Automatic target for unsung Leeds star Connolly

"some players produce a nine out of 10 performance one week and then the following game are a five, whereas Paul is a seven out of 10 every week."

So said Leeds United manager Simon Grayson about Paul Connolly last month when asked if his side would miss the suspended full-back when taking on Crystal Palace at Elland Road.

It was an apt way of summing up the impact made by a summer signing from Derby County who has proved to be a solid and reliable addition to the squad. It was also a quote that Connolly had not heard until speaking to the Yorkshire Post during the build-up to today's trip to Portsmouth.

"Is that what the gaffer said about me?" said the 27-year-old who has started all but five of United's 30 league and cup outings since moving to Yorkshire. "It is a nice thing to hear from a manager who was a defender himself.

"The gaffer knows how difficult it can be at times to keep concentration levels up and be consistent at the back. I feel consistency is something I have grown into. When I was 18, I would bomb forward all the time and leave so many gaps at the back. Now I know it is about picking your time to get forward and I take what the manager said as a compliment."

Connolly arrived at Elland Road as one of 11 summer signings made by Grayson as Leeds looked to adapt to life in the Championship after three years in League One.

The United chief had made it a priority to try to solve what had been something of a problem position during the campaign that ended in promotion, the role having been filled with varying degrees of success by Jason Crowe, Andrew Hughes and Leigh Bromby.

Liverpool-born Connolly still had a year to run on his Pride Park contract but Nigel Clough's need to trim the wage bill meant a player who had finished the season on loan at Sheffield United was available on a free transfer.

Grayson moved quickly and has been rewarded with a string of consistent performances from one of United's unsung heroes.

Connolly said: "I am enjoying it and the season is going well. I signed a three-year deal fully expecting we would get promotion during that time.

"I know we all played it down before the season but, to me, Leeds were never the sort of club who would be floating around at the bottom of the Championship.

"The fans wouldn't accept that, nor would the players and neither would the chairman. Although we played it down, we still had an eye on it and were thinking, 'we could slip under the radar here'.

"I know being Leeds can make that hard because this is a big club. But I think we did manage it for much of the first half of the season. Now, you look at the league, and we probably have exceeded expectations. To me, automatic promotion has to be on."

This exceeding of expectations sees United travel to Fratton Park today sitting fifth in the Championship table, just two points adrift of second-placed Swansea City.

With Leeds having bowed out of the FA Cup in midweek after a replay against Arsenal, Connolly insists Grayson's men are ready to kick on in the pursuit of promotion.

He said: "Portsmouth is a massive game. I am sure they will look at us having played Wednesday night and hope we will be a bit heavy-legged. But I am sure we will come out flying.

"They were very lucky to get a (3-3) draw (at Elland Road last month) through an own goal (by Andy O'Brien).

"As we proved against Arsenal, we have nothing to fear. I thought it was a proud night for Leeds United, even though it was hard work due to just how good Arsenal are in keeping possession.

"They are the sort of side who can pick you off and, to me, are one of the top five teams in Europe.

"But we did well over two games and that must give us confidence for the rest of the season, because no team in our league is even half as good as Arsenal."