely header when Eric Lichaj overlapped Gradel and broke loose down the left wing.
With no goal in sight, United’s away following of 3,000-plus were left their own devices and set about dominating the stadium’s atmosphere.
The noise was designed to encourage but neither side were able to properly harness it. Luciano Becchio received the game’s first booking for deliberately handling a cross from Bannan – a show of frustration from a striker with no possession to work with – and Kilkenny’s skilful dispossession of Ben Davies prompted a counter-attack and an opportunity which Bannan put beyond Jones’ net from the edge of the box. What better of the game there was belonged exclusively to Leeds.
As the first half wore on, United began to see Derby short of bodies when the ball dropped to them. Gradel drilled a shot directly into Jones’ hands after picking up Jonathan Howson’s pass and stepping outside John Brayford, and Howson drew the first serious save from Jones after 28 minutes when Becchio’s chested lay-off caught Daniel Ayala ball-watching.
An unhelpful angle hampered United’s captain and Jones parried his attempt from 20 yards.
Grayson could sense his players turning the screw but, without the hint of a threat, Derby came within inches of opening the scoring in the 34th minute. Robbie Savage, the ageing pillar in County’s midfield, stabbed a hopeful lob into Schmeichel’s box and found Ward anticipating his pass.
The delivery needed the slightest touch to deflect into the net but Ward failed to supply it and Schmeichel smothered the ball at the second attempt.
United’s first-team coach, Glynn Snodin, remarked before last night’s game that Savage, at the age of 36, had “no legs” to speak of, and the approach to Ward was his first contribution of note.
His second came shortly after when he threw the ball at Kilkenny after a brief exchange of words with the Australian. Referee Graham Salisbury chose not to book Savage or waste time lecturing him.
Salisbury was less understanding when Ayala dragged his studs across Howson’s right shin, inviting the evening’s second yellow card six minutes before half-time, and the delay while Howson received treatment drew the game’s meagre sting.
Stephen Pearson brought the half to an end with another crunching foul on Kilkenny, adding his name to Salisbury’s growing list of offenders.
Within two minutes of the game resuming, Derby had fashioned a better chance than any which came their way before the interval.
Pearson found space on the left wing and timed a through-ball to meet the run of Ward.
The striker attempted to beat the on-rushing Schmeichel with a low finish but pulled his attempt a yard to the left of the Dane’s goal.
The near-miss had the effect of lighting a fuse.
Steven Davies came within a fraction of turning home a cross from his namesake Ben and Gareth Roberts appeared at the right time to stop Bannan stroking Gradel’s centre in to the net.
But none of Clough’s defenders were able to react when Gradel met the ball in the edge of Derby’s box with a strike which found the top corner of Jones’ net.
With 58 minutes gone, United’s support reacted as if the game was won.
Three minutes later, Pearson outstripped Paul Connolly and picked out Jamie Ward who rattled the ball past Schmeichel. Grayson had barely recovered from that when Ben Davies met Pearson’s corner with a fine volley which Schmeichel had no chance of reaching.
It fell to Schmeichel, a keeper criticised for his performance at Millwall, to keep Leeds in touch with high-quality saves from both Davies.
Grayson introduced Johnson and Davide Somma, and later Ross McCormack, and Salisbury offered his help by refusing to award a penalty when Ben Davies went down inside Schmeichel’s box under a challenge from Lichaj. Ultimately, and through many minutes of dreadful pressure, Derby did not need the insurance.
GRAYSON CRITICISES NAIVE LEEDS
Simon Grayson slammed his "naive" Leeds side after they slumped to a third consecutive away defeat but he remains confident they can still secure promotion to the Barclays Premier League. The Whites are now eight points behind second-placed Cardiff with five games remaining after they surrendered a lead to lose 2-1 at Derby.
Max Gradel fired the visitors in front at Pride Park but goals from Jamie Ward and a stunning volley from Ben Davies consigned Leeds to a defeat which leaves them just a point above seventh-placed Nottingham Forest.
