The ghosts of Leeds United past walked the broadcasting gantry at Elland Road. Eddie Gray and Norman Hunter were present, as ever, and Alan Smith finally came "home". Yet when Jermaine Beckford finished off Milton Keynes Dons, the focus switched from The Damned United and the doomed disunited of five years ago. The future was back on the agenda.
By taking his haul to 31 goals, the highest total in English football this season, Beckford (below) set the legends of the Don Revie era purring into their microphones. The 25-year-old Londoner also put the play-offs within reach, prompting Simon Grayson – a self-proclaimed Revie man though he acknowledged Brian Clough as "a great manager" – to use the film of David Peace's novel to challenge his players. "It shows the size of the club that there's a book and movie about us," said the manager. "I've told the players: 'This club has a great tradition and history. It may only be League One, but if you can get promoted, you can be a new group of heroes."
The Leeds team of '74, led by the man who became Grayson's manager when he was an apprentice, Billy Bremner, are cast more as villains than heroes in the cinematic treatment. Gray enjoyed it but stressed it was "a drama, not a documentary", while the genial Hunter did not recognise his portrayal as a "dark, brooding character who whacks Cloughie on the training pitch".
If any member of a side lying fifth in the third tier could be said to combine the aggression and skill, petulance and poise that characterised the champions Clough inherited, it is Beckford. His goals – a close-range volley and a shot taken early with minimal back-lift following a flowing move – evoked memories of Allan Clarke, and the one-time Chelsea trainee is as lethal as he is abrasive – just like "Sniffer".
For the Dons, like Leeds, automatic promotion is a remote prospect after one win in nine, although Roberto Di Matteo was defiant. "If we do [reach the play-offs], I'll be very confident," the manager said. "My team is a good one." For now the momentum is with Leeds. Being back in the national spotlight seems to have galvanised their followers, some wearing scarves declaring "The Damned Utd – And Proud Of It". Remarkably, Saturday's crowd of nearly 28,000 comfortably eclipsed the attendance for the last home fixture of Clough's brief reign.
Goals: Beckford (37) 1-0; Beckford (54) 2-0.
Leeds United (4-4-2): Ankergren; Douglas, Naylor, Sodje (Michalik, 60), Parker; Snodgrass (Dickinson, 90), Howson, Kilkenny (Hughes, 72), Delph; Becchio, Beckford. Substitutes not used: Lucas (gk), Robinson.
Milton Keynes Dons (4-4-2): Gueret; Cummings (Stirling, 66), O'Hanlon, Llera (Gerba, 82), Lewington; Puncheon, Regan (Johnson, 58), Navarro, Leven; Baldock, Wilbraham. Substitutes not used: Abbey (gk), Howell.
Referee: N Swarbrick (Lancashire).
Booked: Leeds United Howson, Kilkenny; MK Dons: Leven, Johnson, Puncheon, Navarro.
Man of the match: Beckford.