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In the not so dim and not too distant past, I remember games like this. We'd play against a team that we should expect to beat if we're to have realistic title hopes - and come away with sod all. Well at least we got a point today.
The first surprise was finding the pub - Betty needs a new street map, cos the road he mentioned was on the other side of town. Then the squad had three surprises: the return of Stephen McPhail, the presence of Jason Wilcox on the bench, and the fact that DOL was persisting with a 4-3-3 line-up in the absence of Mark Viduka. Only one of those surprises turned out to be a pleasant one.
As I've said before, it's clear McPhail is a talented passer of the ball, with a great eye. But in a 3-man midfield, and with the Huckerby and Bridges showing a marked reluctance to help out, we can't afford to have a great passer who can't cover and can't tackle. Cov had no real pace, so at least the job of protecting Ian Harte wasn't the issue I suspect it will be on Wednesday.
Michael Bridges hasn't had the best start to the season, and although he got himself into some good positions, he should have made more of at least one of the three good chances that came his way - particularly when Alan Smith cut the ball back from the byline after leaving the defence for dead. Bridges hasn't looked at home in a 3-man attack, and even though the personnel were different, the result was the same. Darren Huckerby made a few good runs, and considering it's been some time since he started a game, it wasn't a bad performance, but the Cov fans made it clear that they thought we'd been had on that purchase. Needless to say, the Leeds fans took great delight in booing Carlton Palmer at every opportunity, but the gangly one only really got wound up by the Leeds players once, and just waved resignedly at the Leeds crowd when the occasion demanded.
Jason Wilcox's performance was one of the bright spots: as soon as he came on, we found space and more room to attack - but still we couldn't muster a goal. Cov had two decent spells - in the first 10 minutes, and then for 5-10 minutes towards the end of the game, when, but for some abysmal finishing by John Eustace, they should have stolen the points. Bellamy and Roussell did nothing up front, and Chippo and Hadji seemed much less sharp than they did last year.
For Leeds, it was a generally sound defensive performance, Olivier Dacourt was commanding in midfield, and Alan Smith ran his socks off with aggression that was controlled well until injury time, when a match-long series of fouls on the youngster finally caused him to lash out. Richard Shaw was off the pitch by then - for some strange reason Strachan decided to substitute a player that the ref had given almost carte blanche to hack, pull and elbow the opposition, only deciding to apply the law once, when a late hack on Bridges as he was about to break clean through into the box couldn't be ignored by even the most incompetent official. And Paul Durkin really was bad today: unably assisted by two linesmen who didn't know the offside rule from their elbow, he contrived to allow foul after foul - mainly by Cov, but a couple by Bowyer, Smith and Duberry also escaped - and ruled at least two perfectly good breaks out for an impossible offside. He also missed a penalty from about ten feet away, as a clumsy (but unmalicious) challenge from Hadji floored Huckerby inside the area. Maybe we've benefited from a couple of those in the other direction from time to time, but it doesn't make it any easier when 2 points are denied as a result.
It's off to the Nou Camp for Wednesday now - and if we escape with a draw it will be that: an escape. Sure, this is a case of making some excuses up front - but with a full team, I'd say we had a 40% chance of winning: without Kewell, Viduka, Batty, Bakke and Woodgate, I'd be surprised to see our good friend Mr William Hill offering anything longer that 1/4 on Barca to take the 3 points.
Away season-ticket came up trumps again with perfect seats on the halfway line. Not a terrible game, DOL stuck to the 3 up-front plan with Huckerby replacing lardarse and McPhail back for Jones. With 3 upfront the game was reasonably end-to-end and it was only the last 10 minutes that I thought it was likely to end up 0-0, before that we looked the most likely scorers for most of the game.
An early chance for Coventry was volleyed over the bar but it was mostly us in the first half. Hedman tipped a Harte free-kick over as well as a shot from Bridges from the edge and Bridges also had our best chance when McPhail put him through but his lob of the keeper went wide of the post. Huckerby was playing as a virtual left-winger and was causing Coventry problems but his crosses kept trundling along the ground to be cleared by the 1st defender. With the midfield stretched McPhail never managed to get control and although he made some nice touches it was largely Dacourt who was setting up attacks.