Grayson admitted his side are up against it in their bid to secure automatic promotion but the former Blackpool boss is still confident they can make it back-to-back promotions. He said: "Until it's mathematically impossible we'll keep going but obviously back-to-back defeats is going to make it difficult.
"We've just got to keep working hard, we've got a big game at the weekend against Watford and we've got to roll our sleeves up and be confident we can go and win the next two home games against Watford and Reading and lets just see where it takes us.
"A couple of weeks ago we've said there would be twists and turns, we've had a couple of downward results, but we've certainly got enough in the dressing room to make sure we finish off in that top six."
Grayson felt the defeat was a missed opportunity for his side but insisted they only have themselves to blame. He added: "It's a game we knew we could win, it's a game we knew we had to take by the scruff of the neck to try and put Derby under pressure.
"First half we were in control without ever really playing to the top of our game in terms of the final third and creating things, but we said to the players at half-time, 'lets up it, get the first goal and we can go on and win the game'.
"We do that but then we're just naive in what we did, straight from the kick-off we must have given the ball away three or four times which allowed them opportunities to get at our defence and that's really naive.
"We contributed to our own downfall with some naive football."
Victory for Derby lifted them 11 points above the relegation zone and although manager Nigel Clough insists they are not totally safe, he believes they are not far off securing Championship football for another season. The Rams boss said: "I thought the second 45 minutes was as good as we've been all season.
"We played well before Christmas but in the circumstances, with the team we were playing against and where we find ourselves I thought the second 45 was magnificent and to go one goal down and come back as well, even more so." When asked if he felt the Rams were safe, Clough added: "Nearly, not quite but nearly. It would take a very strange set of results I think for that to happen but that can happen in football so we want to make sure."
Yet more midweek misery for Leeds United
Derby County 2 Leeds United 1
Leeds suffered more Tuesday night blues as lowly Derby gained the win their manager Nigel Clough said they needed for Championship safety.
United have won only one of their last nine Tuesday night matches and they badly need a win against Watford at Elland Road on Saturday to revive their promotion bid, with the chasing pack snapping at their heels in the race for play-off places.
After a goalless first half, Max Gradel fired Leeds into a 58th-minute lead but two goals in just over a minute by Jamie Ward and Ben Davies were enough to give Derby the points.
United, who have now lost four of their last five away games, made two changes, Neil Kilkenny and Barry Bannan replacing Bradley Johnson and the injured Robert Snodgrass.
Kilkenny had something to prove after being left out of the last three starting line-ups and the Australian international won possession before linking up with Jonny Howson to set up a chance which Bannan put wide.
Howson revelled in his role just behind Luciano Becchio and the Leeds captain tested Derby keeper Brad Jones with a stinging shot after a purposeful run.
United had two early let-offs after the break. First, Ward was left unmarked ten yards out, only to send a hurried left-foot shot wide. Then Pearson and Ward just failed to latch on to a cross with the Leeds defence caught out.
Leeds manager Simon Grayson was considering making changes seconds before Gradel broke the deadlock with an unstoppable 25-yard shot for his 17th goal of the season and his seventh in nine games.
However, Derby hit back to take the lead with two rapid goals and complete the double over their rivals. Livermore gave the ball away and Pearson’s cross was finished off by Ward to equalise. The cheers of the home crowd had hardly died down when Davies volleyed the Rams ahead from the corner of the penalty box following a corner.
Gradel and Davide Somma had shots saved by Jones before Kasper Schmeichel had to make an excellent stop to prevent Davies increasing Derby’s lead.
Sunday, April 10, 2011
Millwall 3 Leeds United 2: Pride for Lions as play-off charge gathers pace
Millwall continued their march towards the npower Championship play-offs as goals from James Henry, Liam Trotter and Steve Morison sank Leeds.
Henry blasted the Lions into the lead with a spectacular free-kick and Trotter doubled the advantage with a tap-in before the interval. Luciano Becchio pulled one back for Leeds early in the second half, but Wales striker Morison made the points safe before Andy O'Brien scored with the last kick of the match.
These two sides have become big rivals in recent years, having both made heavy weather of getting out of League One until they were eventually promoted last season. They could be on course to meet in the play-offs again with Leeds' hopes of automatic promotion fading fast.
