Simon Grayson has spoken out in defence of Andy O’Brien and backed him to regain his better form after the Leeds United centre-back was jeered from the field during Tuesday’s Carling Cup tie against Bradford City.
Grayson called the sarcastic reaction to O’Brien’s 62nd-minute substitution “over the top” and said the former Bolton Wanderers defender was likely to be suffering from a shortage of confidence on the back of a disrupted pre-season.
O’Brien suffered a side strain little more than a week into Leeds’ summer training programme and he was not able to take part in any of their friendlies until his 45-minute appearance against Newcastle United at Elland Road on July 31.
Grayson fielded him again in a behind-closed-doors meeting with Leicester City three days later and opted to start O’Brien at Southampton last weekend, but United conceded three times at St Mary’s and were picked apart twice by Bradford on Tuesday evening.
O’Brien cut a frustrated figure as he left the field but the introduction of Leigh Bromby and Tom Lees, who replaced Paul Connolly at right-back, helped inspire the fightback which earned Leeds a 3-2 victory and sent them into a second-round tie against Doncaster Rovers.
Grayson said: “Andy’s an experienced player and he understood the decision. Fortunately the substitutions made an impact on the game.
“If you look at his situation, he didn’t play too much in pre-season. He felt he was right for Southampton and Bradford, I thought he was right and the physios thought he was right. Maybe he’s not playing with as much confidence as other players and that might be why a couple of things have gone against him.
“But I firmly believe that he’s a top professional and good player and everyone has little blips in stages of games and stages of their career. He’ll come out fighting if and when he’s in the team.
“The reaction was a little over the top because I don’t think he was playing that badly but football’s a ruthless industry.”
Grayson persisted on Tuesday with the defence named against Southampton, minus Darren O’Dea who was absent with the Republic of Ireland and made way for Ben Parker.
O’Dea was one of four Leeds players engaged in international fixtures in midweek and unavailable for the visit of Bradford, and Grayson added his voice to the raft of complaints about the scheduling of friendlies in the opening week of the Football League season.
O’Dea reported back to Thorp Arch on Thursday morning and Robert Snodgrass returned in the afternoon having scored on his full debut in Scotland’s win over Denmark.
But Max Gradel, who was part of the Ivory Coast squad for their meeting with Israel in Geneva, was unable to link up with United’s squad until yesterday, 24 hours before the club’s game against Middlesbrough. Aidan White, meanwhile, featured for the Republic of Ireland’s Under-21s but had not appeared in Grayson’s squad at Southampton and seems to be on the fringes of United’s plans.
Grayson said: “It’s frustrating that they play on a Wednesday night and you can’t really do anything with them on the Thursday. You’ve basically got one day of preparation for the weekend. That comes with having international players in your squad and you’ve just got to live with it.
“It’s far worse for Premier League teams because they’re planning for their first game of the season, never mind having two under their belts. But as other people have said already, it’s ridiculous scheduling.
“The Premier League season hasn’t even started and they’re already having friendlies, and there were Carling Cup games as well. We’ve all lost players and that might be why you saw so many shocks. Fringe players had to come into certain teams, hence why a few of them lost. The sides from League One and League Two had full compliments of players.
“Sometimes it’s hard enough playing against teams who have the potential to upset you with your full squad, never mind with half of your players missing.”
Forward Ramon Nunez broke the mould of international call-ups by rejecting a summons to Honduras’ game against Venezuela in the United States on Wednesday evening.
The absence of other prominent first-team players – Snodgrass and Gradel in particular – cleared the way for Nunez to make his full debut against Bradford, and he won the tie for Leeds with two goals in the second half.
The 25-year-old has suspended his international career for the time being in an effort to establish himself as a trusted first-team player at Elland Road after an inactive first season with Leeds. His only competitive starts last term were made on loan at Scunthorpe.
Grayson said: “I think he’s realised that his bread and butter is club football.
“If he was a recognised first-team player then he’d have gone off to Honduras and had no problems with that but what he’s done is decide that he wants to make an impact here. He wants an opportunity to get into the team.
“He saw the players who were going away and he’ll have looked at that, knowing he might be starting. He’s grasped his opportunity.
“The biggest thing you can say about him is that he’s always kept his head down and worked really hard. He had no qualms about going out to Scunthorpe on loan and it gave him the chance to learn and develop.”