At half-time I met a Betty-less Thirkers - which was probably a good thing the 2 of them together may have been too much to cope with. The second-half carried on in much the same way as the first and our best chance was when neat play from Smith and Huckerby allowed Bowyer to cut inside and run through on goal, but his shot hit the keepers legs. Huckerby also went down under a tackle in the area but I couldn't tell if we deserved a pen or not. Late on Wilcox came on for Huckerby, but though we looked better balance with the first sighting of an orthodox winger all year, it made little difference and the game petered out for a draw, though Smith did retaliate and get booked and had to be dragged away before he talked himself into more trouble. I didn't see the Bridges / Kelly incident at the end and have no idea while they may have been pissed off with each other, apart from pure frustration. More serious was another outbreak of racist chanting in the 2nd half which seemed to follow a few scuffles with the Police - what is it with the Midlands that inspires such crap
Still no accommodation in Barcelona on Tuesday and Wednesday - apparently there is some trade fair on - so it looks like a couple of nights on the beach. See some of you at Stansted Tuesday Afternoon.
Copy from Football Unlimited of 11/09/2000.
Leeds United may have to reinvent themselves if they are to combine an awesome quest in this season's Champions League with making sure that they are there again next time. When injuries pile up spirit and resilience can take a team only so far.
On Wednesday David O'Leary's side will face Barcelona at the Nou Camp still without Harry Kewell, the binding force of their attack, and Jonathan Woodgate, an essential complement to Lucas Radebe in the middle of their defence.
With a central striker, Mark Viduka, lost to the Olympics and the impressive Erik Bakke yet to return to their midfield O'Leary will be praying that nothing else untoward befalls his squad with Milan visiting Elland Road tomorrow week followed by two emotional encounters with Besiktas.
Copy from The Independent of 10/09/2000.
Whatever happened to the Likely Lads? Leeds United, that is. Though ravaged by injuries, Leeds bore little resemblance to the vibrant side which brought such youthful arrogance to the Championship title race for so much of last season. All that was left at Highfield Road yesterday was the industry, the petulance and the defensive solidity.
Only once did Leeds produce the sort of incisive passing move which was second nature to them. Midway through the second half, Lee Bowyer latched on to a diagonal pass by Darren Huckerby and streaked through the Coventry defence before his left-foot shot struck the laces of Magnus Hedman's right boot. That was the good bit. The rest was shocking. If the scouts from Barcelona and Milan bothered to stay to the end, they deserve the same marks for endurance as the players.
"We can play better and we can pass the ball better," said David O'Leary, the Leeds manager. They will have to if they are to survive against Rivaldo and Co in the Nou Camp on Wednesday night.
Not that Coventry provided much in the way of preparation for a steamy night in Catalonia. Unusually for them, they went out to spoil and did so with barely a nod to style, despite the neat touches of Moustapha Hadji.
The result was a scrappy stalemate shot through with fear, petty feuds, poor passing, four bookings and a desperate shortage of class or coherence. Only Alan Smith, alert and probing, rose above the mundane, while Coventry manager Gordon Strachan's praise for the worthy but desperately prosaic work of Cedric Roussel at the front for the Sky Blues spoke volumes for the quality of the fare on offer.
The Belgian was the sort of bustling front man Leeds lacked in the absence of Mark Viduka, on Olympic duty for Australia, notably when Jason Wilcox came off the bench he has recovered from a lengthy injury to lend some width to their attack. Three times his trademark low crosses went begging for conversion.
O'Leary's downbeat assessment of Leeds' chances in the first phase of the Champions' League rang truer than some of his deliberately low-key monologues last season (and much truer than his disingenuous claims for a penalty when Youssef Chippo upended Huckerby). Arsenal, O'Leary pointed out, had yet to progress beyond the first league stage of the Champions' League, so how could Leeds manage it against Barcelona and Milan? "I thought getting out of the first phase would be success for us. To do so with the injuries we have now would be an unbelievable achievement," he added. Like yesterday, he had a point.
Strachan's problems, never well concealed, are rather closer to home, in every sense. Last season 12 wins at home and none away; this season one draw at home and two back-to-back victories away. Crazy game, this football. No wonder Coventry drive their manager a step nearer the funny farm with every passing match. "I can give you reasons for the reversal if you want," he said. "I can tell you lies. I tried three strikers, maybe we'll try four next time."
