Leeds United 4 MK Dons 1: Becchio, Gradel and Beckford on target for Whites

AT the end of a week when the Billy Bremner statue that proudly sits outside Elland Road were given a timely makeover, Leeds United's own promotion hopes benefited from a much-needed polish.

The tribute to United's greatest captain had been in need of a good sprucing up for some time with Mother Nature having washed away much of its initial colour and vibrancy.

A similar thing could have been said on Saturday morning about Bremner's former club following a largely disappointing 2010 that has seen what once appeared to be an unassailable lead at the top of League One gradually eroded away.

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Come 5pm, however, Leeds' hopes of escaping the third tier had, just like the statue outside the stadium, taken on an altogether healthier glow thanks to the manner in which managerless Milton Keynes Dons had been dispatched in comprehensive style.

The winning margin was three goals, but it could – and probably should – have been much more with Simon Grayson's side rediscovering the attacking verve that had characterised their efforts during the first half of the season.

The United manager had rung the changes to send out a starting XI that dripped with attacking intent as speedy winger Sanchez Watt was brought in alongside Bradley Johnson.

With defensive midfielder Michael Doyle dropped to the bench along with the out-of-form Jonny Howson, the clear intention was to take the game to the visitors.

It proved an astute move with the energetic home side taking such a firm control of proceedings that the Dons lost not only the game but also their discipline as Mathias Doumbe, David McCracken and Peter Leven were all sent off.

The dismissal of Doumbe for a high challenge on Watt just before the break was harsh, but there could be few complaints about the two red cards that followed in the final four minutes.

By the time of the late dismissals, the game was already effectively over with Leeds having built a 3-1 lead.

Grayson's men had gone ahead on 13 minutes when Watt, making his first start after three previous appearances from the bench, dispossessed Doumbe on the United left.

The Arsenal teenager then cleverly rolled a pass for Luciano Becchio to chase and drill a shot beyond Willy Gueret.

Milton Keynes hit back just six minutes later when slack marking by the Leeds defence allowed Dean Lewington to plant a shot past Shane Higgs after being picked out by Lever's free-kick.

After the previous week's first-half defensive collapse at Gillingham, there were more than a few anxious expressions in the 25,964 crowd at seeing their side pegged back, only for Max Gradel to restore the home side's advantage.

Watt was again the creator with a determined challenge on the edge of the area after Neil Kilkenny had intercepted a stray pass from Leven. The ball subsequently ran from Watt to Gradel, who finished coolly.

Then came the game's decisive moment as hapless referee Michael Oliver harshly sent off Doumbe to leave the Dons facing an uphill battle in the second half.

Leeds continued to dominate after the break but it took the introduction of Jermaine Beckford from the bench 14 minutes from time to bring the vital third goal, the top scorer firing in from close range after being picked out by Johnson.

Beckford then added a second, taking his season's tally to 30 in the process, from the penalty spot after being hauled down by McCracken – an offence that earned the defender a straight red card.

This time Oliver got it right, just as he did in stoppage time when Lever was guilty of an atrocious challenge on Neill Collins that saw the midfield player become the third visiting player to receive his marching orders.

Seconds later, the final whistle blew and there was no mistaking the delight on the faces of the Grayson's men as they took the deserved acclaim of the United fans.

Watt, so impressive on his full debut, typified the feeling within the Leeds camp that automatic promotion is now within touching distance.

The 19-year-old said: "It would be great to help Leeds go up as it would mean me being able to go off on holiday with a big smile.

"I will also then be able to go back to Arsenal for pre-season with a lot more confidence from achieving something.

"There is still a lot of work to do and a lot is riding on the last two games as we have to go out and win them.

"But I personally can't wait for the Charlton game (this Saturday). I am from London and this is a big game so I want to get a lot of my people to the game."

Leeds United: Higgs; Hughes, Naylor, Collins, Parker (Howson 59); Snodgrass (Beckford 76), Kilkenny, Johnson, Watt (McSheffrey 81); Becchio, Gradel. Unused substitutes: Ankergren, Doyle, Grella, Bromby.

Milton Keynes Dons: Gueret; Doumbe, McCracken, Powell, Lewington; Easter, Randall, Howell, Leven; Chadwick (Chicksen 63), Baldock (Gobern 51). Unused substitutes: Searle, Davis, Collins, Rae.

Referee: M Oliver (Northumberland).

MATCH FOCUS

Hero: Max Gradel

Just pipped Sanchez Watt as the United hero with an energetic display that saw the January signing from Leicester put the visiting defence under intense pressure throughout. Great link-up play with Watt.

Villain: Michael Oliver

A hapless performance from a referee who, on this evidence, will be lucky to officiate at another game between now and the end of the season. Left both sets of players scratching their heads in bemusement.

Key moment

43rd minute: Matthias Doumbe may have caught Sanchez Watt slightly high but it was not a red card offence.

Ref watch

Michael Oliver: Wrongly dismissed Doumbe and turned down penalty when Gradel was fouled – two of his 'lowlights.'

Verdict

MK Dons are clearly a team for whom the summer cannot come soon enough but Leeds still deserve credit for blowing the visitors away in the second half.

Next game

Charlton Athletic v Leeds United, Saturday, May 1, League One.

Quote of the day

Footballers are entertainers so we should enjoy the spotlight and be confident. It is our job to show people what we can do.

– Sanchez Watt gives an insight into his footballing beliefs.

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