Leeds United: Hectic schedule can work to our advantage – McCormack

The spate of games over Christmas and New Year is seen in some quarters as an unnecessary hindrance.

Ross McCormack says the beauty of this time of year is the speed at which a club like Leeds United can redeem a result like Tuesday's.

Tired legs might be prevalent in Simon Grayson's squad after two appearances in 48 hours and a bout of deja vu, but their appetite for tomorrow's fixture against Middlesbrough is unlikely to have suffered.

There was no desire at Elland Road to repent at leisure over a 3-3 draw

with Portsmouth.

That Portsmouth's point was handed too them by an own goal scored in injury-time felt unjust enough. That a strong lead had proffered no more than a draw at Leicester City on Boxing Day earlier made Tuesday's scoreline more difficult to take. McCormack, like his manager, counted the cost of the points lost before valuing those gained.

"But that's the good thing about this period," he said. "We've got games thick and fast and we can put the Portsmouth result to bed straight away by beating Middlesbrough.

"The experience of the last two games should stand us in good stead. It's disappointing but towards the end of the season we'll be stronger for it."

Leeds are not accustomed to the loss of substantial advantages. For much of this season, their manager was more familiar with the sight of his players wrestling with deficits. The club trailed in all but one of their opening five Championship matches but still gathered a total of 10 points. Grayson quipped that his team "should go behind more often" when asked if he was worried about the victories which went begging in the days after Christmas.

The joke was not an attempt to hide his true feelings or make light of Leeds' inability to defend a two-goal lead against either Portsmouth or Leicester. Twice in two days was at least once too often in his eyes, as it was in the eyes of all of his players.

"We're a young side," McCormack said. "We've got the fighting spirit to come back when we go behind but when we go ahead we possibly open up a little bit too much.

"Portmouth's second goal killed us, just after we scored our third. If for five minutes we'd put our foot on the ball then the game would have been done. We've played well and on another day we'd have got three points. But that's football for you. That's this league for you."

The Championship's unpredictability is its only predictable facet, and Leeds are as much an example of that as Middlesbrough.

United were a club without serious expectation before the season started, and Boro the favourites to win the division. At the start of 2011, only one team still has a mathematical prospect of winning the title. Suffice to say that the trophy will not reside on Teesside next summer; relegation is a more credible concern.

Middlesbrough were at their lowest psychological ebb when Leeds visited the Riverside in October, two days before the sacking of former Boro manager Gordon Strachan. Their league position has worsened marginally under Tony Mowbray, a minor adjustment from 20th place to 21st, but their win at Preston North End on Tuesday was a critical step forward.

"Leeds are probably one of the best teams we've played," said Boro's midfielder, Julio Arca. "But it's good to be going there after the way we've been playing recently, rather than the way we were playing two or three months ago."

Leeds themselves have evolved notably in the weeks since their 2-1 win on Teesside. Of the 11 players selected by Grayson before that fixture, only five started United's draw with Portsmouth. Luciano Becchio and Davide Somma – Leeds' goalscorers at the Riverside – were named as substitutes on Tuesday following a change of personnel which has given Grayson much to ponder in the way of tactics and personnel.

McCormack's involvement on his first league start at Elland Road was particularly striking, a fluid performance which twisted Portsmouth's blood in the first half. Grayson employed him in the advanced position which, for the previous 10 matches, was reserved for United's captain,

Jonathan Howson, and Grayson has the welcome but very real dilemma this weekend of how best to fit countless in-form professionals into a line-up which can hold only 11.

Grayson was happy with Billy Paynter's effort as a lone striker but has few reasons for continuing to rest his leading scorer, Luciano Becchio. Were it not for Neil Kilkenny's impending departure to the Asian Cup in Qatar, the same could be said of the Australian midfielder who remained as an unused substitute throughout the clash with Portsmouth.

It is that swell of players and the confidence among them that is taking Leeds into 2011 as one of three clubs tied for second place in the Championship. McCormack was part of a sizeable section of the squad hindered by injury earlier in the season but Grayson always expected to benefit from the presence of a Scottish international who previously scored 24 goals in a single Championship season for Cardiff City.

"I've had to bide my time," McCormack said. "The team have been doing really well. But this is a tough period with a lot of games and I want to get in and about the team some more now.

"In the first half against Portsmouth I did okay and in the second half I didn't get on the ball too much. They're a good team and they make a lot of noise about not having a strong squad but if you look at their first XI, it's as strong as anyone's. But fitness wise I'm definitely getting there and 90 minutes will do me good.

"I prefer to be playing up top alongside another striker, making runs into the box. But this role (behind Grayson's lone striker) suits me as well and it suits the team. I'm happy to do it."

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