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Leicester appear to have adopted the mantle of "bogey side" for Leeds with rather too much enthusiasm over recent years. Two wins out of the last nine is not a great record, but to play down their record against us would be to do them a disservice - under Martin O'Neill, and now Peter Taylor, they remind me of nothing less than the Leeds side that won promotion from Division 2 and then climbed to the top of Division 1 10 long years ago. No bright shining stars - Muzzy Izzet is no Strachan or McAllister but knows how to pass the ball and make the most of the space, but plenty of players who are maximising the use of their skills and playing for each other as a team.
On the Leeds side, the focus was clearly on two players. Rio Ferdinand - £18 million of talent - making his debut in a remodelled back line, and Harry Kewell - on the bench and finally back in contention for a place after several months of injury and recuperation. Ian Harte found himself the odd man out - dropped to the bench after a few performances that fell short of his best and being chosen as the victim in the switch to a back three, with Rio, Lucas and Woody in a formation which DOL is long believed to have favoured. We've tried something a bit similar before and come a cropper, but when Rio nearly sliced the ball over Paul Robinson early on we just put it down to a dodgy bounce and waited for the goals to come.
And come they did - but the majority were at the wrong end. A poor clearance fell to Darren Eadie who produced a hard swerving shot. Robbo immediately got to understand what "Carling Disease" is: the November Player of the Month tried to fist the ball out but managed to direct it straight at Robbie Savage. I'm not sure how much Savage knew about it, but he managed to find the back of the net and we were a goal down with less than 10 minutes gone. Still, this was just one of those things - we'd gone a goal down before and come back. And the defence was still solid.
The 3-man back line might as well be a 30-man line if we fail to pass the ball to each other: Matt Jones (I think) gave the ball away halfway inside the Leeds half, Sinclair overlapped into the area where we didn't have a left-back and floated in a good cross. Woody and Rio appeared to be confused about who was marking whom, leaving Ade Akinbiyi with time and space to nod the cross back past a helpless Robinson. 2-0 and we were looking confused after 17 minutes.
A couple of early worries with the ref's even-handedness appeared to be confirmed as a variety of digs by Leicester players - Savage and Lennon in particular - went unpunished. After Smith had yet again been pushed, pulled and kicked, only to see a free kick go against him, the result was inevitable. He charged in to take out the nearest Leicester player as soon as play restarted: the "victim" was Gerry Taggart: he got up wearing a huge smile knowing he'd beaten Smithy at his own wind-up game. Then another poor pass while Leeds were attacking found a Leicester player on the edge of their area. Two passes and three seconds later, Lucas slid in to take out Darren Eadie and picked up a card. At the time, we were screaming out at the injustice - TV replays do back the ref up, though I'd question just how much Eadie wanted the ball and how much he wanted the free kick. Turns out he went for the right option: the free kick was met by Taggart to make it 3-0. Not the first time we've conceded a soft goal from a dead ball, and we've done it with 4 at the back as well as 3, but this finally pushed DOL to abandon the formation. Woody was chosen as the man to give way, and Jason Wilcox was the man to replace him. Dominic Matteo and Gary Kelly dropped in at full-back, and 4-4-2 returned.
Now, the thing is it's difficult to say that it was this change that made a difference to us. Certainly, we stopped Leicester scoring again (though a near carbon copy of the 3rd goal landed on the roof of the net in the 2nd half) but that might be because they eased up a bit with such a comfortable margin. I've not seen the stats, but it seemed that throughout the match we had more possession but never knew what to do with it. Matthew Jones had a stinker in midfield, and Harry's appearance on the hour mark meant that the young Welshman was withdrawn, so we were doubly enhanced. Then we sealed the game for them - with a little bit of help again from Mr Bennett and his assistants. Gerry Taggart when straight through the back of Alan Smith, leaving the striker on the floor and the ball running free. A couple more passes and it was with Izzet, running diagonally across the defence. Lucas stretched out, Izzet stumbled, took a step and jumped: Mr Bennett had been given his excuse and Lucas walked in the week he won the FIFA Fair Play Award.
