LUFC The Beckford factor
Leeds United`s gamble not to sell prized asset Jermaine Beckford in January came to fruition on Saturday when his goal send Leeds back into the Championship.
It capped what has been a rollercoaster season between him, the Leeds management and the Leeds fans.
Beckford caused many an argument between Leeds fans, not only in the ground but also down the pubs and on the forums.
A player that was plucked from non-league obscurity in 2006 from Wealdstone was to go on to score over 80 goals in three seasons in a Leeds shirt but this season as been the most talked about.
It kicked off before a ball had even been kicked in anger back in July when Leeds slapped him on the transfer list after he refused a new contract with the club.
It was to leave Leeds with something of a dilemma do they cash in on there prized goalscorer and risk losing him when his contract ran out at the end of the season or cash in on him now with a number of Championship clubs showing an interest.
Leeds quickly withdrew him off the transfer list and said that he would not be leaving before the end of the season unless a ludicrous offer was to be made for his services.
When the season kicked off Beckford was quickly back in the groove and scored twice on the opening day of the season to clinch a 2-1 victory over Exeter City.
By the end of the month, he`d already notched five goals as Leeds made the perfect start to the season with seven straight wins.
Newcastle United emerged as the front-runners for his services but the August transfer window past with Beckford still at Elland Road.
Beckford continued to score the goals as Leeds set the pace in League One and by the end of November he was already on fourteen goals for the season.
It was around this time that the first cracks between the fans and the player started to surface.
Some fans were very quick to lambaste the striker for a missed effort and after squandering a good chance in the home game with Huddersfield Town in early December the first flash point came. Some fans in the kop showed their discontent towards the striker and he retaliated by telling them where to get off or words to that affect.
In the next home game with Southampton, things were to get worse. After a sub standard performance by the striker, Leeds boss Simon Grayson decided to substitute his leading goalscorer, much to the delight of certain sections of the ground. Beckford showed his disgust by storming past Grayson and straight down the tunnel.
Grayson was to be proved right in his decision that day and before Beckford had chance to reach the dressing room Leeds had taken the lead with the only goal of the game by Robert Snodgrass.
Leeds boss Simon Grayson was quick to dismiss the bust up the following week and said that Beckford had been to apologise for his actions when returning to training on Monday.
In typical Beckford fashion, he answered his critics with four goals in the next two games over Christmas.
Beckford was then to write his name in Elland Road folklore in his next game, the FA Cup third round tie at Manchester United.
He scored the only goal of the game as Leeds recorded their first win at Old Trafford since 1981 and cause one of the biggest FA cup upsets in the history of the competition.
Within days, it was all to turn sour when Beckford slapped in a transfer request at the club with the January transfer window now open.
Fans waited to see the reaction when Leeds played their next game, a home game with Wycombe Wanderers.
Beckford got a good reception from the fans but it was the hot topic of discussion amongst the fans leading up to the game who seemed split regarding the situation.
Leeds reiterated their stance from August when saying that they would not let him go before the end of the season unless a substantial offer was made.
Newcastle were now laying their cards on the table and Leeds reportedly turned down a few bids from the Geordies, the highest in the region of £1.5 million.
Leeds were sticking to their guns and were willing to lose the cash if it meant Beckford helping Leeds back to the Championship.
The Whites lost their second game of the season the following Saturday at Exeter and the win at Manchester United seemed to have derailed their promotion push.
The defeat was quickly followed the following day by the news that Beckford had withdrawn his transfer request and was determined to help steer Leeds to the Championship.
He commented that his decision to hand in a transfer request in the first place was never easy. He spoke on the official website and said "Every time I put on a Leeds shirt I give 100 per cent and can assure the fans, the manager and everyone connected with the club that I will continue to do that".
The following weekend Beckford was back to his goalscoring best, scoring both Leeds goals in the 2-2 draw at Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup, his second came in the sixth minute of time added on when he gave the Tottenham keeper no chance with a well struck and coolly taken penalty.
Despite Leeds and Beckford grabbing all the media attention with their FA Cup heroics the team had gone of the boil in the league and suffered an embarrassing 3-0 defeat at Swindon just four days later.
In the next home game, Beckford was back on the goal trail again, scoring both goals in a 2-0 home win over Colchester, his 23rd and 24th goals of the season.
These were to be his last goals in a Leeds shirt until the first week of March, when the love/hate relationship between him and the fans would resurface.
By the time that goal came, an equaliser at home against Brentford, Leeds had thrown away an eight-point lead at the top.
They were now seven points behind leaders Norwich and had Charlton just two points behind.
Beckford looked back to his best in the next game, an away fixture at Tranmere Rovers. Beckford scored twice as Leeds ran out 4-1 winners, the second goal being a sublime lob over the keeper in front of the Leeds fans.
Leeds fans were hoping that the 'blip` as it was being called was finally over, it proved to be a false dawn as the next four games were to see them get no points and fail to score in any of them.
