How times have changed since Forster's blunder

Paddy DavittMarching on together - only in opposite directions. When Norwich's squad boarded the team bus outside Elland Road after a heart-breaking stoppage time televised defeat in October they trailed Leeds by 11 points.Paddy Davitt

Marching on together - only in opposite directions.

When Norwich's squad boarded the team bus outside Elland Road after a heart-breaking stoppage time televised defeat in October they trailed Leeds by 11 points. Simon Grayson's men had a game in hand. The pre-season title favourites had just extended their unbeaten start to the season, League One already seemingly reduced to Leeds and the rest.

Remember Paul Lambert's anguished crouch at the front of his technical area as Jermaine Beckford raced through to punish Fraser Forster's wayward goal kick?

All that effort. All that sweat and toil undone by a late lapse of concentration.

This weekend, battle-weary Leeds players will disembark outside Carrow Road eight points adrift of the Canaries, with memories of Monday's 2-0 home defeat at the hands of Millwall fresh in the minds.

Now it's Norwich and the rest. Avoid defeat and City remain eight clear with eight league games to play - whatever the third-placed Lions can muster against bottom side Stockport at the New Den.

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As for Leeds, well if they were to lose at Carrow Road then they would be joined on 71 points by Millwall, if KennyJackett's side can see off the division's whipping boys. All of a sudden hopes of automatic promotion would be hanging in the balance, if they aren't already.

Bald statistics merely serve to underline the scale of City's achievement in picking up 19 more points that Leeds over the course of around 25 games. They don't tell the story. At 3pm this Saturday Leeds will have played six games more this season than their hosts. Not a huge differential. But neither club boasts the financial resources to carry the bloated squads of the 'haves' in English football these days.

Grayson has to beg and borrow just like Lambert and every other manager in the third tier. Cup success on three fronts raised the profile of the fallen Yorkshire giants. But at what cost? Not even die hard Whites' followers would surely swap Manchester United's FA Cup scalp for promotion. Old Trafford or Oldham? Yet again. Not much of a choice.

City exited at Carlisle in round two. Leeds went out to Spurs in a fourth round replay after taking two games to squeeze past non league Kettering before stunning United.

The FA Cup brings revenue. It also brings distractions. Whatever the public utterances around those glamour ties against the country's best, Leeds took their eyes off the greater prize. Grayson faced an almost impossible task bringing his players back to terra firma for Wycombe's league visit just six days after shocking their bitter enemies in a battle of the Roses.

Beckford dazzled in his own private shop window. Goals against United and Spurs pushing his wares to potential Premiership suitors with Beckford's contract due to expire this summer.

League One's recently-crowned player-of-the-year missed Millwall's midweek visit with a tight hamstring. It may well be a watching brief again this weekend. But Grant Holt has plundered twice as many league goals as Leeds' early season focal point since New Year.

If Holt misfires, step forward Chris Martin. Or Wes Hoolahan. Or even Gary Doherty. Beckford has scored one in every three league goals Leeds have notched so far this season. 'Stop Beckford and you go a long way to stopping Leeds' has surely appeared near the top of scouting reports in recent months. Leeds increasingly lack a plan B. Beyond Beckford.

Millwall did a job on them midweek. That early season air of invincibility has long gone. Now Leeds look weighed down by the weight of expectation. Players come and go but past achievements, former glories of a once proud club persist. United's fan base demands promotion. Just like Norwich's loyal support. But for all City's travails since slipping out of the Premiership with a whimper in 2005 they are not pained by play-off failure. Three times in the last four seasons Leeds have faltered. Suffered the cruellest cut of all. Scars which take longer to heal than a bright start to this current season.

Emphatic wins for Norwich and Millwall this weekend and Leeds slip out of the automatic promotion slots for the first time since August 18. Unthinkable when Lambert slumped to his haunches at Elland Road.

United's supporters need tangible proof their club can rise once again. Maybe not to such exalted European heights. Certainly better than English football's third tier.

Boyhood fan Grayson now shoulders that heavy burden. Failure is not an option. But fail again at Carrow Road this weekend and Grayson will wear that pained expression in the away dug out this time around.

How quickly things change.





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