It was about this point that we really started to dominate the game. With Harry finding his feet (when Savage wasn't doing his best to amputate them - unpunished of course) he was tormenting the defence, combining well with Jason Wilcox and generally doing what we'd hoped the rest of the team could have done against a back line that is solid and uncompromising - but essentially one-paced. We were a little lucky with the equaliser - the ball appeared to bounce up off a Leicester boot and hit Smithy on the arm, but when he turned to shoot, Simon Royce's luck proved as ephemeral as Paul Robinson's had been in the same box an hour earlier: Royce's block fell into the path of Viduka and we were back in the game.
Neil Lennon had been doing his best to waste time - he booted the ball into the Leeds crowd with some malice about 5 seconds after the whistle had gone, but managed to escape without a card for what is clearly mandated as a bookable offence. Which is a shame, because that would have meant he'd have been sent off to even up the numbers when he took out Smithy on the edge of the area. Olivier Dacourt took the free kick - and we could have been just a goal away, but this week his luck was out: the outside of the post deflected the ball clear with Royce beaten. And if that had gone in, we might have equalised on 87 minutes: Harry Kewell found himself in possession on the edge of the six yard box, but blazed high and wide with the goal looming and Royce short of support. It would have been a great escape - but it would really have been unwarranted: to give credit to Leicester I won't say we shot ourselves in the foot, but we certainly loaded the gun and handed it to them.
So is this the end for 3-5-2 or 3-4-3? Well, probably not - though I can see a few more training sessions being needed before it gets tried again. Certainly the defence needed to sort itself out, but the wing-backs need to be clear about their role and positions and the midfield needs to drop a bit deeper when we defend so we don't end up giving the ball away as soon as we win it. Rio made a couple of minor mistakes but settled in well, Viduka and Smithy found themselves well-marshalled and should have troubled Royce with more shots than they did, but we just have to write this off as one of those things that sometimes happen: learn from it and look to the future.
Copy from Football Unlimited of 04/12/2000.
As experiments go, this was like confusing water with nitroglycerine. Having opted for a formation he thought would beat Leicester, David O'Leary saw the whole thing blow up spectacularly in his face. Poor Rio Ferdinand found his reputation slightly singed in the explosion.
The £18m debutant can hardly be blamed for this Leeds defeat but it is safe to assume his manager will not opt for 3-5-2 again in a hurry. O'Leary was right to point out that individual errors were ultimately responsible for his team's downfall but several of his players looked as comfortable with the new formation as they might playing in shirt and tie.
Jonathan Woodgate was chief among them. By the time he was hauled off after an error-prone 37 minutes and 4-4-2 was restored, Leeds were 3-0 down. Never mind Rio; until then the visitors' defence had displayed stability more readily associated with 1914 and Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
Copy from The Independent of 03/12/2000.
Rio Ferdinand will long remember the day he made his first appearance for an embarrassed and embarrassing Leeds, and for a long time their manager, David O'Leary, will need no reminding that no matter how much you pay you cannot buy the credentials that exist at Leicester courage, huge determination and a defence superbly organised by Matt Elliott, who refused to be upstaged by the £18 million man.
After seeing his rearranged defence capitulate and his side finish with 10 men after Lucas Radebe was sent off, O'Leary was outwardly composed and inwardly seething. "I thought Rio played very well, but the people around him didn't. We gifted Leicester three goals and Lucas deserved to be sent off." All he can do is to believe that once Ferdinand settles in he will justify his price.
Surprisingly, at Filbert Street, O'Leary made a late decision to abandon the four-men defensive system usually employed this season and use Ferdinand, Radebe and Jon-athan Woodgate as a trio, which is the way the team will continue, but yesterday they refused to bed in under Leicester's relentless pressure.
Ferdinand himself needs regular competition against the best of attacks, which makes European football essential. But that must wait. He is ineligible for this week's Champions' League match against Lazio, but before long we are going to see whether he can dispel a good deal of scepticism, based on the thought that in spite of the price Leeds paid to West Ham, he is not yet the finished product.
