Strengthening spine of team key to Leeds United play-off push – Eddie Gray

Thomas Christiansen.
Thomas Christiansen.
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WITH barely one third of the season played, Leeds United legend Eddie Gray knows there will be many more twists and turns as far as this season’s Championship is concerned.

READ MORE - Gray urges Leeds to stick with Thomas Christiansen

United might have slipped three points behind the top six but the former Whites winger believes there is still every chance of Leeds sealing a play-off berth in May.

But only if head coach Thomas Christiansen can arrest the current slump in form with the Glaswegian then believing strengthening “the spine of the team” in January will be key.

United are now five days into the two-week international break which the club entered following a fourth league loss in succession and seventh defeat in nine through a 3-1 beating at Brentford.

A team that were top of the table after five wins and two draws from their first seven games now find themselves 10th and only two points above 15th-placed Queens Park Rangers.

Eddie Gray.

Eddie Gray.

Gray, though, believes United were somewhat flattered by their early leadership with the club playing the division’s current bottom four in their first seven games. Only one of United’s first seven opponents now sit in the top half with Nottingham Forest ninth.

Gray knows that tackling the likes of Cardiff City, Brentford and Sheffield Wednesday was always going to prove a difficult ball game, especially away from home.

But the former Whites winger still saw enough promise in United’s first seven games to believe that a play-off place remains possible though Gray admits United need a return to form quickly and that home games, and especially next Sunday’s clash with Garry Monk’s Middlesbrough, will be vital to the cause.

Asked if he felt United’s season could yet end with a top-six or even top-two finish, Gray told the YEP: “The way we are playing at the present time, no.

The first thing you have got to do in these Championship matches is win the battle. You have got to win the fight first, then you can use your ability.

Eddie Gray

“But if we start to perform better and perform like we were performing at the start of the season then we have got an opportunity because it’s a strange league.

“It’s a huge game against Middlesbrough who are on a run now and it’s a funny game football because two or three weeks ago Garry Monk was getting a bit of stick when they weren’t getting the results. Now they have won three on the trot and they are right up there.

“It’s going to be a big game for us and it’s a big game for them but we have got to perform in that game and try and get a result in that game.

“I have always said, if you are going to get promotion then you’ve got to do it at home.

Middlesbrough manager Garry Monk.

Middlesbrough manager Garry Monk.

“You will pick points up away from home but when you go to places like Brentford and Millwall, all the teams in the league can slip up there.

“You look at Brentford, they are below us in the league but they are unbeaten in nine games. All of these teams away from home are going to be tough but at home that’s where you have got to get your results if you are going to be up there.

“The last three home games we have lost them and that’s not good enough so you have got to start from Middlesbrough.

“Everybody has got to be singing from the same hymn sheet and the crowd have got to get behind it.

“We need a victory against Middlesbrough to get back on track. Then things can change quickly.”

Change on another score is something that chairman Andrea Radrizzani is now resisting with the club’s Italian owner set to stand by Christiansen despite the club’s recent slump in form and slide down the Championship ladder. Gray believes that sticking with Christiansen is the right call and that United were in a false position after the first seven games, as Christiansen has alluded to himself.

“You can understand the frustration of Thomas because the season started so well and everything was going rosy,” said Gray.

“But what we have got to remember is that some of those games at the start of the season, you were playing against the sides at the bottom of the division – Sunderland, bottom, and Bolton, second bottom. It’s not like they had been going to places like Brentford and Cardiff and Sheffield Wednesday.

“Even teams like Brentford are on a nine-game unbeaten run now. These are all tough games and these are the games you have got to be able to handle.”

Gray, though, believes there is no denying that United’s squad is housed with quality players but quality that needs adding to in the January transfer window. Sizing up what United need in January, Gray reasoned: “You have got to look at our side last year and the strength was right down the middle of the park.

“You lost a centre-back last year who did well for us in Bartley, your goalkeeper was first class and your centre-forward scored 30-odd goals.

“It’s very difficult to replace somebody who scored 30-odd goals – put it like that – and I thought the goalkeeper had a tremendous season.

“And Bartley played well too.

“That’s the spine of the team and that’s the way you have got to look at things.

“In general, things have been going well but it’s as a unit.

“I think we have got to be a little bit better out wide and we have got to get into more dangerous positions. At the start of the season Kalvin Phillips was scoring goals from the midfield area and that’s what you have got to look for.

“It’s an all-round thing, it’s not just individual players, it’s working as a unit and as a team.

“With the new boys coming in, it is a tough league.

“And I think they will realise that and they will realise what they have got to do if they are going to be successful in this league.

“You cannot just come here thinking you can pass the ball around and play at your pace as teams will dig in, they will make it hard for you and they will close you down quick. They work hard.

“The first thing you have got to do in these Championship matches is win the battle.

“You have got to win the fight first, then you can use your ability.”