The opening stages at a raucous, sold-out Den were typically scrappy but Henry lit up the game with his superb strike after 24 minutes. Jonathan Howson fouled Kevin Lisbie on the edge of the penalty area and Henry stepped up to powerfully curl the ball round the wall. Leeds goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel got a hand to the ball but could only help it into the net as Henry celebrated his fourth goal of the campaign.
And the shell-shocked visitors found themselves two down just six minutes later when Schmeichel failed to deal with Andros Townsend's corner and Trotter was able to flick the ball over the line from a couple of yards out.
Substitute Neil Harris, on for the injured Kevin Lisbie, almost grabbed a third moments later when he got a touch on Henry's free-kick but the ball flew wide.
Leeds tried to hit back before the interval but Becchio was denied by a superb block from Darren Ward as he attempted to tuck in Max Gradel's cross. However, Becchio's luck turned five minutes after the interval when he got a toe onto Bradley Johnson's long cross and prodded the ball past David Forde.
Lions keeper Forde came to the hosts' rescue moments later when he pulled off a fine save to keep out Gradel's fierce shot.
And instead it was Millwall who grabbed the game's crucial fourth goal just after the hour mark. Henry's initial shot was blocked and Morison beat Schmeichel to the loose ball, dinking it over the keeper and into the net.
Lions stalwart Harris could have piled on the misery for Leeds but he sent one effort wide and blazed another late chance over the top.
The hosts dozed off in injury-time when O'Brien converted Eric Lichaj's long throw but there was barely time to kick-off before the final whistle blew.
Sunday, April 03, 2011
Leeds United romp to victory against 10-man Nottingham Forest
Nottingham Forest are to appeal against defender Chris Cohen's first-half dismissal, which proved to be a key moment in their 4-1 defeat away to Leeds.
The game turned in the home side's favour in the 35th minute, when the referee, Mark Halsey, showed Cohen a red card for his lunging tackle on George McCartney in front of a furious home dug-out.
Forest's assistant manager, David Kelly, was so incensed by the decision that he refused to shake Simon Grayson's hand after the match.
The Leeds captain, Jonny Howson, broke the deadlock in the 51st minute and Luciano Becchio headed home a second six minutes later. But substitute Garath McCleary curled home a brilliant effort to throw 10-man Forest a lifeline in the 65th minute and Leeds looked jittery. Only after Max Gradel lashed home his first goal from the edge of the area in the 74th minute could the home fans breath more easily and Gradel pounced on a rebound for his second with four minutes remaining to leave Forest without a win in their last eight matches.
The Forest manager, Billy Davies, said: "I've spoken to our chief executive, Mark Arthur, and we're definitely intending to appeal the red card. Definitely. We've seen the DVD and the referee said it was for excessive force, but we'll definitely go to appeal and see how we get on."
The Forest bench clearly felt the Leeds manager's furious reaction to the tackle helped sway the referee's decision. Davies, careful not to say too much about the incident, added: "You decide for yourselves. You don't need me to tell you. We all know what took place.
"I said last week, it [promotion] will not be decided until the last two or three games and you're better being a lucky manager than a good one at this stage of the season. Promotion will all be decided on refereeing decisions, suspensions, injuries and Lady Luck.
"We did not deserve that today. Did we look like a side lacking in confidence? No. Did we look like a side that didn't have a work ethic? No. They worked their socks off and I'm very proud of what my players gave us. You can't legislate for certain decisions that take place."
Grayson, who challenged his players before kick-off to try to win all of their remaining games this season, felt Halsey was correct to send Cohen off. He said: "The referee got it clearly right. I know Chris Cohen and he's not a malicious player, but he left the ground two-footed, caught George McCartney and the ball. It was the right decision. If it had been one of my players that had done that I would have accepted the decision. It was a reckless, not malicious, challenge."
Grayson agreed Forest had caused his side plenty of problems before being reduced to 10 men. "They are a good side," he said. "You only have to look at their bench, the budget they've spent, they should be favourites for the division and they're going to cause problems. We had to be patient and move the ball around, push the two wide players further up the pitch to create space for our full-backs.
