Leeds United: Upbeat Grayson targets fresh unbeaten run

A Championship table with QPR at its head and Cardiff City in second position is, in the opinion of Simon Grayson, an accurate reflection of where the division's financial power lies.

The festive schedule drew to a close on Tuesday evening with Leeds United's 2-1 defeat at Cardiff, and the Yorkshire club will resume their league campaign next weekend with familiar targets to chase.

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Rangers lead the way with a five-point advantage over the Bluebirds, the side who have a tenuous hold on the Championship's final automatic promotion place.

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It would not have taken a vastly improved run of results after Christmas to edge Leeds ahead of Cardiff, and a gap of two points is all that separates United from the three teams who are tied for the runners-up place.

Their manager could bemoan the points which slipped away cheaply against Leicester City and Portsmouth last week, but Grayson saw no sense in "beating ourselves up" about a yuletide period which might have been better.

Successive draws with Leicester, Portsmouth and Middlesbrough were followed by a narrow, if deserved, loss in Wales, the first Leeds had suffered since late October.

Grayson insisted that United and several other teams were punching above their weight by attempting to keep pace with QPR and Cardiff, but he is certain that his players have the chance to take part in what is certain to be a frantic pursuit of the division's play-off places.

Asked whether QPR and Cardiff should be favourites to escape the league automatically during the final four months of the season, Grayson said: "If you look at the squads they've got then definitely. They've

got to be. Look at the money they've spent and the players they've got,

"Whatever people have been saying about Cardiff recently – that their form has been bad – they've got a group of players who can always win them games.

"They should be in the top four or five at least and they should be pushing for promotion. They should be where they are.

"Cardiff have turned us over twice this year and they're a good team, but we're really not frightened of anybody.

"We've beaten some decent sides over the past few weeks and we've given ourselves an opportunity to progress for the rest of the season. We'd like to think that we'll be in the group of 10 or 12 clubs who are going to push for the top six."

Luciano Becchio struck in injury-time to protect United's unbeaten record against Boro on New Year's Day but the club were unable to avert a first defeat in 13 matches at the Cardiff City Stadium.

United fell behind to an early goal from Craig Bellamy – the best example of the potential within Cardiff's ranks – and were beaten by a late strike from Michael Chopra after Robert Snodgrass equalised with trademark brilliance just before the hour.

Grayson said: "I thought it was a game where we got back into it after a poor start. We let them get a foot-hold.

"We kept the crowd quiet for 10 minutes but then we switched off for a corner, and I'd warned the players that you can't afford to do that. They played a one-two and the ball was in the back of our net.

"For most of the first half, we didn't get close enough to them and we didn't pass the ball around well enough.

"But in the second half we got our goal and we didn't look like we were going to concede. Then we caused our own downfall.

"One long ball has undone us and you can't allow for mistakes like that. I don't mind conceding goals if we've been picked off or outplayed but we were well and truly in the game when they scored the winner."

Leeds broke away from their Championship season yesterday to contest a high-profile FA Cup tie at Arsenal but Grayson was already looking to Saturday's match at home to Scunthorpe United in the aftermath of the loss to Cardiff.

City had been the last team to beat United, winning 4-0 at Elland Road on October 25, but a 4-1 victory at Scunthorpe five days later was the start of Leeds' long sequence of unbeaten form. Grayson is hoping to see some symmetry in next weekend's result.

"It's disappointing that our unbeaten run's come to an end but our last run started at Scunthorpe," he said. "That's our next league game and we'll look to go again.

"We could have had more points over the Christmas period but no team got what they wanted. We won't be beating ourselves up about it.

"There have been some good things and a couple of negatives, but we've done well since Cardiff beat us in October. The players deserve plenty of credit and we'll start again with Scunthorpe."

Snodgrass' goal was the highlight of United's visit to Cardiff, a curling shot which beat City goalkeeper Tom Heaton from the edge of the box, and the influence of the Scottish winger is growing by the game after a disrupted start to the season.

A knee injury sustained in the summer prevented him from playing until the middle of September but his finish against Cardiff – his fourth goal of the season – extended a spate of compelling performances.

"He's up there with the best players in the division," Grayson said. "He could play at a higher level too. He passed a fitness test on the morning of the Cardiff game which other players wouldn't have got through.

"He's a marked man but his goal was of the highest order, real top quality. That goal deserved to get us back into the game and we should have seen it out."