Leeds were one of the few teams to breach Fortress Highfield last year, but Coventry were in the middle of their cavalier eight up, two back period then and anyone hoping for a repeat of that seven-goal epic must have been sorely disappointed by the prevailing sterility of the stalemate. Leeds, as their manager claimed, probably deserved to take the points. Of three clear chances, they had two, one in each half but, in truth, it was a game that did not warrant a victor.
Had Michael Bridges found the direction to go with the elevation when Magnus Hedman advanced on him late in the first half, Leeds' strangely brittle confidence might have been lifted, while a sweeping passing movement from left to right, with the ball shuttled quickly between Stephen McPhail, Darren Huckerby and finally Bowyer,almost brought them a breakthrough.
Mostly, Leeds remained disjointed: at one moment Bridges was surrounded by five Coventry players on the right touchline with no help within 30 yards; an instant later a stuttering move ended with a hopeful punt to the far post where Hedman collected comfortably under no challenge at all.
A left-foot volley by McPhail flew fractionally over Hedman's crossbar and signalled a brief glimpse of the old Leeds. Coventry's best chance fell to John Eustace in the 79th minute. From a rare Coventry corner Carlton Palmer headed back, Paul Williams headed on, but Eustace blasted over on the turn from a mere five yards.
Leeds could not be faulted for effort but with Smith dropping deeper and deeper in search of some decent ball and Bridges occupied down the right, the attack lacked any cutting edge. The plus, said O'Leary, was that his side picked up no more injuries. The minuses might be more glaringly revealed in the Nou Camp on Wednesday night.
Copy from Football Unlimited of 10/09/2000.
It did not bode well for Barcelona on Wednesday night. On the field, Leeds United misfired and the match ended with a couple of their frustrated players jostling with each other; in the stand, some of their fans tussled with police. Leeds can only pray for better in midweek, both down the Ramblas and in the Nou Camp.
Leeds will begin their Champions League campaign in stuttering form, after defeat at home to Manchester City and an uninspired draw here against a Coventry side struggling for home form. Wasteful in attack and sloppy in defence, a similar performance against Rivaldo and Co will surely see them punished should Barcelona be properly prepared so early in their season.
'We can play better, we can pass the ball better,' said their manager, David O'Leary, whose team also face Milan and Besiktas in the competition. 'Before the draw I thought getting out of the group would be a success. Now, with all our injuries and the draw, it will be an unbelievable achievement.'
Copy from SportLive of 10/09/2000.
SportLive is no longer operational. Should it return to the web, this report will be removed and the link restored.
It nearly ended in tears for Leeds at Coventry - and manager David O'Leary suggested there was every chance it would do in Barcelona on Wednesday. As the final whistle went at Highfield Road, Gary Kelly and Michael Bridges squared up to each other and had to be separated by their Leeds team-mates.
The pair continued to exchange words as they sulked back towards the tunnel. Oh to be a fly on the dressing-room wall. But by the time the Leeds entourage had emerged from it, they had all assumed omerta.
The confrontation was caused during the closing stages when Bridges held on to the ball too long with the better-placed Kelly and Lee Bowyer screaming to be set up for a possible winner. Youthful frustration? or a case of rattles out of the pram as O'Leary's young team face up to the facts of life?
It had been a tough week for them. On the back of the home defeat to Manchester City, they squandered more chances than the one which caused Kelly to vent his feelings. Hardly the best preparation for their new Champions League adventure, especially as the loss of Mark Viduka to the Olympic Games has weakened their squad further.
When reminded of how a relatively young Manchester United were humiliated 4-0 by Barcelona at the Nou Cup in an early European Cup excursion, O'Leary nodded and said: "Yes, I do fear that. It's possible we could get a good drubbing.
"It is catch 22. We wanted to get into the Champions League to gain experience, but it's going to be tough. Before the draw, I thought we'd do well to get out of the group. Then, when we came up against Barcelona, Milan and Besiktas, I thought it would be even harder. Now, with our injuries, it would be an unbelievable achievement.
"Even if we had Kewell, Viduka, Bakke and Woodgate, it would still have been tough. You need your best squad when you go into these big games, but it will be a great experience all the same for the players and me as a coach."
