Leicester City v Leeds United: Foxes leave it late to deny Whites

Winter fixtures, according to Sven Goran Eriksson, do nothing for the image of English football.

"The game needs green grass and the right conditions if you want it to be something worth seeing," he said on the morning of Leeds United's game at Leicester City.

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There were better ways of selling a third meeting between the clubs in a season which was less than halfway towards its conclusion, and the combination of a patchy pitch and perishing temperatures threatened to make his point. But the placid Swede need not have been so sceptical.

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Boxing Day at the Walkers Stadium was worth seeing, though less so in Simon Grayson's eyes by the end of an unpredictable match that Leeds contrived to draw. His team were two goals to the good with 71 minutes played and working to prolong a purple patch that Grayson would not have traded for all the sun in Africa.

Four successive wins since the start of the December were the best answer to any support for a Christmas break.

Max Gradel and Robert Snodgrass gave United a 2-0 lead inside 55 minutes, the highlights of a performance that was perfectly measured for over an hour. Grayson's side operated economically at both ends of a heavy field, creating few chances but offering nothing in return until the late concession of a penalty stirred Leicester's optimism.

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Paul Gallagher's conversion was the catalyst for the fine volley from Andy King which allowed Leicester to escape with a point.

City found Leeds in more charitable and fragile mood when the clubs met two months ago, and few teams have made lighter work of humiliating United than Leicester did at Elland Road on October 19.

The strength of Leeds' recovery from a trying month was seen in the contrast created by yesterday's match in the Midlands. A picture-book game it might not have been but Grayson's players were eminently comfortable in City's company, no longer a squad swimming out of their depth.

That came as no surprise to Eriksson, who stated beforehand that United's credentials as a bona fide Championship team were beyond dispute after their swift climb to second place in the division.

Leicester's manager saw his warning borne out in a cagey fixture which Gradel and Snodgrass appeared to have settled before City found inspiration at the moment when their situation seemed almost hopeless.

Grayson had the advantage of a full squad to work with yesterday, despite giving the impression that Andy O'Brien would be unfit to start in Leicester. The centre-back was the first player to step off United's team bus, suggesting that his recall was imminent.

O'Brien's recovery from a thigh strain was to Leigh Bromby's cost, relegating Bromby to Grayson's list of substitutes. Alex Bruce joined him on the bench, passed fit after a groin injury but unable to oust Neill Collins from United's starting line-up.

The height and aerial prowess of Collins was an obvious asset against a team headed by Steve Howard, Eriksson's robust centre-forward.

Howard's goals were responsible for Leicester's victories at Elland Road in August and October and the brief from his manager was identical

yesterday.

The striker took six minutes to involve Kasper Schmeichel, dragging a shot past the goalkeeper's net after controlling Andy King's flick 20 yards out. But the dubious condition of the pitch was made clear by a tentative opening and the error which led to United's goal 13 minutes later.

Bradley Johnson and Paul Connolly had both escaped with hasty clearances driven straight against opposition players when Kyle Naughton lost his footing as Neil Kilkenny curled an inviting cross

into Leicester's box.

The defender's stumble left Gradel unmarked, and his firm header beyond Chris Kirkland was a formality from six yards. Derided as a "Leicester reject" by supporters of the club who sold him to Leeds for around 200,000 a year ago, the winger did not disguise his satisfaction at spreading silence among the large crowd.

Gradel's opportunity was Leeds' first and only effort on goal in the first half but Leicester fared no better.

Howard was denied a tap-in by Collins after Greg Cunningham cut up the left wing and slid the ball in front of Schmeichel, and Howard's shot from an ambitious range caused as little trouble as United's keeper expected.

For much of the half, it seemed that Howard was Leicester's only probable source of an equaliser.

His header at the end of Darius Vassell's cross bounced wide shortly before the interval, and his frustrated mood was displayed when he threw the ball into the turf after being penalised for a foul. He received a yellow card from referee Anthony Bates, as Luciano Becchio had for the same offence in the second minute.

Leicester attempted to turn the screw at the start of the second half, and Yuki Abe saw a deflected shot fly in Schmeichel's arms, but the wind was taken from their sails by a finish of utter brilliance from Snodgrass.

The Scot met the rebound from his own corner with a vicious volley, hit with so much power that it flew into Kirkland's net from a narrow angle before the keeper could reach out to meet the ball. Leicester feared that the game was up.

Howard soon made way for Roman Bednar and was estranged in the dug-out when Leicester won a penalty 19 minutes from time, the glimmer of hope Eriksson craved.

Schmeichel tripped Vassell inside his area after an apparent foul on Snodgrass guided the ball and the striker in behind United's defence, and the Dane was fortunate to receive a booking from Bates.

The crowd protested bitterly at the referee's refusal to dismiss him but were appeased by Gallagher's clinical strike from the penalty spot.

Their mood improved further four minutes later when King ran onto a bouncing ball on the edge of the box and produced a shot which flew over Schmeichel and bounced into his net with the assistance of the crossbar.

A frustrated Grayson refused to settle for a point and Ross McCormack and Billy Paynter were dispatched from the bench. Collins came closest to winning the game with a header which Kirkland punched from his line as Grayson crossed his fingers for a reprieve.

Eriksson it was who wore the wider smile, happy to reflect that winter football is capable of warming the heart.

Leicester City: Kirkland, Naughton, Hobbs, Davies, Cunningham, Wellens, Abe (Dyer 65), King, Gallagher, Howard (Bednar 65), Vassell. Subs (not used): Weale, Morrison, Oakley, Waghorn, Moussa.

Leeds United: Schmeichel, Connolly, O'Brien, Collins, McCartney, Snodgrass, Kilkenny (Faye 90), Howson (McCormack 85), Johnson, Gradel, Becchio (Paynter 85). Subs (not used): Bruce, Sam, Higgs, Bromby.

Referee: Tony Bates (Staffordshire).

Attendance: 30,919.