LEEDS United boosted their promotion hopes and left manager Simon Grayson delighted as they beat one of their biggest rivals at Elland Road on Saturday.
A 4-1 victory over a Nottingham Forest side reduced to 10 men when Chris Cohen was sent-off in the 35th minute for a dangerous lunge on George McCartney allowed the fifth-placed Whites to open up a four-point gap on their nearest challengers.
Forest dropped out of the play-off places after their eighth game without a win, but Leeds must now be wary of Reading, who have crept up into sixth and have a game in hand and a game still to come at Elland Road.
It is another team looking to get into the play-offs, Millwall, next in a tough away game next Saturday, but manager Grayson will be pleased if his players show the same desire they did against Forest.
He said: “It was a very passionate game, lots of quality and incidents, but what mattered most was the result and it was a great three points for us.
“We said at half-time that we had to be patient when we got on the ball and move it out wide with the full-backs stepping in and we pushed the wide players that bit higher up the pitch.
“We played it well against 10 men. They scored a great goal, but I thought we responded well again and there were some good goals, some fantastic finishes and good combination play.
“We got the goals at the right times and rounded off a really good second half professional performance.”
Grayson was pleased with the response of the players after picking the same starting 11 that flopped at Sheffield United.
He added: “I owed the players the opportunity to put right the poor performance in the last game against Sheffield United. They have not let me down too many times this season and I just thought it was the right action to do to pick the same team.
“I was delighted with the way Barry Bannan came into the game. It was difficult for him in the first half, but he settled into it well and I thought Jake Livermore contributed in the second half when he came on.
“We’ve got a good squad and when you look at the bench it was very strong. The likes of Alex Bruce and Paul Connolly couldn’t get into the 18 because of what they’ve got in front of them.
“We’re not going to get carried away because we won. We’ll focus again ready for Millwall, which is a tough game. But I’ve said to the players to believe that second place is attainable and if it’s not to be second make sure we are in the play-offs and anything can happen after that.”
A physical Forest team looked to be adding to Leeds’ problems as they were the better side up to the sending off and for 15 minutes after they went down to 10 they were still holding their own. United looked edgy and their play was rushed, but it all changed after captain Jonny Howson fired them ahead with a smart finish in the box from Eric Lichaj’s cross.
Luciano Becchio made it two with a poacher’s goal after Leigh Bromby hit the post with a header and suddenly United threatened to run riot with Robert Snodgrass hitting the crossbar with a great shot and Max Gradel put clean through by Howson only to completely miscue his shot.
Forest hit back with a fine goal of their own as Gareth McCleary easily got round McCartney to send a curling shot into the top corner, but Gradel made amends for his earlier miss with a well struck volley from the edge of the box and a close range finish to round off an ultimately successful day for Leeds.
Grayson was happy with the way his Ivory Coast international winger stuck at it.
He said: “It wasn’t Max Gradel’s best game and to be fair he was very close to being taken off, but he came up with the goods at the right time and he’s that type of player, he can score goals out of nothing.”
Leeds United 4
(Howson 51, Becchio 57, Gradel 73, 87)
Nottingham Forest 1
Saturday, April 2, 2011
Leeds: Schmeichel, Lichaj, Bromby, O’Brien, McCartney, Snodgrass, Bannan (Livermore 75), Johnson (Kilkenny 88), Howson, Gradel, Becchio (Somma 90).
Notts Forest: Camp, Gunter, Chambers, Morgan, Lynch, Anderson (McCleary 30), Cohen (sent-off 35), Majewski, McGugan, Tudgay (Earnshaw 80), Boyd (Tyson 54).
Referee: Mark Halsey.