It is part and parcel of O'Leary's managerial technique to act the innocent, even if he now refrains from describing himself as a "naive young manager". It is simply that O'Leary is of the school of thought that, publicly at least, if you keep expectations low, then anything which exceeds them is regarded as success.
Deep down, though, he will approach the game believing his young charges will not be overawed. Nevertheless, confronting Rivaldo and Co will be a huge test of the technique and temperament of players such as Bridges, Kelly, Alan Smith and Bowyer. But the loss of Harry Kewell and Viduka leaves them short of an attacking focal point.
Bridges ought to have given them a first-half lead but lobbed the ball wide when clear. And Smith and Bowyer should have done better with second-half opportunities.
And what of Coventry? They contributed to a fluid match and substitute John Eustace might have scored the winner four minutes from time but blazed over.
Moroccans Youssef Chippo and Moustapha Hadji have added a work ethic to their frills, and with two away wins under their belt, Coventry have already suggested they will not be involved in the relegation issues for once. For them, that would represent success.
Leeds gave the watching spy from Champions League rivals Barcelona plenty to think about on a typically frenetic afternoon of Premiership football.
David O'Leary's young team displayed everything from their growing repertoire; they were skilful, spiky, energetic, competitive, and defiantly hard to beat.
It was a performance that had everything but the goal - and without some of those Leeds will have no chance when they visit the Nou Camp in midweek. It wasn't as if O'Leary's team didn't create opportunities. There were plenty of them at Highfield Road, particularly for Michael Bridges, who has yet to score this season.
The 22-year-old was comfortably the best player on view, but for the moment his eager talent has deserted him in front of goal, his day summed up in only the second minute when he shot weakly after being set up by strike-partner Alan Smith.
An incisive passing movement in the 21st minute set Bridges up for a another shot from the edge of the area, and this was superbly tipped over by Coventry keeper Magnus Hedman.
Just before half-time he was sent breezing clear again by a pass from Stephen McPhail that split the home defence. This time Bridges volleyed the bouncing ball inches wide.
He wasn't the only culprit, of course, in a game full of scrappy, helter-skelter action mixed with tantalising moments of genuinely good football and some ridiculous behaviour from so-called star players.
Coventry substitute John Eustace blazed a close-range volley over the bar in the 80th minute, and striker Cedric Roussel was off target with two clear heading opportunities.
The threat from the Sky Blues was directed mainly through the twinkling feet of their captain, Mustapha Hadji, who almost deceived Leeds keeper Nigel Martyn with an instinctive overhead kick that dipped just over the bar.
Perhaps the best chance of the game was fashioned for the visitors by the unselfish running of their trio of strikers, who left a cavernous gap that Lee Bowyer ran through straight at the Coventry goal.
But Bowyer's tame shot at the end of the move illustrated the lack of bite where it mattered.
However, the midfielder had altogether too much bite when involved in a tussle in the first half, finding it impossible to distinguish between the art of tackling and trying to kick an opponent lying on the ground.
He escaped a booking then, though not later, yet when Leeds skipper Lucas Radebe warned him to calm down, Bowyer reacted angrily. Bowyer should take a hard look in the mirror, as might Coventry defender Richard Shaw, whose reaction when booked for clearly pulling back Darren Huckerby was quite pathetic.
Shaw was fortunate to receive only a yellow card, yet he spent the next minute angrily accusing Huckerby of cheating. It is player behaviour like his and Bowyer's that makes it such a hard job for modern referees.
Copy from Yorkshire Evening Post of 11/09/2000.
YOU bleed for Michael Bridges. Little is going right for last season's leading scorer - witness the rebound from the bar against Manchester City and two excellent first-time efforts here which were so close that just a breath of wind would have brought the desired result.
This sunny-natured 22-year-old wears a smile as he strides through life but a combination of ill-luck, a barren scoring spell and the frustrations on behalf of himself and an ambitious team which has forfeited five precious points in two winnable games have made it wear thin.
Whether his contretemps with Gary Kelly after the final whistle had sounded at Highfield Road involved a difference of opinion, an exchange of views or open hostility is unclear, but what took place in the public domain was surely something that would have been better reserved for the dressing room.