By now Beckford was feeling the full wrath by a large majority of the Leeds contingent due to what looked like a total lack of effort.
It wasn`t just the fans who were noticing this though, the Late Kick off, the regular local round up TV show pinpointed this during another very lacklustre performance at Norwich City.
By now Leeds had slipped out of the top two and were down to fourth after a home defeat by Swindon, people were beginning to get worried that even the Play offs were looking at risk unless they were to suddenly re-find their form from the first half of the season.
Leeds got back on track in the next game, Luciano Becchio had suffered a horror injury in the defeat at Norwich and Beckford was to be partnered in attack by livewire Max Gradel.
Richard Naylor scored both Leeds goals in a 2-1 victory and the partnership between Beckford and Gradel looked to have worked.
Beckford put in another poor show in the next home game and was a target of the Leeds boo boys for a large portion of the game. Boss Simon Grayson finally decided to substitute his leading goalscorer with just over 30 minutes remaining to the delight of the vast majority of the Elland Road crowd.
Within minutes, Grayson`s decision to substitute Beckford was proved right as first Gradel and then Becchio, who had replaced Beckford scored the goals to give Leeds a 2-0 win.
Beckford was dropped to the bench for the next game and the new strike partnership of Gradel and Becchio was to come up trumps again as both scored in a 3-1 victory at Carlisle. The result saw Leeds climb back into second place in the table with just four games remaining.
Gradel and Becchio led the attack again in the next game at Gillingham.
Leeds put in a disastrous first thirty minutes that saw them 3-0 down to the League One strugglers.
Beckford was introduced to the game early in the second half and a much hungrier looking Beckford worked hard to get Leeds back into the game.
His hard work won Leeds a penalty late on which he converted but the couldn`t find an equaliser and finished off losing 3-2.
Despite his hard work the partnership of Gradel and Becchio was working upfront and he was once again on the bench for the crucial home game with MK Dons.
Both Becchio and Gradel had scored for Leeds by the time Beckford came on with just over twenty minutes remaining.
They had a slender 2-1 lead but Beckford once again made a difference, first he got on the end of a good move between Becchio and Johnson to make it 3-1. He then won and converted a penalty to make it 4-1.
He almost completed an hat trick but his header went wide of the post when in a great position.
Now a large number of Leeds fans were wanting him reinstated to the starting line up for the important final away game of the season at Charlton.
Once again, Grayson left him on the bench and he entered the fray with just over 30 minutes remaining with the game finely balanced at 0-0.
With results going Leeds way Grayson threw caution to the wind in an all out attempt to gain three points and secure promotion.
Leeds suffered a blow when Richard Naylor put through his own goal inside the final five minutes to give Charlton the three points.
Beckford almost claimed a point in injury time but the Charlton keeper superbly saved his header.
He had once again come on though and worked very hard for the side and now those same fans who couldn`t wait for him to be dropped were wanting him in the starting line up for the final game of the season at home to Bristol Rovers.
It was simple; Leeds knew that victory would see them promoted to the Championship no matter what else happened, their destiny was in their own hands.
The team news came out before kick off and Beckford was in the starting line up, not only that, he was also named captain for the game that was a masterstroke by Leeds boss Simon Grayson.
Leeds went for it from the off and Beckford was heavily involved. He missed a great chance to give Leeds the lead when he just failed to get on the end of a Lowry header and then saw a goal ruled out for offside.
The controversial moment of the game followed within seconds when Max Gradel was sent off for stamping on one of the Bristol defenders.
Gradel was incensed with the decision to send him off and Beckford showed his responsibility as captain to stop Gradel from getting at the referee.
Things were to be made worse at the start of the second half when the visitors took the lead and Leeds were now facing the dreaded play offs for the third time in a row.
Howson equalised for Leeds just short of the hour and the script was written for Beckford.
Just four minutes after Howson`s goal, Beckford firstly intercepted an attempted clearance by the Bristol keeper and he was then on hand to pounce and ram the ball into the net after Johnson`s cross, could only be partially cleared.
As always it was Beckford who was going to have the last word, Grayson substituted him in the 90th minute and 38,000 Leeds fans stood as one to applaud him off the pitch.
As he left the pitch he was greeted by the Grayson and the two gave each other a huge hug.
How things had changed from the Southampton game back in December when he was jeered off the pitch and stormed past the Leeds boss.
He`d finished the season once again as Leeds leading goalscorer with 31 goals. The second season in a row that he had gone through the 30 goal barrier.
In just three seasons as a first team regular he as netted 84 goals.
If this is to be his swansong at Leeds, I would like to wish him all the best.
Any club will struggle to replace a striker who can score that amount of goals in three seasons.
Premiership side Everton are now rumoured to be chasing him, if he finds himself a Premiership club then the best of luck to him.
If only championship clubs come in for him, then why would he want to leave Leeds?
No one will ever forget your goals against Manchester United and Bristol Rovers
Whatever happens over the summer, good Luck Jermaine and thankyou for three wonderful goalscoring seasons.
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