Yesterday he took the unfamiliar left side of the new defensive three and almost immediately sliced the ball across his own goalmouth to force Paul Robinson into a sudden, unexpected save. And within seven minutes he was already on the losing side and regularly being let down, especially by the nervy Woodgate.
Leicester had already set up several enquiring attacks before little Darren Eadie cracked a vicious long shot straight at Robinson, who palmed it directly at Robbie Savage, who was almost knocked backwards as the ball hit his head and rebounded in.
Defensively, Leeds went from poor to becoming a shambles when in the 17th minute no one went to intercept Frank Sinclair as he pressed forward down the right edge and was allowed to centre high above Ferdinand and Woodgate to Ade Akinbiyi, who headed in all too comfortably.
Before half an hour had passed Leicester were not only 3-0 up but getting into a routine. Again Leeds succumbed to a ball pitched high, this time by Callum Davidson, who curled in a centre to Gerry Taggart, easily avoiding Ferdinand and the rest, allowing him to score with the third successful header. Not surprisingly O'Leary soon took off Woodgate and put on Jason Wilcox, and played four at the back.
At least Leeds embarked on the uphill second half with some composure. Yet playing a tighter possession game was not all that was required. They badly needed to get a grip in midfield, improve their finishing and have greater organisation in defence. In other words, improve everywhere.
The arrival of Harry Kewell after an hour was an encouraging sight that put a lot of pressure on a player whose Achilles tendon injury had caused him to miss six months of football. He was far from helped when Radebe, who had been booked in the first half, lunged at Muzzy Izzet. The referee had a close view and elected to dismiss Radebe, whose overall lack of discipline was possibly taken into account.
Curiously Leeds then pulled back a goal, though the Leicester defence had seemed confused when Alan Smith appeared to handle the ball which came loose in the penalty area for Mark Viduka to take advantage and slam it past Simon Royce.
Although Leicester endangered their still considerable advantage when, after 83 minutes, Neil Lennon charged into the back of Smith and Olivier Dacourt thumped the post with the free-kick, they more than deserved their victory.
And how ironic it was that through most of the second half Ferdinand had to become Leeds' only defender, while everyone else desperately looked forward in an attempt to recompense for their earlier defensive frailty. Meanwhile, Elliott, a perceived journeyman and probably slightly cheaper, by comparison with Ferdinand, was indisputably the best defender on the pitch.
Copy from Football Unlimited of 03/12/2000.
Money can buy you the world's most expensive defender, but there is not a price which can be placed on Leicester's unique spirit as Rio Ferdinand was short-changed by his team-mates on his Leeds United debut, following his £18million move from West Ham United.
Maybe Leeds chairman Peter Ridsdale was not aware Leicester's entire defence cost £4.6m to assemble when he called Ferdinand a bargain buy. But Leeds manager David O'Leary knew all about the quality of a Leicester side which now sits defiantly in third place in the Premiership table. Big-time Leeds are in the bottom half.
O'Leary said: 'I've told the players that Manchester United set the standards and they wouldn't give away three stupid goals like that.
Copy from SportLive of 02/12/2000.
SportLive is no longer operational. Should it return to the web, this report will be removed and the link restored.
One player has never, ever made a team. But in this case three ruined it. Manager David O'Leary abandoned his new defensive system built around £18million Rio Ferdinand after 37 minutes with Leeds three down and lucky it wasn't four.
The horse had long galloped off down the road, wide open stable doors and the chaos of a three-man central defence left behind, when Jonathan Woodgate was taken off and Jason Wilcox sent on.
That was the end of the way O'Leary had seen Ferdinand playing in his Leeds dream team, Woodgate to the right, Lucas Radebe in the middle and Ferdinand to the left.
It was as unwieldly as the American voting system, but the count was made much quicker as Leicester - the second lowest scoring team in the Premiership - snapped at the uncertainty of it all.
Robbie Savage scored after eight minutes, Ade Akinbiyi after 17 and then Gerry Taggart in the 29th. There might have been a penalty for Muzzy Izzet as well, hit in the face by Radebe, but ruled as unintentional by referee Steve Bennett.
