Leeds United 2 Swansea 1: Grayson put 'through the mill' by Whites

WHEN the dust had settled at the end of the summer transfer window, there could be little argument as to what represented Leeds United's best piece of business.

Lloyd Sam had, admittedly, by the end of August already netted three goals from midfield, while snapping up Ross McCormack for just 300,000 when Cardiff had turned down bids of ten times that amount a year earlier also represented an impressive piece of wheeling and dealing by Simon Grayson.

But, in terms of who had been the stellar signing of the summer, it had to be goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

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So impressive, in fact, was his form during the opening month of the season that it was difficult to envisage anything but a frustrating few months ahead for deposed first-choice stopper Shane Higgs.

Fast forward to last Saturday, however, and a foot injury sustained by Schmeichel at Watford meant Higgs was suddenly in from the cold.

He responded admirably, pulling off a string of fine saves to deny Swansea City in the first half and provide the platform for a dramatic fightback by United.

Bradley Johnson and Luciano Becchio grabbed the all-important goals to claim a third consecutive Championship win but it was Higgs who, tellingly, most of his team-mates embraced at the final-whistle.

For the 33-year-old, it was a sweet moment and one that, with Schmeichel facing an extended lay-off, he hopes will leave manager Grayson with a difficult decision to make when both goalkeepers are fit.

Higgs, whose only previous appearance this season had come in the Carling Cup second- round defeat to Leicester City, said: "In pre-season, I did pretty well and that gave the manager a decision to make.

"He went for Kasper so, obviously, I hadn't done enough to start.

"But now, I want to see if I can change his mind. I have to make that decision hard when Kasper is fit again.

"It was a little bit frustrating to be out of the side, it is something you never get used to.

"I started my career like that (at Bristol Rovers) but then when I got to be first choice (at Cheltenham) I said I didn't want to go through it again.

"But circumstances change and you have to bite the bullet. It is not as if I could say I should play because Kasper was not playing well.

"Now is a chance for me. I am only looking at it game-by-game but I want to give the manager a decision to make."

Higgs's first action of the afternoon had been to pick the ball out of the net in the 13th minute after being beaten by Stephen Dobbie.

The Swansea striker had been able to pick his spot thanks to a mistake from Richard Naylor, the United captain horribly mis-judging a long ball from David Cotterill to allow Dobbie to race clear.

It was just the start Higgs had been keen to avoid.

But he responded to the setback admirably to keep the Swans attack at bay for the rest of the half.

First, he blocked a goalbound effort from Scott Sinclair with his legs after the one-time Chelsea midfielder had been played through by a stunning pass from former Sheffield United man Cotterill.

Then, Higgs had to beat away a stinging drive from Nathan Dyer after the Leeds defence had given Dobbie far too much space on the edge of the area.

The save drew grateful applause from the home fans, though it was nothing compared to the reaction a minute before the break when he kept out a curled effort from the lively Dobbie.

It was a save of the highest order, and one that would, ultimately, allow Leeds to launch a stirring second-half fightback and claim the points.

The home side's equaliser came 10 minutes after the restart when Johnson slammed a shot into the net after Naylor's header had only partially been blocked by Swansea goalkeeper Dorus De Vries.

Being pegged back was harsh on the visitors, who five minutes earlier had come within a whisker of doubling their advantage when Sinclair had shot just past the post.

For a time, though, Johnson's strike appeared to rock Swansea and, to United's credit, they took advantage just after the hour when Becchio netted what would prove to be the winner.

Max Gradel's cunning on the left was the catalyst, the Ivory Coast wideman cleverly worming his way to the by-line before picking out Sam.

The substitute duly fired goalwards only to see his effort blocked by De Vries, who then did well to keep out the follow-up from Jonny Howson.

Again, however, the City goalkeeper could only divert the ball into the path of a Leeds player and Becchio made no mistake with a smart finish.

There was still time for a couple more let-offs for Grayson's men, as first referee Grant Hegley ruled Neill Collins's clumsy challenge on Joe Allen had been legal. Then, with the clock ticking down, Higgs beat away a fierce effort from Dobbie to not only clinch the win but also stake his own claim to be the club's first-choice goalkeeper.

MATCH FOCUS

Hero: Shane Higgs

Only in the side due to Kasper Schmeichel being injured but he sent out a clear message to manager Simon Grayson during a first half that would, but for Higgs, have ended with Swansea all but out of sight.

Villain: Dorus De Vries

Was undoubtedly caught late by a sliding challenge from Luciano Becchio but his response in throwing the ball at the Argentinian before collapsing to the floor theatrically did not reflect well on the Swansea goalkeeper.

Key moment

44th minute: Had Shane Higgs not pulled off a stunning save to keep out a shot from Stephen Dobbie then the game could have been up for Leeds.

Ref watch

Grant Hegley: Not the best of displays. Missed a blatant penalty for Swansea when Neill Collins clumsily knocked substitute Joe Allen to the floor.

Verdict

Far from United's most impressive display but they do deserve credit for claiming all three points. The win sets Simon Grayson's side up for a testing week with two short trips to south Yorkshire.

Quote of the day

I am from Ireland and live in Wales, and if you throw the ball at someone in rugby they would laugh at you.

– Brendan Rogers's level-headed response to being asked if his goalkeeper should have been sent off after tussling with Luciano Becchio.

Next game

Barnsley v Leeds United; tomorrow, 7.45pm; Championship.

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