Leeds manager Simon Grayson dedicated his side’s 4-0 win at Nottingham Forest to Gary Speed, saying: “He would have been delighted with that”.
Grayson signed schoolboy forms with Leeds on the same day as Speed when the pair were 14, forging a lifelong friendship that ended when Speed was found dead at his home on Sunday aged 42.
Grayson, who played, trained, roomed and earned his coaching badges with Speed, asked his players to win the game for his friend, and goals from Robert Snodgrass, Jonny Howson, Luciano Becchio and Adam Clayton ensured they did.
Off the field, fans paid their tributes to Speed in what was the first game any of his five former clubs had played since the tragic news broke. A minute’s applause was participated in by all as historic rivalries dating back to the feuds of Brian Clough and Don Revie were shelved.
The traveling support also stuck to a pre-match plan of singing Speed’s name for 11 minutes - 11 being his old shirt number - during the first half. At full-time, Grayson went to the away end and pointed to the sky before leaving the field in tears.
“It’s been a difficult couple of days for myself and Gary’s family, supporters of Leeds United and supporters in general,” Grayson said afterwards.
“Gary Speed was a fantastic person and I wanted my players to go out and produce a performance for him tonight.
“That was right out of the top locker of our performances tonight. It was very poignant that the first goal came right as the 11 minutes of singing ended and was a left-footed shot. Gary Speed scored many goals like that. It’s been difficult, but I’m a very proud manager tonight. I’m delighted to have got a result for Gary Speed.
“It has been a very difficult time. I had to put my professional head on, but during the minute’s applause it was difficult to keep concentration. But I had to do it, because I knew he would want us to put on a performance and the manner or how we played was a reflection of what Gary would have been delighted with.”
The result marked a return to winning ways for Leeds and was further evidence of the difference in their fortunes away from Elland Road. They have now won five out of six on the road, but have not won in four on home soil.
They were beaten 2-1 by Barnsley on Saturday and criticised widely, and Grayson admitted that, coupled with a stirring speech about Speed by assistant manager Glynn Snodin, paved the way to the win.
“We had a chat just before we went out and Glynn said some words to the players about Gary. I’m sure the players were aware of him and what he meant to this football club,” he added.
“I couldn’t have said what Snod said because I couldn’t have held myself together. It was a passionate talk to the players.
“I think they were motivated by some of the criticisms after the weekend, but if anyone wants to question my players’ spirit, they don’t know what they’re on about.”
Elsewhere, Hull City lost 2-01 at leaders Southampton.
Hull midfielder Robert Koren had put the visitors ahead, but goals from Guly Do Prado and Adam Lallana kept Saints two points clear of second-placed West Ham at the top of the npower Championship.
Hull’s evening got worse when substitute Robbie Brady, who had only been on for 12 minutes, was sent off for a rash challenge on Harding.
Hull caretaker-manager Nick Barmby felt his team had made avoidable errors.
Barmby said: “It’s frustrating. We have to eradicate the silly mistakes. We’re nearly there and we will get there.
“We need to work on some areas and have to iron out the mistakes. For 80 minutes I thought we played well but we were undone by 10 minutes of lack of concentration.”
Barmby did not think Brady deserved a straight red card.
He added: “I don’t think it was a sending-off. I’ve had a look at it again and I do not agree with the decision.”
Two goals from Billy Sharp were not enough to prevent Doncaster Rovers going down 3-2 at Millwall.
Manager Dean Saunders insisted he could not fault his side’s effort.
He said: “We are obviously disappointed to lose the game but I thought we played well and I am delighted with the effort my guys showed.
“We had enough chances to win the game and I thought we played really well, but the goals we gave away were from terrible mistakes and it is hard to eradicate them really.
“Every one of them kept going right until the end and we have all seen those games end up a draw.
“And the main thing is that my players never packed it in. That is key because things will turn around and we will win games, but only if they have the drive and determination.
“If they had packed in I would have been worried but they didn’t, so we are getting there.”