Leeds United are likely to make at least two signings next month as manager Simon Grayson looks to take advantage of the most open of Championship seasons.
Grayson has informed United's chairman, Ken Bates, of his desire to improve his squad in the January transfer window following the 11-game run which has put Leeds in a three-way tie for second position.
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Grayson's team spilled four precious points in the space of 48 hours during their Christmas fixtures against Leicester City and Portsmouth but they will enter the new year with a firm interest in both automatic promotion and the Championship's play-offs.
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United hold parity with Cardiff City and Swansea City on 40 points, seven behind long-standing leaders QPR who have re-established their dominance of the league in the days since their 2-0 defeat at Elland Road on December 19.
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The January transfer window opens on Saturday and business between English clubs will begin in earnest next week. Grayson is among the coaches looking for recruits on the back of two highly- productive months.
He indicated after Tuesday's meeting with Portmouth that a new central midfielder was on his list of priorities after receiving confirmation that Neil Kilkenny will play little part in the club's January schedule.
Kilkenny is part of the Australia squad named for the Asian Cup in Qatar next month and will take his leave of United's Championship term after Saturday's league game against Middlesbrough.
He was left out of Grayson's side for the first time in 11 matches on Tuesday, an unused substitute in Leeds' 3-3 draw with Portsmouth.
Grayson is also likely to consider improvements to a defence which, despite the club's unbeaten run, has conceded 40 goals in league games this season.
The temporary deal agreed with Bolton Wanderers for centre-back Andy O'Brien expires after next week's crucial visit to Cardiff and Leeds confirmed their intention to retain the 31-year-old for the rest of the season after extending his loan in November.
Sources say Bolton are ready to negotiate a longer agreement with Leeds.
Bates revealed recently that United were actively assessing the
transfer market ahead of the January transfer window and Grayson remains of the opinion that the chance of promotion exists for numerous clubs with the term halfway towards completion.
"Like every manager, I want to improve my squad," Grayson said. "I want to push forward and try to get to the Premier League. This year is a great opportunity for any team because the Championship is so open.
"I'd like to improve the squad, the chairman knows that and I'm sure if I identify players who I want to bring in then he'll back me.
"We'll be linked with a lot of players over the next few weeks because playing for this club is a big attraction. The players we do bring in will make us better for the rest of the season."
United's defensive record – marginally better than that held by 24th-placed Preston North End – has been offset by their prolific form at the other end of the field.
Bradley Johnson's finish in the second half against Portsmouth was Leeds' 49th goal in league and Carling Cup fixtures and the strength of Grayson's attacking resources were shown by his decision to rest leading scorer Luciano Becchio on Tuesday.
Kilkenny joined the Argentinian on the bench and Grayson is planning for next month without the influential Australian, knowing that his involvement in the Asian Cup could keep him in Qatar until January 29.
The 25-year-old is available to play against Middlesbrough on Saturday but is certain to miss Leeds' visit to Cardiff and their high-profile FA Cup tie at Arsenal. His call-up, however, is a return to international football after more than two years on the fringes of Australia's senior squad.
"I'm delighted for Neil," said Grayson. "It's recognition for how well he's been playing and recognition for the club as well. After the Middlesbrough game he'll disappear for a few weeks and that'll give someone else an opportunity – whether that's somebody already in the squad or if we sign a new player."
Grayson's dealings next month are unlikely to be influenced heavily by the club's last two fixtures, games in which he was impressed with his side's performances but let down by their results.
Leeds were unable to retain a 2-0 lead at Leicester on Boxing Day and allowed Portsmouth to recover from a 3-1 deficit, but Grayson said: "There's still a lot of belief in the dressing room.
"The players are disappointed that they've not beaten two very good teams and that's a decent hallmark to have. We know that we've got a lot of work to do, but we're capable of winning matches in this division. We've got to keep plugging away.
"I asked the players 11 games ago to show some consistency and we've done that by going 11 games unbeaten. They're enjoying the Championship and we just need a bit more of a professional mindset to see out periods of games when we're under pressure.
"Hopefully they'll learn from the mistakes of the last two games.
"Experience has got a lot to do with it but it's down to the mindset of how we play as well. We've got a lot of attack-minded players and if we didn't have some of those then we probably wouldn't have had some of the leads that we've held."
Grayson committed an ambitious line-up to the meeting with Portsmouth, giving Billy Paynter and Ross McCormack overdue opportunities to start at Elland Road. Grayson has waited for many weeks to properly employ two of his more significant summer signings, both of whom were hampered by injury during the early stages of the season.
Leeds paid Cardiff a six-figure fee for McCormack in August and his display made a convincing impression.
"I was excited at the time when we signed him and I've not really been able to give him an opportunity," said Grayson. "But for the first half hour, the combination play with (Robert) Snodgrass and (Max) Gradel was
of the highest order."