Leeds United’s promotion from League One in 2010 was almost nailed on at Christmas.
Twenty-one games had yielded 50 points and only one defeat at Millwall, a ground where Leeds never hoped for much.
By the Easter weekend the club were in an unexpected state of panic. Four losses back-to-back, the last a 3-0 defeat at home to Swindon Town, dropped United to fourth in the table as many began to ask if their season had blown up. The future of manager Simon Grayson was suddenly up for discussion amid the fear of a fourth straight year in League One.
Grayson and Leeds faced a televised Easter Monday trip to Yeovil Town on April 5 with doubt surrounding them. United’s boss was typically optimistic and defiant about suggestions that the club’s chairman, Ken Bates, might be losing patience with him. “We talked about the (Swindon) game, a five or 10-minute chat as normal,” Grayson said. “He was very positive, saying ‘let’s get 21 points from the last seven games’.”
As he pondered his line-up for Yeovil, Grayson knew he was under pressure to drop leading scorer Jermaine Beckford. Beckford was on the way to producing 31 goals that season but it was telling that United’s spate of defeats had come at a time when the striker was on a run of three in 14 games. Grayson chose to back the forward and paired him up front with Max Gradel. Without Luciano Becchio, who was recovering from a head injury, the United boss was crying out for goals. In the end they came from an unexpected source at Huish Park – a brace from captain Richard Naylor who had scored only once previously for Leeds and would not score for the club again.
The centre-back broke the deadlock and calmed United’s nerves on 28 minutes by looping home Jonathan Howson’s cross. A second header six minutes later – driven past Alex McCarthy from a Neil Kilkenny corner – gave Leeds complete control of the game. That control was lost on 66 minutes as Michael Doyle surrendered possession and Dean Bowditch reduced Yeovil’s deficit but United clung on through a tense finish.
The result was not enough to take Grayson’s squad back into League One’s automatic promotion places but it ended a bad run and proved the catalyst for a dramatic and decisive final month. Naylor was pleased with his goals but more satisfied to have made a point.
“We’ve all been taking a bit of stick and we’ve all been under pressure but we stuck together and we’ve been telling ourselves for a while that it would turn,” he said. People have written us off and that’s what happens when you lose a few games or go through what we’ve been going through. But there was no danger we’d given up on automatic promotion. That’s never going to happen.”
Grayson had been in no doubt about the importance of the fixture at Yeovil but was certain too that United’s season was back on course. His confidence was vindicated when Leeds secured a return to the Championship five weeks later.
“I told the players beforehand that we needed to win the game, whatever it took,” Grayson said. “For 60 minutes we totally dominated and it could have been a really comfortable afternoon. We never do things the easy way but I’m delighted to have won.
“The players have been under pressure but they stood up to be counted. That’s very satisfying.”
Yeovil Town 1
Leeds United 2 (Naylor 29, 34)
League One, Monday, April 5, 2010
Yeovil: McCarthy, Alcock, Caulker, Forbes, Williams, Kalala, MacDonald, Davies (Welsh 64), Smith, Tomlin, Bowditch. Unused subs: Martin, Jones, Murtagh, Murray, Hutchins, Downes.
Leeds United: Higgs, Naylor, Bromby, Collins, Doyle, Kilkenny (Johnson 88), Howson, Hughes, Gradel, Beckford (Watt 88), Snodgrass. Unused subs: Ankergren, Parker, Lowry, Dickov, Grella.
Referee: Kevin Wright.