Gradel double gets Leeds United faithful believing again
During the downward spiral that brought Leeds United two relegations, two play-off defeats and one administration, the club's stature must have been like a millstone around the neck.
Yet such things as tradition and support can galvanise at other times and it felt that way on Saturday as Leeds' push for a Premier League return gained momentum with a victory over leaders QPR that lifted them to second in the Championship.
Before the kick-off Eddie Gray, a stalwart of the Don Revie era, spoke with confidence about Leeds' squad having the quality and depth for automatic promotion. After an hour, that belief had gripped the whole ground as, with Leeds leading 1-0, fans on all four sides of Elland Road stood swirling scarves and singing an old hymn from Gray's own playing days.
"We are the champions, champions of Europe" may not fit the second-tier setting -- and QPR manager Neil Warnock accused Leeds of overdoing the celebrations after the game -- but it showed the renewed optimism at a club last in the top flight in 2004.
Leeds manager Simon Grayson described it as their best display of the campaign and admitted his team had exceeded expectations since last May's promotion from League One. "It is not something we'd envisaged when we started the season. We'd hoped we would be top half, pushing on (but) we have given ourselves an opportunity."
Of promotion, Grayson believes that "somebody will eventually take this club back because of the facilities, the fan base, the size and the history", but knows that a tough Christmas period beckons, including visits to Leicester and Cardiff.
"There are big games coming up but we are going into that run with a lot of confidence," added the manager, whose weekend got even better when top-scorer Luciano Becchio signed a new contract after the match. Leeds have not lost since Cardiff thumped them 4-0 at Elland Road on October 25, an improvement which has coincided with embracing a 4-2-3-1 formation. Leeds look solid defensively and are fluid in their attacking play.
Grayson praised their "one-touch, two-touch football" on a day when wingers Robert Snodgrass and Max Gradel troubled QPR's defence. Gradel scored both goals -- the first after a Snodgrass cross and Johnny Howson flick, the second on a quick counter-attack.
In a fine advert for Championship football, the visitors were equally attack-minded but lacked an end product as they suffered a second straight loss after a 19-game unbeaten start.