Leeds 2 Colchester 0
Two more goals from Jermaine Beckford ended Leeds’ run of three league games without a win and five in all competitions, but chief interest centred on the impressive debuts of loan pair Gary McSheffrey and Shane Lowry.
Simon Grayson reacted to the recent blip by securing the pair on loan from Birmingham and Aston Villa respectively.
The Leeds manager was delighted with his new men’s contribution to a convincing victory which put the Elland Road side back on course for automatic promotion and boosted their confidence for the home FA Cup fourth-round replay against Tottenham on Wednesday night.
McSheffrey, who is happy playing up front or on either flank, slotted in on the left wing, while Lowry occupied the left back role until cramp forced him to be replaced by Bradley Johnson in the 71st minute.
McSheffrey lasted until the 82nd minute, when Max Gradel was sent into the fray.
Gradel, Lowry and McSheffrey are ineligible for the FA Cup replay, but Grayson says he intends using the squad system between now and the end of the season to cope with fixture congestion.
Lowry, a 20-year-old Australian who has turned out for the Republic of Ireland Under-21s but wants future international appearances to be for the country of his birth, is on loan until March 13. He looked comfortable in a defence which did an excellent job in shutting out Colchester, who had beaten MK Dons 2-0 in midweek.
McSheffrey, 27, is much better known, of course, having cost Birmingham £4million from Coventry in 2006, and he left the field to a standing ovation as well as taking the sponsors’ man of the match champagne.
He would have marked his debut with a goal had Beckford not inadvertently blocked the winger’s apparently goal-bound volley, the ball looping over the bar.
McSheffrey joked: “Jermaine was their best player today and a good goalkeeper! I caught it well and just wanted to see that net ripple but I am sure my first goal will come.”
McSheffrey added: “It was nice to get a game and it was a good performance from the lads. It wasn’t the prettiest of games but we did what we had to do. In the second half the game settled a bit and we played some good stuff, created some good chances and deserved the win.
“I haven’t had much football lately but I felt good. The manager was being cautious and 80 minutes or so was fine for my first game in a while. I thought our defence was magnificent – the centre halves were bang-on.
“From what I’ve seen so far, Leeds can definitely stay up there and win promotion. There’s good competition for places too. Neil Kilkenny missed the game injured but I played with him at Birmingham and he’s a good little player.
“For the first 20 minutes I wondered what I had done coming here because I never saw the ball – it was in the air so long – but this move is huge for me. It is no secret that I had tendonitis in my knee last season and had an operation to cure it in April. This season I’ve been fine, I haven’t missed a training session and need to get myself back in the shop window.
“For a player as hungry and determined as I am it is massive to get back in the mix and make a name for myself. Initially I am on loan until the end of the season and we will take it from there. I would love to score some goals and help Leeds clinch promotion. That’s the short term aim, then we’ll see what the summer brings.
“My contract at Birmingham is up in the summer but they have a two-year option. Sitting on the bench at Birmingham, albeit in the Premier League, is not good for me.
“If Leeds secure promotion this year there would be no better club to be with at Championship level because the manager has the backing of the board and chairman to make improvements by bringing in good players for the Championship who could kick on from there.
“People see I’ve played nine times for Birmingham this season but most of those were from the bench, so it has been frustrating. I would rather be at a club like this and be a big part of the plans, striving for promotion from this league and from the Championship than being a part-time player at a big Premiership club. I just want to be playing.
“It was a gamble and a risk coming to League One but if most games turn out like today’s it will be a risk worth taking.”
Beckford, an injury-time penalty hero in the first game at Tottenham, was on target from the spot again in the 38th minute when former Leeds defender Matt Heath brought down Luciano Becchio.
By then Colchester had seen two of their own penalty claims rejected for ‘offences’ by Lubo Michalik but ten minutes after the break, Jonny Howson chested down a high ball from Robert Snodgrass, shot against a post and Beckford was in the right place at the right time to collect his 24th goal of the season.