By Tony Leighton
Leeds United Manager Simon Grayson is hoping that his team can return to winning ways against Cardiff City on Sunday before facing two of his former clubs, Blackpool and Leicester City, next week as all four sides jostle for places in a tightly contested npower Championship promotion battle.
Fifth in the table Leeds, whose seven-match unbeaten run came to an end at Birmingham City on Wednesday, are just three points below the top two while eighth-placed Cardiff are a point behind Grayson's team and both Blackpool and Leicester are only a further point back despite lying 12th and 14th respectively.
"It's the nature of this division," says Grayson as he assesses the scrap to reach the Premier League after seeing his team finish just one place and three points below the Play-Off places last term following a late season fade-out that saw them collect only eight points from the final 21 on offer.
They then started the current campaign slowly, losing three of their first five Championship outings, but then they went on a fine run of five wins and two draws before Wednesday's defeat. "Runs come to an end and now we will try to start another one," says Grayson matter-of-factly.
"We lacked our usual spark and creativity at Birmingham, but we didn't deserve to lose the match and I will certainly not knock my players after their performance. We will take the positives out of the game, regroup and go again and aim to get the result we want against Cardiff.
"We don't feel sorry for ourselves after the defeat at Birmingham, we can't afford to. Games are coming thick and fast in this division and the ones we have coming up in the next weeks or so are crucial. They will all be difficult, but they are games which we feel that we can win."
Leeds' meetings with Blackpool and Leicester will be bittersweet affairs for Grayson, who has fond memories of both clubs after as a player helping the Foxes to promotion up to the Premier League in 1996 and to League Cup glory in 1997, and then 10 years later managing Blackpool to promotion from League 1.
He has distanced himself from speculation that he could step into the Leicester hot-seat following the departure of Sven Goran Eriksson, but whoever takes over he believes his old club will have a say in the promotion race. "They have serious money to play with," he notes, "and they will not be far away come the end of the season."
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