Jermaine Beckford has been called many things during four goal-strewn years at Leeds United – not all of them flattering – but never "responsible". Except, perhaps, in the sense that many observers held him responsible for the fade-out which threatened to deny Leeds the promotion they finally achieved with a tortuous last-day triumph over Bristol Rovers.
In January, with Leeds basking in his decisive FA Cup goal at Manchester United and seemingly cruising to the League One title, Beckford demanded a transfer. Results deteriorated, his scoring rate slowed even after he agreed to stay, and manager Simon Grayson had relegated him to substitute for the four games before Saturday.
Recalled as captain for the injured Richard Naylor, Beckford performed like a man possessed in what will have been his farewell to Elland Road if reports of a summer switch to Everton prove correct. As well as showing unexpected maturity, he hit the winning goal, his 31st this season, demonstrating why Leeds will fight to keep him.
When their Ivorian winger Max Gradel was dismissed for butting Rovers' Daniel Jones with barely half an hour played, Beckford forcibly stopped him physically confronting referee Graham Salisbury. And after the 10 men tenaciously nullified Darryl Duffy's numbing opener with a fine equaliser by substitute Jonny Howson, the Londoner pounced to ensure Leeds avoided the play-offs. Grayson said: "My objective in giving him the captaincy was to give him added responsibility. I looked around and thought 'why not Jermaine?' I felt the responsibility might give him an extra spring in his step. I thought it worked. As he led out the team I noticed he was very vocal, which isn't his usual manner. He was also the one trying to get Max off, which wasn't an easy situation. He led by example, even when he had to drop to left midfield.
"Jermaine's out of contract now but if we can offer him the right deal, I'd love him to stay. If you're competing against Premier League clubs, it's a different ball game, but we'll do as much as we can. We offered him contracts last summer because we know what he can do. If he moves on, he'll go with my best wishes. If he stays then I have one hell of a player on my hands.
"We turned down good money for him in January because we wanted to win promotion. His goals have proved that was the right decision. I thought he was badly advised then. We had a chat and tried to resolve it but that wasn't possible.
"Someone who can score you 30 goals a season is a rare commodity. I'm sure he wants to be tested at the next level. The proof will be in the pudding as to whether Jermaine or any of the players can achieve that."
Leeds United (4-4-2): Higgs; A Hughes, Bromby, Collins, Lowry (Howson, 54); Gradel, Kilkenny, Doyle, Johnson; Beckford (Snodgrass, 90), Becchio (Watt, 88). Substitutes not used: Ankergren (gk), Grella, McSheffrey, Michalik.
Bristol Rovers (4-4-2): Andersen; Regan, Coles, Anthony, Jones; Reece (Williams, 72), Lines, Campbell, J Hughes; Kuffour, Duffy (Richards, 79). Substitutes not used: Evans (gk), Wright, Blizzard, Clough, Swallow.
Referee: G Salisbury (Lancashire).
Booked: Leeds Doyle, Becchio. Bristol Rovers Jones, Duffy. Sent off: Leeds Gradel.
Man of the match: Beckford.
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