Leeds United: Points in the bank could be valuable - Hay

In a division like the Championship, where its second-placed club have lost more regularly than its 14th, games in hand hold an indeterminate value.

What chance of Nottingham Forest's three matches over Leeds United equating to nine points?

In Forest's case, reasonably high. There is nothing rotten in the state of Nottinghamshire where impetus is growing ominously. But when the first bank holiday of the new year yields a win for only one of the division's six leading teams, as it did last week, a sense of order is evidently beyond the Championship.

This is anyone's league and anyone's season. Leeds United are one of only four clubs who have completed 26 fixtures on time and as scheduled.

The legacy of driving snow before Christmas is a league without parity.

The effort that went into fighting the weather before United's home game against Crystal Palace and QPR was made in no small part because the club saw an advantage in fulfilling matches while others sat idle.

The table on Christmas Day made sense of that policy, as did both results. Simon Grayson liked the thought of clubs attempting to make up ground during rearranged games in February and March, the time of the season where fatigue bites and nerves suffer.

It was, he felt, a favourable situation to have points on the board when managers elsewhere were crowbarring fixtures into midweek dates.

Doncaster Rovers could play eight times this month, an imperfect chance to shed their mid-table ranking and take up a more promising position.

It is preferable at the turn of the year to boast a high standing over spare matches, particularly now that the FA Cup is spreading its reach over the Championship. Leeds are not alone in preparing for a third-round replay next week but they are doing so in the knowledge that their fixture list will not get out of hand until April, when games come at a rate of one every four days.

January is not quite a "winter break", as Ken Bates called it, but it bears no resemblance to the month United's squad experienced a year ago.

Grayson, in theory, should have the benefit of an orderly run-in. All five of the clubs immediately below his had games postponed around Christmas and are working to reschedule them. But when the league season resumes tomorrow with Leeds in fifth place, he might feel that his squad have missed a trick in the past three weeks. It was, in its own way, an expensive period.

Three points taken from four games was an unflattering appraisal of United's effort. They were worth more than that in their fixtures against Leicester City and Portsmouth alone. A draw with Middlesbrough on New Year's Day was undeniably fortuitous but it became clear why

Grayson would have opted for two wins and a defeat over three successive stalemates when his players were beaten for the first time in 13 games by Cardiff City.

The defence of their unbeaten run until January 4 did not stop the club from creeping backwards latterly.

As an ambitious performance at Arsenal showed, the victim of that has not been confidence. There is a mood of contentment over United's league position and an underlying feeling of optimism too.

Alex Bruce broke cover at the Emirates Stadium by admitting that "promotion is there for the taking", echoing the opinion of those who have followed Leeds closely for five months.

It applies to almost every club from Doncaster up.

Much will now be read into tomorrow's game against Scunthorpe United.

Defeat would be seen in the context of a post-Arsenal comedown.

Victory would be taken as evidence that United have the application and professionalsim to switch seamlessly between two games with vastly differing profiles. But the need to beat Scunthorpe is not simply about avoiding accusations that the minds of the players wandered in the after-match of last weekend's tie.

After three successive league draws and a defeat at Cardiff, Leeds are exposed to the mob pursuing the top six, more vulnerable than they would have been had their post-Christmas schedule been as productive as Grayson hoped.

His players need protection against the onslaught that will inevitably come in the weeks ahead.

Games in hand held by the odd club are a half-hearted threat.

Games in hand benefitting most of the division increase the importance of winning a fixture like tomorrow's.

Additional matches can weigh heavily on a team who have ground to cover.

They will be positively beneficial if Leeds make the mistake of opening the door to the wolves outside.

Leeds United's Gaetano Berardi is challenged for the ball by Ipswich Town's David McGoldrick.

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