Less than half an hour gone, the world's most expensive defender in your team, and you're 3-0 down. Could it be worse? Yes. Radebe was sent off in the 67th minute for his second desperate tackle of a desperate game for Leeds.
On a wider scale, when Sven Goran Eriksson watches this in preparation for Leeds' Tuesday night's Champions League game with Lazio he will be worried that England's defensive future is judged to be in the hands of Woodgate and Ferdinand.
As an international centre-half of style himself, O'Leary will have felt this failure heavily. It's five Premiership defeats now for Leeds and you don't win league titles with wastage like that.
For now O'Leary will be able to blarney it off by saying his side are still young, the injury list is still long and Ferdinand and his new team-mates have got to find their feet.
But it won't wash for too much longer. Eighteen million is the purchasing power for glory and the stark truth is that the plan, first time out, flopped.
Leicester boss Peter Taylor, who knows and rates Ferdinand highly from their England days together, played Izzet in attack against him rather than Darren Eadie.
Izzet's quick footwork upset Leeds from the start. Two out of three big men can usually dance pretty well, but the average is cut down considerably when you put three out there. And Ferdinand, Radebe and Woodgate were cumbersome.
When midfielder Wilcox came on and Dominic Matteo and Gary Kelly dropped the adventurous bit from their wing-back roles in a revamped Leeds back four, the stable door was finally shut. But O'Leary will remember the inadequacy of what went before and shudder. Izzet, the best player on the field regardless of price tags, was behind the move that started this Leeds nightmare.
He got the ball, fizzed inside and set up Eadie with a drive that Leeds goalkeeper Paul Robinson stopped, but the ball ballooned up and almost took Savage by surprise as he headed it in.
Lucky? Yes. Keeper to blame? Yes. But also Ferdinand and Matteo did not respond as Savage ran between them to get in position just in case the ball came his way.
One of the criticisms of Ferdinand is that his concentration wavers but you would have thought that eight minutes into an £18m debut he would have been on his toes.
Leicester's second - and in all the Ferdinand inquests it must be said the Foxes played very, very well - came as the ball flew over his head. It shouldn't be Ferdy who gets the stick for this one, though. Hand that out to Woodgate.
Neil Lennon, who will join Celtic this week, intercepted a pass and Frank Sinclair's cross was met by Akinbiyi at the far post. The ball whizzed high over Ferdinand, but it was Woodgate who was outjumped by Akinbiyi.
The third goal came after Radebe's first yellow card for a foul on Eadie. Lennon backheeled the free-kick to Callum Davidson and Taggart was in front of Radebe this time to head in.
Radebe had a row with Woodgate, Ferdinand looked around him with confusion, but there wasn't a lot to say. It was all over.
Leeds' defence was reshuffled yet again when Radebe was sent off for his second bookable offence on Izzet, Mark Viduka got his 11th goal in seven Premiership games and Olivier Dacourt hit a post.
But that was the final chapter. The ending had been written in the first few pages.
LEICESTER CITY (3-5-2): Royce 6; Rowett 7, Elliott 8, Taggart 7, Sinclair 7 (Impey 6, 71), Savage 8, Lennon 7, Eadie 7, Davidson, 7, Izzet 9, Akinbiyi 8 (Oakes 5, 88). Booked: Lennon. Goals: Savage 8, Akinbiyi 17, Taggart 29.
LEEDS UNITED (3-5-2): Robinson 6; Woodgate 5 (Wilcox 6, 37), Radebe 5, Ferdinand 5, Kelly 6, Jones 6, Bowyer 7, Dacourt 8, Matteo 6 (Kewell 6, 61), Smith 6, Viduka 6. Booked. Smith, Radebe. Sent off: Radebe 67. Goal: Viduka 75.
Copy from Yorkshire Evening Post of 04/12/2000.
SUCH a tactical maelstrom never looked like hitting a Tic Tac Toe jackpot and this was all over in half an hour for United despite their parading of the world's most expensive defender in new boy Rio Ferdinand.
United's winless run away from Elland Road was extended into double figures in what proved to be a nightmare debut as the £18m man endured four different systems throughout the 90 minutes.
