Tim Steere writes his weekly article for Vital Leeds United and unsurprisingly this week his attention turns to Simon Grayson who was dismissed as manager of the club earlier this week.
The overwhelming reaction of most Leeds fans and pundits to the sacking of Simon Grayson has been “shocked, but not surprised.” I`ll add myself to that list as well, but I wish I could claim a pound back for every time I heard that phrase being used, I could`ve had at least £46 pounds by now.
So why are we all feeling that way?
A look at Grayson`s history at the club presents an overwhelmingly positive report. Struggling to reach the play offs in League One, Grayson came in after an acrimonious departure from Blackpool to try and steer his boyhood club back towards the top flight.
His first match on Boxing day 2008 at home to Leicester was almost make or break. Leeds had sacked Gary McAllister and were desperate for a turnaround. A late Robert Snodgrass equaliser changed the mood. Grayson showed his passion on the sidelines; and it almost seemed Leeds was united again.
The feel good factor of that match spread and Leeds began picking up results. It was very rare to have a manager in charge that all the fans were behind at Elland Road. Very rare. But Grayson was one. A Leeds fan, a former Leeds player (albeit briefly), and a passionate man on the touchline.
Leeds started to play free flowing attacking football. A joy to watch and the wins racked up with Elland Road becoming a fortress. A play-off semi-final defeat to Millwall at the end of the 2008/9 season was disappointing, but the overall consensus was that Simon Grayson was building something positive, and that promotion would be a realistic possibility next season.
And what a season it was. January 3rd. Remember the day? More on that later.
Leeds went 8 games unbeaten at the start of the 09/10 season with 7 wins and a draw, and a 3rd round league cup draw against Liverpool which was a narrow 1-0 defeat. But Leeds were back, widely praised for the performance which Liverpool player Jamie Carragher said, was the toughest test his side has faced all season.
A rocking Elland Road showed the watching national television audience and watching press that Leeds United were on the way back.
A sense of pride had been restored. And on January 3rd 2010, the chests were puffed out and 9,000 fans inside Old Trafford witnessed in footballing terms a near minor miracle. A league One side going to the home of the Premiership champions and not only winning, but keeping a clean sheet. No-one across the country could quite believe what had happened. For the first time in Sir Alex Ferguson`s history, his side had been knocked out in the 3rd round of the FA Cup.
DVD`s and t-shirts followed along with acclaim from all quarters. But after that, the league form suffered. After a virtually unbeaten opening half to the season, Leeds struggled through to the end of the campaign. The title looked on the cards initially, but now it went down to the last day of the season to get automatic promotion to the championship.
Bristol Rovers at home. What a day. Gradel sent off, Rovers leading, It looked like the play offs again, then Howson`s strike transformed the mood and Beckford hammered home the second minutes later. Cue pandemonium inside Elland Road. Leeds were back in the Championship.
The following season is what many put down Grayson`s sacking down to. Over-achievement. A seventh placed finish in the first back in the Championship was widely praised by many, but some Leeds fans wanted a play-off place.
Despite expectations from most at the start of the season that a mid-table consolidation would be more than acceptable, the good results and being in the top 6 for most of the season meant disappointment at missing out.
As a result the pressure was always going to be on this season for reaching the play offs again; even though 3 seasons is the benchmark after promotion if you want to go up again. The success of Norwich winning two successful promotions in the same time also rankled with Leeds fans as they were deemed a smaller club than Leeds.
Losing players like Bradley Johnson, Neil Kilkenny and Max Gradel always made the task more difficult, but this season`s performances, overall, have been far from positive.
Scraping through matches and getting results, the pressure was beginning to show. The New Year `s Eve defeat to Barnsley was the first signs of Grayson losing his cool. Saying certain players would never play for him again. Connolly and Vayrynen have not been seen since, but it did lead to the introduction of Zac Thompson, a major positive.
But after the sale of Jonny Howson, the fans turned against the chairman and the atmosphere was becoming poisonous. Negativity was sweeping throughout the club, and Grayson was struggling to change results. The 4-1 defeat to Birmingham the tipping point. With the board believing a new manager would be able to get Leeds into the play offs with 18 games to go.
The faith had been lost in Grayson but he did bring stability to the club and a win record of near 50% in three years is not to be sniffed at.
The recent performances and results weren`t good enough for many, but Grayson was a manager we all wanted to succeed. Many felt his hands were tied by Bates and his lack of spending, something the chairman denies, saying Grayson had overspent on the player budget, nearing £11m.
But after everything he had done, getting Leeds back to the Championship, the win over Man U, the positive performances against premiership teams, the free scoring football (even if it was coupled with a leaky defence) meant overall the report card for Grayson was good, but could do better. The constantly leaky defence the biggest pitfall.
What`s needed now is the next step, maybe Grayson had reached his peak. He did with Leeds what he did with Blackpool.
Holloway took the Tangerines the next step, now it is time for someone else to step in and do the same. Who? I do not know, but Warnock wouldn`t go amiss. He did the same with QPR.
It`s a big decision, and no surprise that Neil Redfearn is in charge for now. To sack a popular manager like Grayson who had done so much is a big, big call. What is bigger now is finding the right man to finally get Leeds back where they belong with no money to spend until the summer. It`s a challenge of getting the best out of what we have. Making the task even harder.
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