On Kelly's snub at the final whistle, Grayson said: "I'll always offer my hand, win, lose or draw and if people refuse it, then that's their problem."
Leeds 4 Nottingham Forest 1: Rousing win against 10-men raises promotion hopes at Elland Road
By Myles Hodgson
Nottingham Forest intend to appeal against the first-half dismissal of midfielder Chris Cohen, which proved the turning point in their costly defeat by promotion rivals Leeds.
Forest manager Billy Davies discussed the 35th-minute incident with his chief executive Mark Arthur and they decided to launch an appeal to the FA after Cohen appeared to lunge two-footed at Leeds full-back George McCartney.
Referee Mark Halsey showed Cohen a straight red card and although Davies refused to comment about the decision, he admitted: 'It's a pity the game didn't stay 11 versus 11 because we totally dominated, we created most of the chances and limited them to very few shots at goal. I was very proud of what I got from the players.'
Cohen's sending-off sparked a brief pushing match involving most of the players, although it quickly calmed down and did not reach the intensity of the 18-man brawl which marred the previous encounter between the sides in August when the FA fined both clubs for failing to control their players.
'From where I was standing it was a red card,' said Leeds manager Simon Grayson. 'He's left the ground two-footed and he might have taken the ball, but he could easily have broken George McCartney's leg.'
The dismissal spoiled an impressive opening from Forest, who have now gone eight matches without a win, and they could have taken the lead seconds earlier when defender Leigh Bromby blocked Marcus Tudgay's goalbound shot after Radoslaw Majewski pulled the ball back from a mazy left-wing run.
Down to 10 men, Forest were unable to maintain their early momentum and fell behind six minutes after the break when Leeds captain Jonny Howson burst into the box and converted Eric Lichaj's cross. Leading scorer Luciano Becchio claimed his 18th goal of the season to double the Leeds advantage by heading home after Bromby's header clipped the bar after a corner. Substitute Gareth McCleary briefly gave Forest hope by curling a shot into the top corner from the right side of the box, but two late goals from Max Gradel lifted Leeds's promotion hopes and delivered a blow to Forest as they slipped out of the play-off places.
Yorkshire Post 2/4/11
Leeds United 4 Nottingham Forest 1: Gradel caps Elland Road wonder show
A WONDER-GOAL from Max Gradel crowned a valuable victory for Leeds United in a heated encounter with promotion rivals Nottingham Forest.
Chris Cohen saw red for the visitors and six other players were booked as Leeds claimed victory courtesy of a second half strike apiece for Jonny Howson and Luciano Becchio plus a double from Gradel. Gareth McCleary replied for Forest with a sublime strike of his own but it was United who were celebrating come the final whistle after moving four points clear of Billy Davies’ men with seven games to play.
The vital breakthrough came on 51 minutes when neat link-play between Robert Snodgrass and Eric Lichaj led to the full back crossing for Jonny Howson. United’s captain then displayed great presence of mind to budge the ball away from Wes Morgan before beating Lee Camp.
Once ahead, Leeds visibly relaxed and doubled their advantage six minutes later when Luciano Becchio finished from close range after Leigh Bromby had headed Barry Bannan’s corner against the post.
Forest, though, refused to be downhearted and pulled a goal back midway through the second half when Gareth McLeary curled an exquisite shot beyond Kasper Schmeichel and into the top corner of the net. Schmeichel then came to Leeds’ rescue by turning over a goalbound effort from Wes Morgan before Gradel restored the home side’s two goal advantage. Bannan’s free-kick was the catalyst, Forest being unable to properly clear a bouncing ball and when Johnson headed it back towards goal, Gradel collected before finishing from the edge of the area. Gradel added a second three minutes from time after finishing from six yards after Lee Camp had denied both Becchio and Jake Livermore.
It gave the final score a flattering look for the home side with there being little doubt that this was nothing like a game that should have finished 4-1. Not, however, that anyone of a Leeds persuasion in the 29,524 crowd cared a jot at the final whistle.