Leeds look like they can make the Gradel

Leeds United 2 Queens Park Rangers 0: Ivorian's double inflicts Rangers' second defeat and raises Elland Road hopes
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The Independent Football

The last time Leeds United hosted one of the Championship's top two, they suffered a 4-0 humbling against Cardiff City in October. Simon Grayson's side have not lost since then, though, and they underlined the scale of their improvement with a deserved 2-0 defeat of leaders QPR yesterday that lifted them above Cardiff into second place.

The winger Max Gradel scored the two goals, one in each half, that earned a sixth win in nine unbeatenmatches for the Yorkshire cluband leaves them just three points behind Rangers.

The Leeds manager said: "We were outstanding for long parts and dominated it. When we had possession we were a major threat going forward. We've got ourselves a platform to build on. Eight weeks ago people were asking if these players were good enough but they've answered those questions."

It was a second successive loss for the Londoners, who were still unbeaten 10 days ago, and the only positive for Neil Warnock on a bitterly cold afternoon was that he had discarded his lucky shorts after that first reverse, against Watford.

Leeds fired an early warning shot in the 14th minute when Luciano Becchio got his head to a Robert Snodgrass cross, forcing a fingertip save from Paddy Kenny. Adel Taarabt sent a low shot skimming just past the post at the other end but Leeds, forced to come from behind to win their previous two games, had started purposefully and it took a fine challenge by Kaspars Gorkss to stop Gradel as he shaped to shoot on the edge of the box.

The little Ivorian would not be thwarted in the 26th minute, however. Snodgrass tricked Gorkss on the right edge of the box, turning away from goal before cutting back inside and crossing to the far post, where Jonathan Howson's header dropped for the inrushing Gradel to drive home on the half-volley from the corner of the six-yard box. When Howson and Gradel next combined they nearly crafted a fine second goal in the 37th minute, exchanging passes outside the box before the Leeds captain hit a low cross that the Ivorian sliced wide.

Leeds were asking serious questions of a visiting defence that had conceded just five goals in nine away games before yesterday. Leeds's back line, by contrast, has been leaky yet QPR struggled to create clear chances against a side who coped well with an early reshuffle when Leigh Bromby replaced Alex Bruce, who limped off with a groin strain suffered in the warm-up.

Probably the visitors' best opportunity fell to a defender, Gorkss shooting over from close range after Leeds failed to clear a corner just after Gradel's opener.

Grayson and Warnock exchanged angry words about a challenge on Jamie Mackie by Bradley Johnson as half-time approached. Warnock took Clint Hill off at half-time, put substitute Fitz Hall into central defence, moved Matt Connolly to central midfield and Kyle Walker to left-back.

Yet Rangers had a let-off when Becchio broke clear on to a Neil Kilkenny pass and Kenny fumbled his shot on to the far post.

It was from another counter that Leeds wrapped up the win in the 70th minute. George McCartney's lofted pass sent Gradel racing down the left. Confronted by Hall on the edge of the box, the Ivorian took the ball wide of the defender before driving a low shot past Kenny at the near post.

"If we concede goals like that we'll lose to anybody," said Warnock, who added: "We played some good stuff second half but probably didn't get enough bodies into the box. It was a poor goal defensively and Paddy should have saved it as well."

Kenny made partial amends with saves from Howson and Snodgrass but the damage was done, although Warnock could not resist a parting dig. "The way Leeds were celebrating in the tunnel you'd think they were already there."