Leeds United: Opportunity knocks for Grayson's battling Whites - Matteo

Not until this stage of the season does Sir Alex Ferguson pay any attention to the state of his club's division.

He's won enough titles over the years to know the difference between a meaningless league table and an accurate indication of a team's form.

Holding a play-off position in August is nothing more than the result of a decent start to the season.

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By Ferguson's measure, holding a play-off position in the middle of January must be a sure sign that a club are capable of mastering their league.

With 27 games played and 19 to go, I don't think I'm talking out of turn by saying that Leeds United are outright contenders for promotion from the Championship.

There's some reluctance amongst their players and staff to say as much, but you have to break cover eventually. Whatever Simon Grayson is saying in public, I'm certain that he'll be making the effort behind the scenes to ensure that his squad appreciate the size of the opportunity they have.

They're in a fantastic position, with everything to play for and there's no point pretending otherwise.

The club were not expected to win promotion this season, and it wasn't demanded either. To judge by the mood in the city, I don't think that attitude has really changed.

Reaching the Premier League at the first attempt would be a monumental bonus. I hope that Simon and the players are telling themselves

privately that this could be their year.

The fact that promotion was not anticipated at the start of the season

is no excuse for letting it pass you by. Premier League status is something Leeds United should look for at the earliest opportunity.

If they've got a chance of getting there – and clearly they have – then it's important to value that opportunity and take it seriously. In all honesty, the play-offs should not be their highest target.

Far back in August, I predicted that Leeds would finish third in the Championship; a play-off campaign, in other words. Some people scoffed but I saw two things in their favour – a support that is almost unheard of outside the Premier League in its size and intensity and a squad that was always likely to get stronger as the season went on.

I'm starting to think that it's actually as strong as any other in the league. There are weaknesses within it but which Championship club does not have any? Not QPR and not Cardiff City.

Five months on, third place looks like a fair estimate on my part. It was clearly not an outlandish prediction. But with the top six positions so tight, you really have to ask whether it's beyond Leeds to fight for automatic promotion and make it theirs. I look around them in the division and see Swansea City, Norwich City, Watford and Reading.

No-one can tell me that they're in better shape or any more capable of lasting the pace.

The Championship is an open division this season which you still can't

say with any real confidence that QPR will win.

What impresses me about this Leeds squad is their unity and camaraderie. It reminds me of the squad that won promotion at Stoke City a few years ago.

We weren't fancied at all but we had arguably the best attitude of any side in the league.

We were difficult to demoralise and even harder to beat. You could feel something building at the Britannia and the players bought in to this optimism.

I'll name no names but I've played against teams and players in the past who make it abundantly clear that they're expecting to lose – teams who you know will throw in the towel as soon as they go 1-0 down.

Leeds are the opposite of that, a side who you never believe are beaten. That's not a cliche, as their win at Burnley last month proved.

I'm still of the opinion that an appearance in the play-offs would be a massive achievement for Leeds this season, win or lose.

But it has to be said that winning promotion is no longer an unlikely or hopeful aim.

It's now a real possibility and one that the players at Leeds United should embrace.

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