Leeds United: Championship's as tough as Premier League - O'Brien

Andy O'Brien's transfer from Bolton Wanderers to Leeds United was bound to be seen as a step down for a footballer of Premier League stock, but the Championship is demanding as much of his body as England's top flight ever has.

The 31-year-old's debut for Leeds in October was his first appearance in the Championship for 11 years, interrupting a career which had been played out in the Premier League from the moment he won promotion with Bradford City in 1999.

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O'Brien's background and reputation convinced Leeds that he would be a suitable answer to their unsettled defence but O'Brien admitted his performances over the past six weeks were less comfortable than they looked.

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The centre-back has been a picture of composure in a backline which conceded 15 goals in five matches before his transfer on loan from Bolton but he does not believe that many of his Premier League colleagues would enjoy the same change of scene.

It is, however, a switch that O'Brien appears increasingly likely to make on a permanent basis when the transfer window opens next month.

Leeds will waste no time in asking Bolton to consider a long-term offer for O'Brien when his loan at Elland Road expires on January 4, and the centre-back has confirmed that he has no expectation of receiving a contract extension from his parent club before his existing deal runs out next summer.

O'Brien said his performances for Leeds were "unlikely to have any bearing" on Bolton's desire to retain him, and his short sabbatical in the Championship might soon become a more substantial period of employment.

After a handful of appearances for Bolton last season and three at the star of this term, he does not doubt that a gruelling stint of first-team football was exactly what he needed.

He came to Leeds, in the words of Bolton manager Owen Coyle, to recover fully from a hamstring strain sustained in September, but talk of O'Brien's fitness have frustrated the defender.

He hopes that after seven successive outings for United in a fiercely competitive league, he answered doubts about his physical condition.

"I wouldn't think that many so-called Premier League players would fancy playing in the Championship every week," O'Brien said.

"There's no hiding place. The Championship is as physically demanding as the Premier League.

"From a personal perspective, I'd been sat on my backside for too long at Bolton and I'd like to think I've proved quite a lot of people wrong having come here. When I was at Bolton, I suffered a couple of injuries when I got opportunities (in the first team) and people started writing about me, saying I couldn't do it anymore. Something that was labelled on me was that I was struggling with injury. I'd like to think I've knocked that one on the head.

"The thing you notice with the Championship is that every game's different. You come up against some big physical players, some quick players and some very skillful players. It's a different challenge every week. I'm only playing a small part in what's happening here but I'm grateful for the opportunity and I'm pleased to be here."

O'Brien's attempts to downplay his role in United's season will fall on deaf ears for as long as the club's resurgence continues. Leeds are yet to lose a game with him in their starting line-up and a first defeat in seven matches was averted on Saturday by a late fightback against Crystal Palace.

Coyle spoke about O'Brien in complimentary terms after allowing Leeds to extend his loan for a second month, but sources in Bolton expect the club to look for a new centre-back in the forthcoming transfer window.

Another arrival at the Reebok Stadium would leave O'Brien more surplus to requirements than he is already, enhancing United's prospects of adding him to their squad permanently.

O'Brien is still uncertain about the likelihood of a full-time move to Elland Road, saying: "It remains to be seen. Me staying here will be dictated by results but hopefully something can be sorted.

"I wouldn't be surprised if (Bolton) didn't offer me a contract. I'd like to think I'm playing well and hard here but I don't think that has any bearing on my future on Bolton. I'm doing this for myself and for

Leeds United because they're my employees at the moment."

United manager Simon Grayson has rebuilt his entire defence since winning promotion from League One last season, with O'Brien the most recent addition to a backline who kept their first clean sheet in 11 games last month.

O'Brien and left-back George McCartney arrived after the start of the

Championship term, linking up with Alex Bruce, Paul Connolly and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, all of whom were signed during the summer transfer window.

Schmeichel said he was not surprised by the gradual improvement in the club's results and league position, saying: "You'd expect us to grow. We had a lot of new players here and we've been settling down and learning the ways of Leeds United. We need to keep learning and if we do, we'll progress."

Leeds were within nine minutes of losing to Palace on Saturday before two goals from Luciano Becchio claimed a 2-1 win, and O'Brien said the results was crucial after a concerted and successful effort to meet the cost of a poor run through October and lift the club to within touching distance of the Championship's play-off places.

"Coming into the game, I felt there was a lot riding on it," O'Brien said. "We've worked hard to get ourselves into this position but we were playing a team near the bottom of the league and we were playing at home. There was a lot of pressure on it."