Leeds United: Opportunity knocks now

Simon Grayson believes Leeds United's next four fixtures will have a crucial bearing on their prospects this season after watching his side storm into the Championship's automatic promotion places.

Leeds took another huge step forward with a convincing victory over league leaders QPR on Saturday, and the club are preparing for a spell of games which Grayson expects to provide a clearer indication of his squad's potential.

United's manager said he would be ready to "take stock" after Leeds' clash with Cardiff City on January 4, a game which follows their Boxing Day visit to Leicester City and home matches against Portsmouth and Middlesbrough.

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The win over QPR lifted Leeds into second position in the Championship, three points short of the top of the table and eight clear of seventh place.

Grayson continued to ward off suggestions that promotion had become a prime target for his players but he left no doubt about the importance of a satisfactory return from the coming fortnight.

"We'll only really take stock after the next four games," he said. "It's going to be a busy period and the squad will be tested against teams who are paying (players) a lot more money than us. After that, we can see where we're at.

"There's an expectancy level at this club, but I don't think anyone expected us to be where we are.

"Our first target was consolidation and making sure we were still in the division at the end of the season. That hasn't changed. We could still get relegated and that's not me being pessimistic – it's a reality.

"What we've done is give ourselves an opportunity. The players are enjoying what they are doing. There've been a lot of sad and bad times at this club in recent years but, at this moment, things are going well.

"We're determined to enjoy it, with a hint of realism mixed in."

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Grayson will arrive at his second anniversary as manager of Leeds on Thursday, and the 41-year-old said: "When I came here two years ago, I said that someone would take this club back to the Premier League.

"No-one knows when that will be but there is an expectancy level here and hopefully we can achieve it in the not-too-distant future."

United will spend a week in second place for the first time as a Championship club, aided by the postponement of Saturday's game between Cardiff and Burnley and Swansea City's loss to Sheffield United.

Two goals from Max Gradel secured Leeds' impressive win over QPR, continuing the goalscoring form of one of several players who have contributed heavily to United's run of nine games without defeat.

Gradel has struck six times in those matches, and QPR had no answer to his finishes in either half at Elland Road.

Gradel said: "There's no secret to my goalscoring. I haven't been working harder on my finishing, but the goals have been coming.

"This is a big win and we need to build on it.

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"We don't want to think about the Premier League because it's too early. To get promoted would be a great achievement and it would be nice to be part of the team that helps the club there.

"It's a dream but, hopefully, the dream can come true."

QPR manager Neil Warnock blamed his defence for the club's defeat – their second in 21 league matches this season - but Grayson claimed United's performance had merited a victory.

"Considering who the opposition were and how we played, it was our best performance of the season," Grayson said.

"There have been times when I've criticised the players for not closing out games but we saw this game out well and showed a lot of footballing intelligence."

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Yorkshire's Matthew Fisher. Picture: John Mallett

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