That it was not, merely reflects the depth of feeling over another lost opportunity and it is all the more sad because United's successes last season were built on a solid foundation of an all-for-one, one-for-all ethos. If there were disagreements, they remained strictly private.
What is certain is that that most significant of gestures, the handshake, will have been made before the dust had settled and manager David O'Leary hardly needs make the inquiry about the cause of the conflict.
He knows, better than most, all about the heat of battle.
On the positive side it was a solid defensive performance in which skipper Lucas Radebe was outstanding that steadied the ship after the previous setback and earned Leeds a welcome point.
The main talking point of on-the-field combat concerned referee Paul Durkin's refusal to award United a penalty when Darren Huckerby went down under a heavy second half challenge from Youssef Chippo.
United welcomed back Stephen McPhail and Jason Wilcox from injury, with the Irish youngster making his first appearance of the season on the left of midfield and the England international on the bench. And Mark Viduka's commitment to Olympic duties in Australia allowed a first start of the campaign for Huckerby against his old club.
United, who won a storming corresponding fixture 4-3 last season, were desperate to regain the winning thread with the Champions League trip to Barcelona looming large and in a lively start Bridges was bundled over by Chippo 30 yards out and Harte's well-struck shot brought a flying save from Hedman.
Martyn's giant clearance saw Smith head down for Bridges, but again Hedman was down quickly to smother the shot.
Coventry countered and Roussel was disappointed to see his shot from a fair position sail over, then Palmer picked out Hadji well and it took some good work from Harte to ward off the threat.
Bellamy won a free-kick on the left and Radebe was forced to concede a corner from Williams' cross, but United escaped unscathed.
An overhead kick from Hadji was from too far out to cause undue concern to Martyn and there was more to worry about when Hall thundered in a 13th minute header which went very close.
Another back-to-goal effort from distance by Hadji was much closer this time and Coventry were enjoying the lion's share of the play.
Huckerby, fired up on his seasonal bow, was giving away free kicks at regular intervals, but he was the victim in the 19th minute when he was pulled down in full flight by Shaw after an excellent ball by McPhail. Harte's free-kick was easily collected by Hedman.
Smith and Bridges combined well on the left and Bridges, anxiously seeking for his first goal of the season, forced Hedman into a fine save with a swerving shot.
Huckerby twice put inviting balls along the ground into the area but there was nobody on the end of them, then, in the 25th minute, his blinding turn of pace produced a corner as Leeds came more into it.
Then Smith turned Williams inside out to produce a fine chance, but Bridges couldn't wriggle free of Shaw's attentions and City launched another pressure period in which Telfer wasted a good shooting opportunity.
Smith's quick free-kick to Dacourt in the 37th minute caught City unawares and the Frenchman was desperately close to the far post with his well-struck shot.
Roussel rose between Radebe and Harte to get in a good header from Telfer's measured cross, but it drifted wide.
Three minutes before the break Bridges sprung the offside trap and his looping, early shot was only just wide with Hedman scrambling at the foot of the post.
Then Bridges won a free-kick out on the right, but Harte overhit his pass to Bowyer to guarantee a first half stalemate.
Good foraging by Smith and Kelly had the home defence on the back foot at the start of the second half and it took some desperate defending against a bobbing ball before their lines were cleared.
Duberry conceded a free-kick against Roussel in a dangerous position, but successive headers by Radebe and Harte saved the day.
But when a chance opened up for Leeds Dacourt was well wide.
Then Dacourt's free-kick was nodded on by Smith and it fell invitingly for McPhail, whose first-time volley was perilously close.
Bowyer and Kelly linked on the right to produce a corner, and when it was cleared Leeds were back with a lightning raid instigated by Smith and ending with a Bowyer shot which Hedman saved with his legs.
United replaced Huckerby with Wilcox on 73 minutes and he was quickly in action with a couple of good crosses which had nothing on the end of them.
With 12 minutes left Bowyer's corner was met first time by Bridges, but his flick drifted wide.
Then Leeds had an amazing let-off, with substitute Eustace spooning Hadji's corner over the top from inside the six-yard box after a couple of headers across thew face of goal.
Then Radebe, a tower of strength throughout, robbed Eustace at the last second to illustrate that it had been a defenders' day.
That, after all, may well have been the message on Kelly's lips.