The big match: Leeds United v Doncaster Rovers, Championship, Elland Road. Paynter still waiting to come off sidelines to repay faith

WHEN Billy Paynter signed for Leeds United last summer, the striker never imagined for a second that eight months later he would still be waiting to show the prolific form that twice cut the Elland Road club down to size in the League One promotion race.

That, however, is the scenario facing the 26-year-old having made just two Championship starts and not yet got off the mark in front of goal since heading north from Swindon Town.

To any striker, hitting such a barren run would be a major frustration. But to someone who was in such prolific form that he found the net 29 times last term – including four strikes in two appearances against Leeds – becoming a bit-part player has been especially hard to take.

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Paynter’s problems have been three-fold. First, he suffered a stress fracture of his shin during pre-season that kept him out for the first three months. Then, perhaps more pertinently, Luciano Becchio suddenly hit the form of his life just at the moment when Simon Grayson’s decision to switch United’s formation meant there was only one berth to fill up front.

The upshot for Paynter has been an extended spell on the sidelines, his two league appearances in the starting XI having come during the hectic Christmas and New Year period that saw United play four games in 10 days.

Even then, Becchio managed to overshadow his team-mate by coming off the bench to net a stoppage-time equaliser in the second of those starts when Leeds claimed a dramatic 1-1 draw at home to Middlesbrough on New Year’s Day.

“It has been frustrating and I couldn’t have imagined things working out like this when I joined Leeds,” admits a striker who is with his third Yorkshire club after earlier spells with Hull City and Bradford City. “When you join a new club, you want to hit the ground running.

“After the season I’d had at Swindon, I was on a real high – especially after getting such a great move. I felt pre-season at Leeds had been going well but then the injury came along and everything stopped.

“Since then, I have been on the sidelines and had to bide my time. It has been very hard at times but my team-mates have been great. They have kept me smiling, as have the physios.

“They worked me really hard (when out injured) – I have never swum as much in my life as I have since coming to Leeds.

“The only plus for me is that the team has been doing well. The players in the team deserve their place. That is why I have not been kicking the manager’s door down. The lads have done well so it is only right I have had to bide my time.

“I have no arguments on that score so I won’t be causing a riot or anything like that.”

The news that Paynter does not plan to wreak havoc in Grayson’s office any time soon will, no doubt, come as a relief to the United manager.

What the 41-year-old will really want to see during the coming weeks, however, is a return to the sort of form that saw the then Swindon striker net more League One goals last season than the striker who shot United to promotion, Jermaine Beckford.

Leeds fans certainly know what the Liverpudlian is capable of thanks to those two-goal starring roles as Grayson’s men twice crashed to the Robins.

Paynter recalls: “The games against Leeds were great for me and all the lads at Swindon. Leeds were the big scalp in League One so it meant everywhere they played was a big crowd.

“We played really well twice against Leeds. At Elland Road (in early April when the two clubs were battling for automatic promotion), we came hoping to frustrate Leeds because they have so many good players. In the first half-hour, they could have scored three or four goals.

“But we weathered the storm, frustrated them and got the win. Swindon went second that day so it was memorable for a lot of reasons.

“After that, though, the results started to go against Swindon and it was Leeds who had the happy ending. I have seen the pictures on television (after Leeds clinched second place with a 2-1 win over Bristol Rovers on the final day) and it looked to be a real party.

“The celebrations, with all the fans coming on the pitch, showed how much it meant to everyone.”

As Leeds celebrated long into the night on May 8, Swindon had to lift themselves for the play-offs. However, after knocking out Charlton Athletic on penalties, the Robins lost the final to Millwall and just a few weeks later an out-of-contract Paynter was on his way to Elland Road.

It meant a return to Yorkshire after a spell at Hull in 2005-06 and then Bradford the following year. He said: “Peter Taylor signed me at Hull as a striker but ended up playing me in loads of positions.

“When he left (in the summer of 2006), he did admit I should have played up front more.

“Peter was replaced by Phil Parkinson, who said during pre-season that I was his first-choice striker. I was made up and really looking forward to the season.

“But then, on the Friday before the opening game, I was told I could leave as Southend had come in with an offer for me. It was baffling.

“The move didn’t work out so when Bradford came along I jumped at the chance. I wanted to get back up north because my missus was ready to drop.

“I enjoyed it at Bradford and scored a few goals, including one on my debut against Nottingham Forest. I also scored in a 3-2 win at Bristol City but the problem was Bradford were a young side and we ended up going down.”

With City relegated to League Two, Paynter returned to Roots Hall with a heavy heart so was delighted when Swindon came in for him a few weeks into the following season.

Now, he is determined to rediscover the scoring touch that brought 51 goals in three seasons with the Robins. “I am sure the fans are as frustrated as me. They saw a bit of me last season and will have wanted to see more.

“I have had a bit of bad luck but, hopefully, that is behind me now. There are a lot of games coming up in a short period of time so the manager may want to chop and change things a bit like he did at Christmas. If he does and I get a chance, it is up to me to take it.”