Leicester City 2 Leeds United 2: Leeds looking good despite late lapse against Leicester

TO paraphrase English football's one-time favourite Swede, 'First half good, second half could be great'.

Certainly, that is the growing feeling in the city of Leeds when it comes to assessing United's prospects at the halfway stage of the Championship season.

Not only are the Yorkshire side firmly in the hunt for automatic promotion after extending their unbeaten run to 10 games with a thrilling draw against Sven Goran Eriksson's Leicester City.

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But the manner in which Simon Grayson's players are growing in confidence and stature with each passing week means they now have to be taken seriously in the race for the Premier League.

Against a Leicester side who earlier in the season had given Leeds a footballing lesson when claiming all three points at Elland Road, the visitors were by no means at their best.

There was little of the free-flowing attacking football that had brought nine points off Crystal Palace, Burnley and leaders Queens Park Rangers this month, while the defence struggled to get to grips with a surface that appeared bone-hard in parts after the Walkers Stadium undersoil heating developed a fault overnight.

Sloppy defending ultimately proved to be Leeds's downfall as the Foxes came from 2-0 down with 20 minutes remaining to snatch a point courtesy of a penalty by Paul Gallagher and a stunning strike from Andy King.

What the late surrender of the two points should not do, however, is detract from what has been a hugely impressive first half of the season for the Yorkshire side.

The presence of so many potential match-winners in the squad is what offers the most encouragement for the remaining 23 games.

Yesterday, it was the turn of Max Gradel and Robert Snodgrass to add the goalscoring polish to the industry and workrate that Grayson demands of his men.

Gradel, making his first return to Leicester since moving up the M1 in a 200,000 deal last January, took his goal tally to seven for the season by converting what was United's only chance of the first half.

Snodgrass then added a second with a sublime strike 10 minutes after the restart which suggested United's poor record of just two draws from five previous visits to the Walkers Stadium was about to end.

That it did not was, ultimately, a disappointment for the 3,318 visiting fans but, on the balance of chances created over 90 minutes, there was little doubt Leicester deserved some reward for their efforts.

In the opening 15 minutes, the Foxes had been presented with three decent chances by sloppy United defending.

First, a poor attempted clearance from Paul Connolly led to the ball being worked to Steve Howard, who shot just wide from 20 yards.

Andy O'Brien, back in the side after missing two games with a thigh strain, and Bradley Johnson then each failed to clear their lines to present the Foxes with an opening only for Darius Vassell to mis-control at the vital moment.

It was a similar story on 18 minutes when hesitation by Snodgrass put Connolly under pressure and the Leeds full-back was relieved to see his clearance cannon to safety off the back of Jack Hobbs.

Leeds, as if stunned into action by the trio of let-offs, responded quickly and were ahead within 60 seconds. Neil Kilkenny, who is this week expected to be called up to Australia's Asia Cup squad, was the creator of the opening goal with a sublime right-wing cross that Gradel seized upon to head past Chris Kirkland after his marker Kyle Naughton had slipped at the crucial moment.

Appeals from the home fans that the former Sheffield United full-back had been pushed were waved away by referee Tony Bates, the decision looking a wise one later in the half when Naughton twice fell over before staring accusingly at his boots.

Going behind may, on chances created, have been harsh on Leicester but they responded admirably courtesy of a weaving run and cross by Greg Cunningham that Howard came within a whisker of converting before Neill Collins got across to clear.

Leicester started the second half equally determined and went close through Yuki Abe.

United, though, refused to buckle and extended their lead on 55 minutes through Snodgrass.

The Scot had initially been left frustrated when his corner from the left was cut out by the home defence.

However, as the ball returned in his direction, Snodgrass quickly forgot his disappointment to race forward and unleash a terrific shot that Chris Kirkland barely saw before it hit the back of the net.

The response of Eriksson, who famously once described a performance by his England side as 'first half good, second half not so good', was to send on Lloyd Dyer and Roman Bednar.

Nineteen minutes from time the speedy Vassell raced clear before being upended by Kasper Schmeichel.

Referee Bates immediately pointed to the spot only to immediately incur the wrath of the home fans in a crowd of 30,919 by only showing the United goalkeeper a yellow card.

Gallagher converting the penalty past Schmeichel slightly appeased the incensed locals, who were back on their feet just six minutes later when Andy King fired in an unstoppable shot from 20 yards that cannoned into the net off the underside of the crossbar.

Cue a frantic finale that saw Kirkland somehow keep out a bullet header from Collins and both sides have a penalty appeal turned down to ensure the points were deservedly shared.


HERO: Robert Snodgrass. Not the game's standout performer but the stunning finish for United's second goal was one that any Premier League players would have been proud.

VILLAIN: Tony Bates. Once the decision has been taken to award a penalty when the goalkeper upends an opposition player as he bears down on goal then it is difficult to understand why a red card does not ensue.

KEY MOMENT: 71st minute. Leicester had appeared dead and buried going into the final 20 minutes only for the awarding of a penalty after Lloyd Dyer was fouled by Kasper Schmiechel to spark an impressive fightback.

REF JUSTICE: Tony Bates. Quite rightly booked both Luciano Becchio and Steve Howard for petulance in the first half but was amazingly lenient when showing only a yellow card to Schmeichel following the awarding of the penalty.

VERDICT: A Christmas cracker of a game for the 30,919 crowd as Leeds once again proved that attacking intent and suspect defending combine to create thrilling games of football. United should have claimed all three points from 2-0 up but Leicester deserve great credit for the fightback.

WHO'S NEXT: Leeds United v Portsmouth; Tomorrow, 3pm; Championship.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Gradel's too good for you," so sang the visiting supporters after the afternoon's first goal in retort to the earlier chants of 'Leicester reject' aimed at the Ivory Coast-born wideman.