AFTER a rollercoaster few days left Leeds United where they started before the holidays - a point behind the play-off places in the Npower Championship - it is FA Cup time again with the Whites looking to pull off another giantkilling at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium on Monday night, writes Tony Harber.
Whether this United side is playing well enough to make lightning strike again after earning a highly creditable draw away to Arsenal in last year’s FA Cup - only to lose despite a heroic effort in the replay at Elland Road - is debatable, but the competition and glamour tie will provide a welcome distraction for under pressure manager Simon Grayson.
The way he danced down the touchline in celebration at Ross McCormack’s injury-time winner against Burnley on Monday showed just how relieved he was at his side ending their run of three defeats.
With some pundits predicting the sack for the manager if another defeat had followed the fast becoming annual Oakwell horror show against Barnsley on Saturday the ultimately deserved 2-1 victory over Burnley ought to have bought Grayson some time. And if he can now plot a shock to rival the win over Manchester United and draws at Arsenal and Tottenham in the cup in the last two seasons he can only improve his standing.
Grayson will look to name as strong a side as possible for the trip to the Emirates and may have a couple back after they missed the New Year games with defender Tom Lees (head injury) and winger Robert Snodgrass (appendix operation) hoping to be back in contention.
Both are racing against time to be ready, however, and United could face a defensive crisis with only one fit centre-back following Monday’s match when two players suffered injuries and whoever plays can expect to be up against Arsenal legend Thierry Henry following his return to the Gunners.
The cup tie has been earmarked for his second time around debut and although he has lost a yard of the devastating pace he once had his presence in the home team will ensure a big match atmosphere.
Grayson confirmed that he may be forced to go into the transfer or loan market to shore up his defence.
He said: “Darren O’Dea is our only fit centre-half at this moment in time.
“Alex Bruce has done his hamstring, Paddy Kisnorbo has injured his knee. Leigh Bromby’s out two or three weeks with a calf injury and Tom Lees missed out (against Burnley) with a head injury.
“We’re hopeful that Tom will be available for the Arsenal game, but we are under doctor’s orders basically.
“It’s an area that we going to have to strengthen very soon.
“There are other priorities on the pitch and we’ve got some money to try and do some business with. We’ll try and spend the money wisely with what we’ve got available.
“We’ve got quite a big squad here and we’re looking to move one or two players out to pastures new and that will free up some capital for players we need to bring in to affect the first team.
“The players we bring in have got to be better than the ones we already have here. We’ve got a good bunch, but we need to add to it to make us better.”
After a serious blip when Leeds picked up only one point and only scored two injury-time goals in their previous four games, Grayson was pleased to get back to winning ways against Burnley in the first game of 2012.
He added: “We’ve stopped the rot, but we know we’ve still got a lot of work to do on the training pitch with the players we’ve got and new players coming in. Hopefully we can kick on now.
“With five minutes to go, we were staring down the barrel of another defeat. But I thought we played well and had enough chances.
“The work-rate was really good, we closed them down, got balls into the box and just didn’t get the breaks. But we kept going right to the end.
“It’s a massive result for everybody. We’re at home, we don’t want to get adrift of the play-off positions and it’s important we win football matches.
“The players showed immense character. We had players that came into the team and did very well. Zac Thompson was excellent for a young kid, he started in central midfield and switched to right-back. Andros Townsend gave us something we’d not had over the last few weeks - somebody who can carry the ball and run at defenders.”