For the best part of three years, the tradition at Leeds United has been for strikers to work and play in the shadow of Jermaine Beckford.

The club have no finer goalscorer than League One's player of the year but Elland Road is experiencing a changing of the guard.

Dropped last night for what might have been the first time in his career with Leeds, Beckford was scarcely missed.

Max Gradel and Luciano Becchio compensated for Beckford's worsening performances and general lack of influence by scalping Southend United on Saturday, and their potency at Brunton Park was more than Carlisle United could cope with.

No longer will Simon Grayson lose sleep about alternative sources of goals in his squad.

Five in four days from Becchio and Gradel have dealt conclusively with
that concern, removing what doubt existed about Leeds' designs on second place in League One and their ability to claim it.

The club climbed back into the division's last automatic promotion position last night, driven forward by a third successive win and a sense that their sprint to the line is being perfectly timed.

Their performance at Brunton Park was impeccable, a soft concession aside, taking Grayson a game closer to his ambitious projection of seven victories from United's final seven fixtures.

Becchio scored in either half at Brunton Park and Gradel's goal in between negated Richard Keogh's 44th-minute header, Carlisle's only chance before the interval but enough to give them parity.

Stung by that reply, United's reaction after reappearing from their dressing room was ruthless.

Little more than a week has elapsed since a 3-0 defeat to Swindon left United's season on the point of a collapse but Grayson found himself looking at a different team in Cumbria.

So comfortable were his players that he did not feel the need to involve Beckford until the 88th-minute, long after the game was won.

The omission of the 26-year-old from Grayson's line-up was confirmed half-an-hour before kick-off, the inevitable consequence of an appearance on Saturday which threatened to make the striker's position untenable.

Beckford's form had been a matter of debate for several weeks prior to Leeds' game in Carlisle but his petulant exchanges with sections of the home crowd during United's defeat of Southend at Elland Road was a prelude to his demotion.

Grayson faced up to an unavoidable change, handing the forward's place to the most obvious replacement in Becchio.

In the absence of several injured players, Carlisle chose to use Gary Madine as a lone striker, employing a system designed to restrict United's fluency in midfield, but it did nothing more than invite Leeds forward from the outset.

However confident Grayson felt about a team missing the once-indispensable presence of Beckford, the first 13 minutes at Brunton Park vindicated his plan.

A disallowed goal and a worthwhile effort from Jonathan Howson were early warning shots for the opportunistic strike from Becchio which broke the deadlock.

Referee Mark Halsey, who last night fulfilled his third appointment after recovering from throat cancer, penalised Becchio for a foul on Carlisle goalkeeper Adam Collin while Richard Naylor was heading a corner from Neil Kilkenny into an empty net, and Howson's wayward volley arrived before two errors from Ian Harte which allowed Max Gradel to drift in behind Carlisle's back four.

Neither misjudgement came at a cost but the uncertainty among Greg Abbott's defenders was apparent in those moments.

The unfortunate Collin did not escape punishment when he contributed to the tension by failing to hold a free-kick from Robert Snodgrass in the 13th minute.

A tame shot from the edge of the box dropped kindly towards the keeper's grasp with no players around him, but Collin inexplicably fumbled the ball into the path of Becchio who restrained his surprise and applied the necessary touch.

Soft though the goal was, it was as little as Leeds deserved for their willingness to force the pace of the game and attack Carlisle relentlessly.

Their hosts were susceptible to every attack, watching another shot from Becchio fade beyond a post and holding their breath as the Argentinian forward failed to convert the simplest of chances laid on by Snodgrass, bundling the winger's cross to the left of Collin's net from three yards out.

Becchio's miss stirred Carlisle's competitive instinct but the defence of his goal was scarcely frantic.

A risky header from Andrew Hughes forced a swift reaction from Shane Higgs as Adam Clayton chased the loose ball but it was as close as United's keeper came to a serious save until the 44th minute.

Naylor and Neill Collins ensured that the capable Madine remained in isolation.

Carlisle yearned for that feeling of comfort but could only ride their luck, relying on Evan Horwood to knock Gradel's shot away from their goalline and calling on Collin to deny Gradel with his legs after Harte's senseless header towards the keeper fell woefully short.

Grayson's only concern in the final throes of the first half was the slender state of United's lead.

By then, his players should have been several goals to the good but with the interval 60 seconds away, United's defence revealed a gap in their armour.

Naylor's foul on Clayton presented Carlisle with a free-kick 35 yards from goal and Harte's sharp delivery dropped perfectly for Richard Keogh who lost his marker and nodded the ball beyond Higgs' desperate dive.

Even in the wake of that setback, Grayson was looking on in bewilderment when Jonathan Howson crossed from the right and left Snodgrass to stab a shot over an open goal.

The half-time scoreline was an anomaly in the eyes of United's manager and the majority inside Brunton Park.

He was not asked to wait long for justice. A minute into the second half, Bromby guided a cross towards the edge of Carlisle's six-yard box where Gradel appeared among a crowd of players to nod the ball into the net, and Becchio struck again shortly before the hour, running onto Gradel's through ball and driving a shot under Collin.

It was a fitting end to a night when the personal glory fell to Grayson's forwards and the fight for automatic promotion dropped back into Leeds' collective hands.

Carlisle United: Collin, Keogh, Aldred (Raven 64), Harte, Horwood, Dobie (Bowman 81), Taiwo, Clayton, Thirlwell (Bridge-Wilkinson 60), Marshall, Madine. Subs (not used): Pidgeley, Kavanagh, Rothery, Kane.

Leeds United: Higgs, Bromby, Naylor, Collins, Hughes, Howson, Doyle, Kilkenny, Snodgrass, Gradel (Grella 88), Becchio (Beckford 88).
Subs (not used): Ankergren, McSheffrey, Parker, Lowry, Watt.

Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).
Attendance: 8,728.