Portsmouth v Leeds United: Grayson hoping for some fringe benefits

Arsene Wenger's fallback on Wednesday night was what he called a "super-quality bench".

Between seven substitutes of immense ability, Arsenal's manager had the means to resolve any scale of emergency caused by Leeds United.

Portsmouth are the polar opposite, a club who barely possess enough players to fill their bench. Steve Cotterill named only five reserves at Elland Road on December 28 and will be lucky to have so many against Leeds tomorrow. "It's killing us," he said last week in response to questions about the depth of his squad.

Handicaps will be the order of day at Fratton Park, where Portsmouth's supporters plan to demonstrate against the club's owners and Leeds will confront the threat of fatigue. Asked about the issues weighing on Cotterill's shoulders, Grayson said: "That's not my problem to be fair." He has enough of his own.

United's manager turned his mind to Portsmouth around 10pm on Wednesday evening, shortly after the conclusion of a compelling FA Cup tie which Arsenal settled at the second time of asking.

Leeds were grateful for the revenue, the exposure and the emotional encouragement drawn from two games against the Gunners, but the makeweight of a replay at Elland Road was the strain of undertaking one of their furthest away fixtures of the season less than 72 hours later.

United's squad were told to take a long lie-in yesterday morning and

recuperate as best they could before a journey to the south coast today.

Grayson joked before Wednesday that Cotterill would be "hoping for extra-time" but Leeds' manager was not unduly disappointed to have avoided it, at the end of a game in which his players were forced to chase the ball by Arsenal's fluent passing.

The United boss admitted to being "a little bit on edge" about how his players would perform in last weekend's 4-0 rout of Scunthorpe, seven days after an appearance at the Emirates Stadium, but the timing of their fixture at Portsmouth might make that concern more pertinent tomorrow. Mental concentration was Leeds' enemy six days ago; the result at Fratton Park is more likely to depend on their physical condition.

"They put a big effort into Wednesday night," Grayson said. "It's a case now of recovering quickly and as best we can for a hard game tomorrow.

"I've got a good squad here and it might help me to utilise that. It's a tough turnaround, and that's going to be hard on the players, but they had a lie-in yesterday and we'll give them the best opportunity to get themselves ready.

"It might be the case that I make a few changes and I've got the players to do that, all of whom are ready to perform. It's a bridge we've got to cross."

The possibility of resting influential players against Arsenal in preparation for a game at Portsmouth was never seriously considered by Grayson, in part because of the fear that a weakened team would suffer badly at the hands of Wenger's squad but also on account of the profile of the third-round tie.

United's manager was reluctant to deny the individuals responsible for one defeat in 14 Championship matches another opportunity to appear in a televised fixture against a club he repeatedly called "one of the best in Europe, if not the world".

By full-time, Wenger had used his loaded bench to unleash Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie and kill an eventful game.

Grayson, however, refused to take a chance on the fitness of Luciano Becchio, and the importance of tomorrow's match at Fratton Park was brought to mind when Andy O'Brien bowed out of the replay with a tight hamstring, an injury which has given an influential defender little chance of featuring against Pompey.

"I thought about changing the team and resting players for the weekend," Grayson said. "But these lads deserved the opportunity to play against the likes of van Persie, (Samir) Nasri and Fabregas. I wanted them to have that chance."

Squad rotation will strike Grayson as a worthwhile policy tomorrow. Cotterill, by comparison, does not have that option.

Earlier this week he warned that he might have only 13 outfield players available, with Dave Kitson and Aaron Mokoena suspended and the fitness of Nadir Ciftci, John Utaka and Ricardo Rocha questionable.

"I'm a glass half-full person," said Cotterill defiantly.

Where he and Grayson share common ground is in making no assumptions about tomorrow's game, so soon after their first exchange of the season.

Leeds appeared to have the contest at Elland Road in late December won twice over, courtesy of a 2-0 advantage after 10 minutes and a 3-1 lead after little more than an hour.

Grayson could hardly believe his eyes when O'Brien's own goal gifted Portsmouth a draw in injury-time.

Bradley Johnson, who scored Leeds' third goal against Pompey, said: "It's not an easy place to go. They're a good side and they got a draw at our place not so long ago.

"This sort of turnaround was always going to be tough for us, and the doubt of last year and what happened after our FA Cup games is going to hang over us. But we won't think about that and I'm sure we can get a result.

"We learned last year that whenever you play against big teams, your bread and butter is still the league.

"I think we've proved to everyone that we can get promoted this season and we're in a good position. We're not expected to get promoted but we're going into games with nothing to lose now. We're a young, hungry team and we've got quality in depth."

Grayson was asked again on Wednesday whether two televised ties against

Arsenal might spread news of that quality to clubs with enough money to invest in it themselves. United's manager reiterated that Leeds were "not a selling club" while conceding that every professional has his price.

"I'd like to think that the players here can have their ambition fulfilled by getting promoted with this club, whether it's this year or next year," Grayson said. "I want it to happen sooner rather than later.

"The lads here have got spirit and quality, but they've also got fight.

"You have to make sure you never give up, even when you're 2-0 down

against a team like Arsenal and under the cosh. At 2-1, I still thought that we'd get chances regardless of who we were playing, but in the end we lost to a very good side."

Pierre- Michel Lasogga celebrates his second goal against Millwall. PIC: Tony Johnson

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