Leeds United: Nothing to lose now for Whites - Hay

In the context of an appearance in the Championship's play-offs, 75 is the number to look for.

Only once in the past decade has a club accrued so many points without earning the key to the door, and even that nine years ago. Burnley were the statistical anomaly.

How close Leeds United are to clearing seventh position on the last weekend of this season depends on your point of view.

Not very, says their manager, and a change in his rhetoric will be slow in coming. But they are halfway towards what might be classed as the minimum requirement. Suffice to say that clubs do not enter the play-offs with less than 70 points.

If that mark appears distant then perhaps it should. Leeds need only revisit their promotion from League One to realise that the first half of a season is not indicative of the second. The root cause of their abatement between January and May of this year was never identified but Jonathan Howson seemed willing to accept this week that wavering concentration was a probable cause. Either way, the club are well warned against lackadaisical thinking.

What they can predict with some confidence is that relegation will not trouble them this season. That is not so much a complacent outlook as a fair appraisal of a team with 35 points after 21 games. Were Leeds to descend to League One from here, the repercussions would be vicious and sweeping, with no defence for the indefensible.

But the laws of chance preclude that scenario, and Grayson's first port of call is a point early in the new year where relegation is no longer a mathematical consideration.

It is apparent after eight games without defeat that his squad are beset by little external pressure.

That was shown by the freedom of their performance in the second half at Burnley, a display of enthusiasm rather than desperation. The club's recovery at Turf Moor would not have occurred in the second half of last season, or not with such controlled purpose.

It would not have occurred as recently as October. You could go so far as saying that their season is becoming a pleasure.

Grayson would argue that it should always have been so; that a year in

the Championship with Leeds United was something to appreciate and enjoy.

In comparison to three seasons in League One, not half. But the theory that the club had entered this division with a ticket for a free season – a season in which demands of them would be modest or straightforward – was disproven in practice, not least by the losses which brought their form to a head eight weeks ago.

It was telling to hear Andy O'Brien speak recently about the quiet atmosphere he discovered at Thorp Arch when he signed for Leeds on loan from Bolton Wanderers in late October – a "sponsored silence", as he jokingly called it. The defender was told that four defeats in five matches were to blame. We can deduce from his story that United's players were not enjoying the season then or at all at ease with the realisation that a year in the Championship might be a vicious slog.

It is hard to imagine that another squad in the Championship – established or otherwise – felt more pensive about their prospects.

There was never a demand on Grayson to tease promotion out of these nine months, and there is not one now. But the need to be progressive was absolute. Those who observed Leeds saw a club with the largest home attendances in the Football League and an unusually high income during the 2009-10 term.

The thought of them entering the Championship and aspiring to nothing more than 21st position fell below the line of realistic ambition. The criticism of them in October was not about the diminishing likelihood of promotion; it was driven more by a feeling that the club were failing to move forward.

The evidence to the contrary has been such that it is now pertinent to ask whether a play-off position is genuinely attainable. The most appropriate answer to that might be to say that it should not be seen as beyond the club. That opinion is less reliant on statistics or past averages than it is on the season thus far, two games short of the turn for home.

Leeds have played 21 of the 23 clubs in their league and have, in the view of this writer, been significantly outclassed by two – Leicester City and Cardiff City. Derby County were worth their win at Elland Road and Reading merited no less than a draw in Berkshire last month, but this is not a division in which Leeds are embarrassed by the company around them. The best comparison will be drawn tomorrow, against Neil Warnock's QPR. They are the club by whom the Championship's standards have been set.

The advantage for Grayson over so many coaches is that promotion was not his remit this season. It will not do lasting damage if it runs away from Leeds, and he is not in the shoes of a manager like Dave Jones who expects to be sacked if Cardiff fall short. But Grayson's hand is also strengthened by a deep squad, the size of which exceeds many others in the Championship.

One of Grayson's managerial colleagues was recently heard talking in both amazement and frustration about the difference between the range of players available to him and the range available to Grayson. In his opinion, the difference was glaring, despite the clubs' comparable league position. He did not expect to have much of a transfer budget next month.

How far Leeds intend to expand their large squad in January is down to their board and Grayson himself, but the temptation to chase the play-offs will be there if their league position holds up during a difficult fortnight. Numerous signings would be reckless and pointless; intelligent additions in the centre of defence and the centre of midfield – two areas of potential weakness – might make the most of what Grayson cautiously called "an opportunity". It is starting to look like one.

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