Leeds United: Grayson content to just tinker with his squad

Simon Grayson has backed the core of his existing squad to see Leeds United through the remainder of the Championship season after insisting it was never his intention to make "wholesale" changes in the January transfer window.

Grayson has taken a conservative approach to the market this month, making only two significant signings in the first three weeks of the winter window, and he admitted he was wary of unsettling a group of players who reached the turn of the year with a tight hold on a play-off position.

United exceeded expectation during the first half of the season, climbing to second place in the Championship before Christmas Day, and Grayson intended to use January as an opportunity to carefully improve a reliable squad.

A deal to recruit Andy O'Brien on a permanent basis from Bolton Wanderers was agreed on December 31 and concluded the following week, and Grayson made another important addition to his defence by re-signing left-back George McCartney on loan from Sunderland before last

Saturday's game against Scunthorpe United.

Both players were part of Leeds' squad during the first half of the season and were regular members of Grayson's team, but a flurry of new faces has not yet materialised and Grayson indicated that he would choose his signings carefully in the final days of the window.

Two FA Cup ties against Arsenal – including a third-round replay which ended in a 3-1 defeat at Elland Road on Wednesday night – have strengthened Leeds' financial position and could offer Grayson extra funds to work with, but big-money deals were always unlikely in a league where little cash has been invested in the players this month.

Grayson said: "There are people out there who we're focused on signing and I'm sure the chairman (Ken Bates) will help me out with that. He always has in the past.

"But we won't be spending bucket-fulls of money and that won't be happening with many teams in the window, certainly not in our division.

I'm not going to bring people in for the sake of it and I didn't want to disrupt the squad too much because they've done ever so well this season.

"It was never going to be wholesale numbers – just one or two signings to keep the squad tidy and ticking along over the next couple of months.

"The Arsenal games might allow me to buy a certain player or pay decent wages for a Premier League player coming in on loan but I've always had support and these games just help the structure of the club and our finances.

"It certainly won't make any difference to me spending 1million on a player because we were never going to that. I don't think any other Championship club were going to do that either."

The revenue raised by United's initial third-round tie against Arsenal was used fund the signing of McCartney until the end of the season, a deal which might otherwise have been hampered by the Northern Ireland international's large wage at Sunderland.

United's involvement in the FA Cup predictably ended on Wednesday at the hands of a fluent and ruthless Arsenal side, but two competitive contests against a leading Premier League club gave Grayson a chance to assess how his side would fare if promotion came their way at the end of this season.

Arsenal were forced to rely on a 90th-minute Cesc Fabregas penalty to earn them a replay, but two early goals at Elland Road on Wednesday gave them safe passage into the fourth round, despite Bradley Johnson reducing United's deficit to 2-1 with a brilliant strike late in the first half.

Arsene Wenger complimented Leeds afterwards, saying the club were ready to "come into the Premiership", and United have 18 games in which to make the most of a strong chance of promotion.

"We've got to keep building and pushing ourselves to new limits," said

Grayson. "We want to try and get into that division (the Premier League).

"But we're a long way from being compared with Arsenal on a regular basis. We've had a good result against them in a one-off cup tie but it's what you do over a 38-game season which dictates whether you can handle the Premier League. But these games have given us an insight into what we could do there."

United were faced with a gruelling fixture at Portsmouth yesterday, the worst possible schedule after a midweek tie in which Leeds were forced to chase possession for long periods, but Grayson was impressed by his squad's ability to fulfil a high-profile FA Cup fixture without any serious cost to their league form.

His players answered doubts about whether a tie against Arsenal might distract attention from their league schedule by thrashing Scunthorpe 4-0 last weekend, and Grayson admitted that he was anxious about how his players would perform on their first league outing since a dramatic draw at the Emirates Stadium.

"I was a little bit on edge about whether we'd be able to produce a performance," he said. "It was a major worry, as it would be for any manager after a major game against a really top team.

"But the players did what was asked of them and that shows their mental strength and the focus we have as a club. Scunthorpe was a far more important than either of the Arsenal games.

"I'm delighted with the attitude they showed because they came through a really tough game with flying colours.

"In the team meetings beforehand we stressed many times what was required of them, but you have to do that whoever you're playing. They knew what this period was all about."

Yorkshire's Matthew Fisher. Picture: John Mallett

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