Beckford's blasts keep Leeds in hunt

Leeds United 2 M K Dons 0
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The Independent Football

Never mind 44 days, the current group of Leeds United players are more concerned about the next 34. By the time those have passed – with Northampton Town's visit to Elland Road for the last fixture of the regular season – they will know whether they can look forward to promotion, perhaps via the play-offs, or face another season damned to League One.

On this evidence, their prospects are good. Peterborough's win over Leicester makes a top-two finish less likely, although Nottingham Forest proved what is possible by coming from a long way back last season. At the end of March they were 12 points adrift of second place; Leeds, with seven matches left, must make up 10.

"All we can do is keep putting on performances, keep getting victories and see where it takes us," their manager, Simon Grayson, said. This was their fourth win in a row and a sixth in an unbeaten sequence of eight, which is the form of a team who have found confidence and focus at the right moment.

There is evidence of that throughout the team, although in none more visibly than their top scorer, Jermaine Beckford, who became the first striker in the country to pass 30 for the season. His double, taking his tally to 31 in all competitions, was the difference between closely matched opponents.

Beckford struck first in the 36th minute, lashing the ball home from 12 yards after Luciano Becchio had headed down Ben Parker's free-kick. In a crowded penalty area the defence could have done better, but there was authority in the strike none the less.

His second goal, nine minutes into the second half, was put away with equal conviction. Timing his surge as winger Robert Snodgrass released a through-ball along the right, Beckford outran his marker then drilled the ball wide of goalkeeper Willy Gueret.

Two was enough to confirm that Leeds would record their eighth consecutive home win, a feat not achieved since the 1990-91 season, when Howard Wilkinson was building the team who last took the League title to Elland Road.

Roberto Di Matteo's team did match them yesterday in possession at least, although after an early scare for Leeds, when goalkeeper Casper Ankergren spilled a Sam Baldock free-kick, they seldom threatened to break down the Leeds defence until late in the game.

Before then, with Sam Sodje, on loan from Reading, making a solid debut, and stand-in captain Richard Naylor outstanding alongside him, Leeds had a firm base from which to attack.

Contrast their form with that of MK Dons and the worry lines on Di Matteo's brow are understandable. His side were second, 11 points better off than Leeds, when their 3-1 win at stadium:mk ended Gary McAllister's tenure as Leeds manager in December.

Now, after winning only once in their past nine outings, Di Matteo feels the top two may be beyond his side. "Realistically we are looking at the play-offs now," he said. "We have to regain our winning mentality and make sure we have momentum to finish the season."

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