Leeds United v Middlesbrough: Whites feel the festive strain

Simon Grayson admitted the strain of Leeds United's Christmas schedule had affected the performance of his players in the 1-1 draw with Middlesbrough.

United scored in injury-time to take a point from their New Year's Day fixture at Elland Road but their manager said a "flat" display was the effect of their rapid sequence of fixtures after Christmas.

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Middlesbrough's visit to Leeds was the last of three matches contested by Leeds in the space of seven days, and the club were on the verge of a first defeat in 12 games until Luciano Becchio scored in added time and levelled an earlier finish from David Wheater.

Boro have played only twice in the past week due to their game against Nottingham Forest on December 26 falling victim to freezing weather.

Grayson said: "It was one of those games where we were flat. We didn't have our usual tempo or quality. Maybe it's to do with this being our third game since Christmas and Middlesbrough's second.

"I think that's taken it out of us. The way we play is to ask people to press and close players down, to be bright and make forward runs when we have the ball. We didn't do that and maybe the number of games we've had caught up on us.

"But if you can through a game like this, where you don't play to the best of your ability and still get a result, you've got to be happy. To grind out a result against a team with some of the best personnel in

the division is pleasing."

United's fixture list will intensify this week with tomorrow's game at Cardiff City preceding their high-profile FA Cup clash with Arsenal.

Bradley Johnson will be available to play against Cardiff after avoiding a one-match ban, despite receiving his fifth booking of the season on Saturday.

The midfielder was cautioned towards the end of the first half and looked set to miss tomorrow's fixture, but December 28 was the last day on which players were punished for accumulating five yellow cards.

Automatic suspensions will now be imposed on those who amass 10 bookings, and Johnson's availability has averted a major selection crisis for Grayson. Neil Kilkenny was already certain to miss the trip to Wales having flown out of England yesterday to represent Australia at the Asian Cup in Qatar.

Grayson said: "It's a bonus for us because we'd have been short in the midfield area, but the only time players can get suspended now is for 10 bookings or when they're sent off.

"Obviously the midfield's an area where we're looking to get reinforcements into the squad. We've got irons in the fire."

Paul Heckingbottom.

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