9 January ~ A draw, three defeats and a fortuitous injury-time victory wasn’t the sort of Christmas present Leeds fans were hoping for. That this dire return over the festive period bears all the hallmarks of last season’s mid-term collapse hasn’t helped quell the growing calls for a change in both the boardroom and management at Elland Road. Had Ross McCormack not fired in from close range in injury time following a goalkeeping error to clinch an unlikely and unconvincing win against ten-man Burnley, Leeds may well have gone into their FA Cup third round clash with Arsenal tonight without a manager.
On paper, Simon Grayson’s record impeccable: play-offs, automatic promotion and then seventh in the club’s first season back in the Championship. That he achieved this on a skeletal budget makes his achievements all the more remarkable. His die-hard supporters can rightly point out that the current slump in form corresponds with the loss of talismanic skipper Johnny Howson and Robert Snodgrass, arguably two of the club’s most gifted players.
Couple this with the departures of Bradley Johnson, Neil Kilkenny and Max Gradel in the summer, then the fact that the club is only one point shy of a play-off place at the moment is nothing short of miraculous.
But what continues to irk supporters is the club’s woeful defensive record. Last season Leeds were one of the top scorers in the division, but only a handful of teams conceded more goals. Despite Grayson bringing in numerous defenders and continually shuffling the pack to find a winning formula, the defensive malaise continues. The only ray of sunshine is the emergence of academy products such as Aidy White and Tom Lees.
Grayson’s patchy form in the transfer market hasn’t helped to silence those calling for his head. Excluding White, the 11 players that faced the club’s South Yorkshire rivals Barnsley were Grayson signings, a point not lost on the supporters who witnessed the 4-1 drubbing.
Given the lack of cash in the transfer kitty and the board’s unwillingness to pay competitive wages, the chances of Leeds bringing in any players of note in the January transfer window look grim.
Loan signings like Andros Townsend from Spurs might help shore things up in the short term, but with slim financial resources it is unlikely Grayson will be able to bring in the handful of quality players that would give the club a realistic chance of having a genuine shot at a play-off place.
With chairman Ken Bates not renowned for his patience, it seems increasingly unlikely that Grayson will be at the club come the end of the season, regardless of whether or not he causes a Cup upset at the Emirates this evening. Simon Creasey