Leeds United: Brad and Leigh deserve the gongs

THE bouquets have been handed around with zeal in the wake of Leeds United's scintillating slaying of Championship pace-setters Queens Park Rangers – with two players deserving of special garlands.

That's the considered view of big defender Neill Collins, who is quick to hand hearty backslaps in the direction of forgotten man Leigh Bromby and transfer-listed Bradley Johnson following their impressive input to United's head-turning victory over the R's which has made their upwardly-mobile second-tier rivals sit up and take notice.

Saturday represented a rare moment to savour in a tough campaign for versatile defender Bromby, starved of game time for the best part of four-and-a-half months ahead of the arrival of the Londoners.

Alex Bruce's early departure with a groin injury, which he aggravated after picking up an initial 'niggle' in the pre-match warm-up, saw the Dewsbury-born ace take to the field for just the second time this season – his previous outing coming as a late sub in the 2-1 victory over Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium in mid-October.

The 30-year-old slotted seamlessly into the back four to help United claim just their fifth clean sheet in 22 Championship matches so far this term – and only their second at Elland Road – with manager Simon Grayson acknowledging that the out-in-the-cold stopper did a "great job."

The engine-room contribution of Johnson, who put aside concerns over his long-term future to turn in another industrious shift – a fortnight on from being booed by the home faithful in the 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace – was also not lost upon Collins.

The Scot, of course, is seeking his third promotion to the Premier League with separate clubs, after tasting champagne highs in the past with Sunderland and Wolves.

Collins, who again stepped into breach for the injured Andy O'Brien and had plenty of reason to smile about on the personal front on Saturday, said: "I think we played the best team in the league in terms of their position, and in that respect it was a good result.

"I think we've had a lot of good wins, but that was definitely up there (as one of the best). The performance, coupled with the result, was excellent.

"For me, I think it was extra special in terms of Leigh (Bromby) and I was pleased for him. He deserved that.

"He's really been the ultimate professional. That goes unnoticed a lot because when teams are doing well, people tend to just look at the first 11.

"But Lee's done fantastically and you just need to look at his CV in the Championship, which is great."

He added: "An extra mention should go to Bradley Johnson again, as well.

"People talk about Elland Road being a hard place to play. Couple that with the fact of being on the transfer list and I think he's been different class. The boys all want him to stay and we were all very pleased for him to get another good performance under his belt in front of the fans."

Max Gradel may have seen his name in lights following his stellar two-goal weekend contribution, but the value of the squad system and of players hitherto on the sidelines 'mucking in' when pressed into service was probably the thing that delighted grounded boss Grayson the most.

And with the likes of Collins and Bromby stepping up to the plate it offers him food for thought in terms of his defensive options.

And for rugged Scot Collins, his experiences on Saturday were light years away from his previous outing at Elland Road – the 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Cardiff City back on October 25.

Buoyant United showed just how much they have learned and progressed following that fateful trial by TV and Collins feels their evolution has been striking following the hammering at the hands of the Bluebirds, the precursor to a sizzling nine-match unbeaten streak.

He said: "We've come a long way since then (Cardiff). I think that kind of thing can happen to any team in the Championship, home or away; you look at what Watford last week did to QPR.

Squads

"We learnt a wee bit from that, the management included, and I think we've moved on.

"Obviously, it's nice for me to be back in as well. I was disappointed to be out of the team, especially on the back of a tough away win at Coventry.

"But that's football. It's squads that win the Championship and that's what we are aiming to do."

Saturday's potentially seminal victory has set United up nicely for the hectic run of four Championship fixtures in the space of nine madcap days over the congested festive period.

And after finding a path back into the first-team, Collins admits he is desperate to be involved in holiday crackers against the likes of Leicester City, Portsmouth and Cardiff – not to mention the mouthwatering televised FA Cup assignment at Arsenal on January 8 when the Whites will be roared on by an army of 8,500 travelling supporters. All promise to be occasions to savour, with United also facing a spicy home test to start 2011 at home to Borowhich, like the Pompey clash, is set to draw a bumper gate.

While the Gunners fixture might represent the marquee one over the coming weeks, the last thing United will be doing is getting side-tracked.

The be-all and end-all for Grayson and Co is Championship business, given the way they have grafted to hoist themselves up to second spot to gatecrash the automatic promotion picture which was looking like a two-horse race not so long ago.

Collins added: "The Christmas and new year games, especially at Elland Road, will be fantastic.

"And that's why people want to come and play for Leeds United – because of those days and the likes of the one against QPR. People talk about the extra pressure (playing at home), but you get the good times as well.

"Yes, there's the Arsenal game as well but, to be honest, we're not really thinking about that.

"Now the fans are giddy and just looking at the league table!

"But when the FA Cup comes along, it will give us a breather. It was slightly different to last year, as it was against Manchester United, and I think the fans have learnt from that.

"A win on Saturday was important as I feel we've got a tough fixture list coming up.

"If we can get through to the Arsenal game with a couple of more wins, we'll be sitting in a healthy position."

Kalvin Phillips

Video: Leeds United’s Phillips accepts he can no longer have his cake and eat it