LEEDS United’s top turvy season sees them eyeing a top six place again if they can make it three home wins on the trot for the first time this season, writes Tony Harber.
While the Whites only climbed two places to ninth with their come from behind victory against Ipswich they are only three points behind fourth-placed Reading and just one behind seventh-placed Birmingham, who are their next opponents at Elland Road tomorrow night (Tuesday).
For all the talk of doom and gloom and anger at the sale of local lad Jonny Howson United have somehow battled through their last three games to pick up seven points and keep themselves in the race for a play-off place.
In the process the players have surely done enough to keep manager Simon Grayson in a job for now even if it has been skin of the teeth stuff with less than convincing performances and the side being helped by an extraordinary run of their last three league opponents having a player sent-off when they were in front.
Grayson knows his team will have to play better to pick up another three points against a Birmingham side that are one of the form teams of the Npower Championship with 14 goals scored without reply in their last four games. They are unbeaten in nine matches and have one of the best defensive records in the division.
Chris Hughton’s side knocked Premiership Wolves out of the FA Cup and are now through to the fifth round after walloping Sheffield United 4-0. They also acquitted themselves respectably in the UEFA Cup and have done well to juggle their cup commitments with a climb up the table.
They were somewhat fortunate to beat Leeds 1-0 in the sides’ first meeting at October, but with their ability to keep clean sheets and their defensive organisation they are as hard as anyone in the division to beat and it will be a surprise if they are as helpful as Burnley and Ipswich have been in United’s last two home games.
Leeds fans will be expecting at least one significant signing before the match, which comes on transfer window deadline day. With £5 million or so raised from the sales of Kasper Schmeichel, Max Gradel and Howson in the last six months and the squad looking decidedly weaker than this time last year it is little wonder the fans are restless and nothing less than some serious backing from the board will go anywhere to appeasing them.
It does not help that United are saddled with some high earners who are not considered first teamers any more yet are still draining money from the club. But the sale of the captain and most loyal player sends a dangerous signal out. As a result Robert Snodgrass, Ross McCormack, Aidan White and Adam Clayton have all been linked with moves, although Grayson has gone on record to say that no more “big guns” will be sold.
Defender Alex Bruce is interesting LA Galaxy while one player Leeds are linked with is Leicester midfielder Richie Wellens.