Simon Grayson took the view that, a wretched defeat to Southampton aside, Leeds United’s performances in the first month of the season were almost on the money.
With September upon him and the Championship table in need of a shake, his focus has deferred to points on the board.
August yielded only four from five games, a tally which under-rewarded Grayson’s squad and took them into the international break as the Championship’s 19th-placed club.
United’s manager rebuked his players after their loss to Southampton on the opening day of the season but most of his ire was reserved for two referees and a spate of misfortune. In Grayson’s view, luck deserted his club.
As examples, he would point to the contentious dismissal of Aidan White at Ipswich Town – a red card which United tried unsuccessfully to overturn on appeal – and the deflected goal which earned Ipswich a 2-1 victory in the 90th minute.
He felt similarly aggrieved at Upton Park, where an own goal and a missed penalty restricted Leeds to a 2-2 draw with West Ham United. The less said about their loss to Middlesbrough, in which Max Gradel and Jonathan Howson were both sent off, the better.
Prior to United’s appearance at Portman Road a fortnight ago, Grayson felt that his club were approaching the end of an acceptable month – a month in which they had routed Hull City, rattled West Ham and progressed to the third round of the Carling Cup. A third league defeat instead forced him to reflect on United’s worst start to a season since 1997.
It was not a statistic he saw as relevant or in any way reflective of United’s football. But with Crystal Palace due at Elland Road tomorrow and six points already separating Leeds from the Championship’s play-off places, he can see the need for an encouraging result; two, if possible, from back-to-back home fixtures in the space of the next eight days.
“The results haven’t gone for us and neither have a few decisions,” Grayson said. “But as a manager you look at how your players are performing and I’m really pleased in that respect.
“The league table doesn’t lie because these are the points we’ve got, but anyone who’s watched all of our games would say circumstances have been dictated by other people and certain refereeing decisions.
“But we’re not just sitting here waiting for our luck to change. If we do 90 per cent of what we’ve done for the past month, then we’ll start getting results regularly. Ultimately, as a manager you’re judged on results and I’d take winning tomorrow by playing poorly. Winning is what the game’s all about and I know what we need to be doing.”
A month into the season, the Championship table is following an unpredictable pattern. Leeds, in 19th, are surrounded by Reading, Birmingham City and Nottingham Forest. Of the top six clubs, only West Ham were unanimously expected to be there. Palace, for one, were evidently not.
The South London club scraped clear of relegation last season, reaching a position of safety after a 1-0 victory over Leeds on Easter Monday which effectively ruled United out of the play-offs.
An exodus of sorts followed – among the departures midfielder Neil Danns, a thorn in Leeds’ side – but Palace averaged two points a game during August and ended the month with a total of 10.
In amongst their results were home wins over Burnley and Coventry and a first away victory for 10 long months, recorded at Hull on August 20.
“We don’t get carried away by that sort of thing,” said Palace’s manager, Dougie Freedman. “I just concentrate on making us a better team.”
The danger for Leeds tomorrow is likely to be Palace’s pace on the counter-attack, something which Middlesbrough used to good effect during their bizarre win at Elland Road.
Grayson expects nothing other than a repeat of the tight and competitive matches contested by United and Palace last season.
Grayson’s line-up will be revised with White banned and player-of-the-year Gradel no longer part of the squad at Elland Road. Those losses cut a hole in the left side of Grayson’s team, highlighting a possible weakness in an area which previously picked itself.
“Dougie has Palace well organised and they know what they’re doing,” Grayson said. “They’re building off what they did at the back end of last season.
“I spoke to another manager earlier in the week and he was saying that you’ll find no easy games in this division. Palace obviously aren’t an easy touch and they’ve got players who can win matches. But we’ve got players who can hurt them too.”
United’s manager recently made the brutally honest admission that the presence of Leeds in the Championship’s relegation places, as they were after two league matches, was “embarrassing” and “reflects on me as a manager”.
He did not expect his side to stay there and would not expect 19th position to be a long-term ranking for a club who finished seventh last season. He is equally aware that a lowly league position would not be tolerated indefinitely.
Grayson said: “We’ve got expectancy levels here and because of the way we performed last season, I don’t want to see my team down in that part of the division. Even now you look at the league and think the same.
“I don’t look at it too much but you can’t get away from the table because it’s in front of you most of the time.We’re down there and I know we’ve got the capabilities to be much higher up.”