Leeds United 3 Hartlepool United 1
Report of match 26th December 2009
Reporter Richard Sutcliffe
Jermaine Beckford netted twice as United came from behind against a gutsy Hartlepool to claim a 16th win of the season and extend their lead at the top of League One to six points.From sinner to scorer, prize chump to champ. A week on from the fit of pique that left Leeds United fans furious with Beckford, the enigma that is the club's top scorer displays in all its glory the side of his character that has brought teams with genuine Premier League aspirations flocking to Elland Road.
It was the perfect riposte by Beckford to the jeering from the terraces that had followed his petulant reaction to being substituted in the victory over Southampton, an open display of dissent that left many wondering whether Leeds manager Simon Grayson would choose to cash in on his prized asset once the January transfer window opened.
Certainly, with Newcastle United understood to have already made a firm enquiry and Middlesbrough also showing interest there is no shortage of admirers for a striker whose contract is due to expire next summer.
Grayson, for his part, has never publicly wavered from the stance that Beckford will only leave if a "ridiculous" offer comes in, the Leeds manager again reiterating the point after watching the striker take his goal tally to 71 in 108 starts.
The United manager said: "Everyone is pleased. We put the matter to bed on Monday morning and it was pleasing to see Jermaine react how he did.
"We have said all along that when you have a goalscorer like Jermaine you have an opportunity to win matches.
"He showed his class but we are not a one-man team, by any means. We have won games without Jermaine this year and we have won games when he has not performed.
"But he is a goalscorer and the stance since the summer has been that he leaves on a free next summer, he signs a new contract or the only way he leaves before that is if we get a ridiculous offer that will benefit the club to bring in other people."
Asked if he was expecting any enquiries once the window opens, Grayson replied: "Goalscorers are always in demand, so I am expecting people to ring about him.
"But the only conversation we will have is whether it will be beneficial to the club. Hopefully, that won't be the case."
With sources in the North East indicating Newcastle, who have been told by Aston Villa that loanee Marlon Harewood will not return to the Championship leaders unless a permanent deal can be agreed, are likely to follow up their initial enquiry about Beckford with a bid it means United could soon have a very big decision to make.
Do the League One leaders fight tooth and nail to keep their star striker at Elland Road? Or, do they sell and use the money to bring in a ready-made replacement that can help them push for promotion?
One man who is certain the Yorkshire club should hold on to their top scorer is Hartlepool manager Chris Turner, who said after his side's 3-1 defeat: "If Beckford is still here in January then his goals will take Leeds up by a mile."
Turner's praise was understandable after the decisive role played by Beckford in the win over Hartlepool with the striker's instinctive finish on 38 minutes not only cancelling out the visitors' lead but also settling nerves among the bumper 30,191 crowd.
Leeds had gone behind 13 minutes earlier when slack marking allowed Armann Bjornsson to finish at the far post after Ritchie Humphreys's corner had been flicked on by Sam Collins and Peter Hartley.
The goal clearly rocked the hosts, Hartlepool twice going close to doubling their advantage soon after when Adam Boyd's shot was deflected narrowly wide before Casper Ankergren made a hash of collecting a routine cross and Leigh Bromby had to clear.
Beckford's clever diverting of Neil Kilkenny's volley past Scott Flinders brought Leeds level before a Gary Liddle own goal in the fourth-minute of stoppage time ensured the home side went in ahead.
The defender was unfortunate to see Luciano Becchio's wayward header crash against the back of his head and into the net, Hartlepool's frustration only being added to by the Argentinian having clearly handled the ball during the build-up.
Beckford then put the result beyond doubt on 69 minutes with a deft finish after Becchio had flicked a long ball forward into his strike-partner's path, underlining in the process just how long a week can be in football as well as politics by leaving the field to cheers rather than jeers.
Leeds United: Ankergren; Bromby, Naylor (Gradel 81), Kisnorbo, Hughes; Howson, Doyle (Johnson 72), Kilkenny, Snodgrass: Beckford, Becchio (Kandol 80).
Unused subs: Martin, Grella, Vokes, Michalik.
Hartlepool United: Flinders; Austin, Liddle (Clark 46), Collins, Hartley; Jones, McSweeney (Larkin 74), Humphreys (Fredriksen 74), Sweeney; Bjornsson, Boyd.
Unused subs: Rowell, Cook, Greulich, Cherel.