Simon Grayson insisted Leeds United had underlined their Championship credentials with a Boxing Day draw at Leicester City – but admitted his side were guilty of "throwing away" two points.
Leeds allowed a valuable victory to slip through their fingers as late goals from Paul Gallagher and Andy King negated a 2-0 lead at the Walkers Stadium, but Grayson said the result was further evidence of United's improving prospects.
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The Elland Road club were comprehensively outclassed by Leicester during the previous league game between the sides in October, but City relied on two goals in the last 18 minutes to salvage a point from yesterday's match.
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Max Gradel and Robert Snodgrass gave United control of the fixture with efforts in either half before Gallagher converted a penalty to inspire an unlikely fightback which King completed four minutes later.
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Grayson was aggrieved at the failure to award a foul in the build-up to Gallagher's spot-kick and suggested Leeds should have had a penalty of their own after a cross from Billy Paynter appeared to hit Gallagher's arm in injury-time, but he refused to be downhearted about United's performance against a club who he expects to mount a strong bid for promotion during the second half of the season.
"Up until they got their first goal, we were well and truly in control of the game," Grayson said.
"The players are disappointed to have thrown away a two-goal lead but I'm delighted with the way we dictated the game against a top team.
They're going to be a major force in the second half of this season and it shows how far we've come.
"The game against Leicester (in October) was probably one of the hardest
games we've had this season. We were 2-0 down and the scoreline could have been anything. But we're a different team now and they are too. Both clubs could be there or thereabouts at the end of the season.
"To be disappointed with a draw here is a compliment to the players, and we know that we can succeed at places like this. We limited Leicester to very few opportunities and we'd certainly have settled for a point before the game."
Gallagher's penalty was the game's turning point, conceded on 71 minutes after United goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel fouled Darius Vassell inside his box.
Grayson claimed that Robert Snodgrass had been fouled moments before Vassell broke in behind his defence but United's manager was relieved to see Schmeichel escape with a yellow card for a trip which might have seen him dismissed by referee Anthony Bates.
A red card would have forced Schmeichel to serve a one-match ban during tomorrow's game against Portsmouth at Elland Road but Bates chose only to caution him, to the surprise and anger of a large home crowd.
"It was a close call," Grayson admitted. "Some referees might have sent him off but I think it was the right decision. Is it a goalscoring opportunity or is he just bringing someone down? I don't really understand the rule but (referees) are there to make decisions.
"I thought Darius went down quite easily for their penalty and I also felt that Robert had been fouled on the halfway line when the ball went through. We could have had a penalty ourselves when Gallagher put his hands up near the end. We might have got that at home but not away from home."
Snodgrass shouldered some of the blame for Gallagher's penalty, saying: "I thought I was fouled but I'm annoyed with myself as well.
"I should have cleared the ball downfield while I had the chance and I didn't. We've let them back into a game that we should have won and it's two points dropped, massively."