Leeds United nostalgia: Hereford debacle ultimately turned tide for Grayson

Simon Grayson.
Simon Grayson.
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The debacle of Hereford United in February 2009 was the first serious test of Simon Grayson’s management at Leeds United.

He would come to see it as a “turning point”; a horrible night when a few home truths helped the club turn the corner in League One.

Grayson was so incensed by a 2-0 defeat that he locked his players in the changing room at Edgar Street for half-an-hour after the game.

He was 10 games into his tenure and the message during his post mortem was simple: shape up or ship out. En masse, his chastised players fell into line.

The club were chasing a play-off place but chasing it with difficulty after the sudden demise of Grayson’s predecessor, Gary McAllister. Early victories under Grayson were mixed with soft defeats, leading to his loss of patience on a cold Tuesday in Hereford.

What should have been a very winnable fixture grew very ugly as the night wore on. Grayson’s players were berated with chants of “we’re s*** and we’re sick of it” and chairman Ken Bates bore the brunt of criticism too.

Carl Dickinson, a loanee from Stoke City making his final appearance for Leeds, tried to applaud the away end at full-time but was beaten back down the tunnel by abuse from the stands.

“At full-time, Grayson held his hands up and sided with the supporters.

“When you hear your own fans singing things like that at the end of the game, the players should be hurting,” Grayson said. “It was a poor performance.

“I’m not going to criticise individual players because that’s not my style but we’ve had words in there.

“Hopefully they’ll use it as inspiration because if they don’t, one or two might not play for the club again.”

The evening turned on a first-half penalty missed by Lee Trundle with the game goalless.

Jennison Myrie-Williams opened the scoring two minutes later and Febian Brandy sealed Hereford’s win in the second half as Leeds’ performance and conviction fell apart.

“Tonight it didn’t look like the players wanted the ball,” Grayson said.

“Performances and results like that are hard to take, especially when your own fans are giving the players some stick.

“They’ve got to be big enough to accept that.”

The immediate reaction was everything that Grayson wanted.

His players held their nerve and saw off Cheltenham Town at Elland Road the next week, helped by two goals from Jonathan Howson, and a run of 11 games without defeat followed.

Millwall got the better of Grayson’s squad in the play-off semi-finals but in his first six months as manager, Leeds worked League One out. Automatic promotion came the following season.

“As tough as the night at Hereford was, it was a defining moment,” Grayson said later.

“It was crystal clear to me what I needed to do after that, what I needed to change and who I needed to bring in.

“I’d been in the job for a few weeks and the penny dropped.”