Leeds United: Upbeat stars are walking tall

Simon Grayson noticed a spring in the step of Leeds United's squad this week, more lively than usual.

It does not take a manager of Grayson's experience to see a direct link between the club's form and the irrepressible mood of his players.

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Grayson and United's senior professionals visited two hospitals in Leeds on Tuesday with the intention of spreading Christmas cheer.

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The pressure of the Championship season is always forgotten in those surroundings but Grayson could not help noticing an air of buoyancy as they walked around the wards. It was the mark of a squad in league territory which has been uncharted by Leeds since 2006.

The connection between their demeanour and a sequence of eight matches without defeat went without saying. As Grayson has discovered on previous occasions in almost two years as United's manager, happy camps are easy to maintain and control when results are flowing in the right direction.

Christmas will arrive at Elland Road this year with Leeds pushing towards their highest league position for more than four years, a result of their brilliant response to a serious wobble in October.

Four defeats from five matches suggested that relegation might be a serious threat to the club, but that risk could be mathematically lifted as early as next month if their form continues as it has through November and the early stages of December.

Grayson has taken care not to speak openly or loosely about the likelihood of promotion, preferring only to savour the club's longest unbeaten run for 12 months. The enjoyment of the past eight weeks has been borne out in the spirit amongst players whose belief and confidence has soared in the run-up to Christmas.

"One or two look livelier than normal," he said. "That's what happens when you get a few results. It's not just the lads who are in the team – good results keep up the spirit of the lads who are out of the team as well. It keeps them going.

"We're a big family with a great spirit and I think that shows when we win matches. The players celebrate together, on the pitch and off it. It's a massive thing for us."

United are approaching the turn of the year in excellent health, with a squad which is virtually free of injury.

Patrick Kisnorbo and Richard Naylor are recovering from operations and were ruled out of the Christmas schedule some time ago, but Grayson's serious concerns appear to end there.

On Monday afternoon he fielded a team full of senior players in a reserve-team friendly against Newcastle United, telling all of them that they will have some part to play in the next fortnight provided they are fit and sharp.

Leeds travel to Leicester City on Boxing Day and host Portsmouth 48 hours later. In the space of four days over New Year, they will clash with Middlesbrough and make a long trip to Cardiff City, the last league fixture before their FA Cup tie at Arsenal.

"It was vital for the players who haven't been in the team to get some game-time," said Grayson. "It's important that they keep their fitness levels and their sharpness up.

"We've got a vital period coming up and when you're playing on Boxing Day, December 28, January 1 and January 4, no player can play that amount of games in such a short space of time. Everyone is going to be called on in the next few weeks."

Leeds fielded two trialists in Monday's reserve meeting with Newcastle, including Jamaican midfielder Jason Morrison.

The 26-year-old – a full international with his country – is available on a free transfer after leaving Norwegian club Stromsgodset and Leeds will assess him in the coming weeks with the transfer window set to open on January 1. Young Everton defender Zac Thompson is also on trial at Elland Road.

United chairman Ken Bates hinted this week that the club would make improvements to their squad next month, despite the wealth of resources already available to Grayson.

A long-term deal to bring loanee Andy O'Brien to Leeds from Bolton Wanderers appears increasingly likely, and Bates said: "We are non-stop, always looking at how we can improve our squad. I won't go into specifics but I can assure you of that."

Grayson's second anniversary as manager falls on Thursday, a key landmark for a coach recruited from Blackpool while Leeds were at arguably their lowest ebb in League One.

He is the first United boss to complete two years in the job since Kevin Blackwell and only the second since David O'Leary, earning him glowing praise from Bates.

"With all the madness in football, he's probably one of the longest-serving managers in the league," Bates said.

"He's brought stability to the club and he's not a headline-seeker. He's just got on with his job. We've supported him in every way we can and in every way we can afford. But in saying that, his demands are not excessive and he's realistic.

"He's respected by everyone and he's got a cool head. When we lose, I don't get panic calls the next morning saying 'we've got to do this, that or the other'. There's just a cold assessment of what went wrong and how we can put it right.

"I've got great hopes for Simon and I hope he's here for many years to come."

Jack Walker. PIC: Bruce Rollinson

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