DURING A little over 37 months at the helm of Leeds United, Simon Grayson had to endure some excruciating moments at Elland Road in and among what was – considering how wretched things have been since – a relatively golden period in the club’s recent history.
There was, for instance, Preston North End hitting back from 4-1 down to score five goals without reply.
Or the night when Blackpool, the club where Grayson cut his managerial teeth, came to town and killed off Paul Rachubka’s United career with another unreturned nap hand.
As painful as those losses were, however, surely those and other similar setbacks on home soil as United manager cannot have been on a par in the frustration stakes with yesterday as his first return since being sacked by the Yorkshire club in early 2012 ended in defeat.
Leeds claimed what was only their third victory since March in front of their own fans but the three points owed far more to failings on the part of Grayson’s Preston side than anything that the hosts could offer.
First, Jordan Pickford – such a reassuring presence in goal for Bradford City when on loan last term – contrived to get himself sent off shortly after the half-hour mark for a needless handball outside his own penalty area.
Then, with the second half just 23 seconds old, North End compounded that earlier blunder from the Sunderland loanee by gift-wrapping what proved to be the only goal of the game when Alan Browne headed past substitute goalkeeper Matt Hudson.
Considering Marco Silvestri had been far busier than his two Preston counterparts either side of the first own goal Leeds have benefited from at Elland Road in more than four and a-half years, it was a major slice of luck for Steve Evans as his side moved up to 13th in the table.
For Grayson, however, defeat against a club where he had 169 games in charge felt undeniably harsh.
“I was proud of my team,” said the Preston chief. “On another day, we would have certainly got something out of it.
“We felt hard done by. We started better than Leeds and the red card hindered us.
“The referee made a decision he deemed the right one, but evidence suggests otherwise. We have footage where our goalkeeper has his hands up in the air but it hit him in the chest area.
“The linesmen also said the centre-halves were not covering. But I thought they were. It was a huge decision and, ultimately, cost us the game. I wonder what the story would have been if we’d have had 11 men?
“Coming back to my old club where I enjoyed good times, it was a nice reception but I still leave here disappointed.”
Grayson had, quite rightly, been afforded a generous reception on his first return as a visiting manager. He was even serenaded by the locals with the chant, ‘Simon Grayson is a Leeds fan’.
During the build-up to yesterday’s first return to Elland Road in almost four years, the 47-year-old admitted to not knowing what sort of reception to expect.
In that respect, the clear enduring affection of the Leeds fans must have pleased the Preston manager. So, too, must how his side performed both before and after the two incidents that ultimately decided this ‘War of the Roses’ encounter in favour of the Yorkshire club.
Certainly, North End were livelier in attack against a host side that looked heavy legged on what was their second outing in less than 72 hours following Thursday’s hard-fought win at Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Inside the opening 10 minutes, Silvestri had to come to United’s rescue no less than three times. First, he had to keep out a Paul Gallagher free-kick and then display fine reflexes to deny Will Keane and Joel Garner in quick succession.
Following those early let-offs, Leeds did rouse from their slumber as a neat pass from Liam Bridcutt released Wood but his effort was smothered by Pickford.
Whether this successful dart from his line played a part in the former Bradford City loanee’s subsequent rush of blood that saw him outside the penalty area when Wood beat the goalkeeper to a bouncing ball, only Pickford knows.
But referee Gavin Ward, following prompting from his linesman, duly red-carded the Preston man to hand United a huge advantage.
Giuseppe Bellusci was unable to capitalise immediately against rookie Hudson as his free-kick flew just over the crossbar.
However, 30 seconds into the restart, Dallas’s cross was headed into his own goal by Browne and Leeds had the helping hand they needed.
It was the first time since Troy Deeney had put through his own goal in April 2011 that an opposition player had netted on behalf of United at Elland Road.
Any hopes the 22,641 crowd had, however, that this would pave the way for a comfortable victory were soon dashed as the rest of the second half saw Preston in the ascendancy.
The introduction of Neil Kilkenny from the bench played a part in this and the former Leeds midfielder twice drew saves from Silvestri.
First, the Italian got down smartly to save a scuffed effort from Kilkenny who then had a drilled effort from distance smartly turned round a post.
Silvestri’s next involvement was to race from his area to clear ahead of Garner before then saving brilliantly at full stretch from Kilkenny to seal a third home win in four games.