The benefit of hindsight is a wonderful thing, but the wisdom of pitching Ferdinand into a side straying from their normal formation has to be questioned.
A back three anchored by skipper Lucas Radebe, with Jonathan Woodgate on his right and Ferdinand on his left, was in such a state of the left hand not knowing what the right was doing that it was unceremoniously abandoned after 37 minutes.
By then Leicester were three up and Woodgate, hauled off to make way for Jason Wilcox and a more comfortable 4-4-2, was made the scapegoat.
Half an hour later Radebe was to receive his marching orders and quite perversely only then did Leeds find their form.
So not only did Ferdinand finish the match without his original defensive partners, he was forced to adapt rather swiftly to the playing styles of colleagues with whom he had trained for only a couple of days.
It was a tribute, then, that he should emerge blameless in what amounted to a shambles. Indeed he showed several of the classy touches which made him so highly prized in the first place and Leicester boss Peter Taylor observed: "I'm delighted to have played against Rio on his debut.
"In 10 games' time he is going to be used to everyone and be the player I know he is, but I always thought we would have a chance to get at them here.
"I don't think he actually did anything wrong but I was surprised to see them start with three at the back when they have been playing with four for most of the season."
United had been in the full glare of the spotlight all week following Ferdinand's record move from West Ham but were brought crashing to earth by their bogey club.
New-look Leeds were made to endure an embarrassing runaround.
Ferdinand's first touch was to beat Savage in a heading duel but Leicester were ahead as early as the seventh minute. Robinson could only parry Izzet's piledriver and Savage, following up, gleefully headed home.
Then Ferdinand coolly rescued a dire-looking situation as Leicester queued up to put the finishing touch to Akinbiyi's first-time cross.
Viduka tried to place his shot from 20 yards but succeeded only in hitting it well wide and when Leicester came again Dacourt's last-ditch challenge on Akinbiyi was vital.
The respite was only temporary, however, and after Jones had carelessly given the ball away to Lennon in the 16th minute Akinbiyi seemed to have an eternity to measure his header from Sinclair's cross before planting it in the far corner.
Dacourt's 20th minute free-kick cannoned off the wall straight to Ferdinand, whose first time effort sailed over the bar to bring the predictable chant of "What a waste of money."
It was rapidly turning into a nightmare for Leeds and after referee Bennett waved aside strong penalty appeals for Radebe's challenge on Izzet his next action was to book Smith for barging Taggart.
Immediately afterwards Radebe was also in the notebook for a foul on Eadie and from the 27th minute free-kick Davidson crossed for Taggart to rise above everybody and nod powerfully home.
Savage rapped in a 25-yard drive that only just cleared the bar on the half hour and Leeds were looking a sorry lot against a side clearly enjoying their rampage.
Bowyer at last got a Leeds shot on target after 34 minutes but Royce, diving to his left, saved comfortably.
Then United manager David O'Leary tore up his own script and a Jones-Viduka-Smith link opened up a fine shooting chance for Matteo, but he was way too high with his effort. And Viduka could only glance Bowyer's corner wide as everything Leeds tried turned to dust.
As half-time approached fighting broke out among the Leeds fans and it was some time before order was restored.
Dacourt's 50th minute blast was sky-high and when Viduka won a free-kick out on the left Bowyer's cross simply turned into a Leicester attack and Kelly had to nip in smartly to cut out the threat from Eadie.
A cross from Wilcox was back-headed by Viduka but Royce was able to gather in with ease.
And another cross by Wilcox was almost turned into his own net by Sinclair as Leeds at last began to enjoy some meaningful attacking.
Dacourt skipped past Savage and got in a shot which Royce this time failed to hold, though it was cleared for a corner which was again badly delivered by Bowyer.
Kewell was introduced after 61 minutes for his first taste of top-level football for six months and with Leicester defending in depth Eadie's shot wide of the post in the 65th minute was their first of the half.
A minute later United's sorry afternoon took an even worse turn when Radebe, already booked, sent Eadie sprawling and was immediately sent off, having suffered the same fate at Filbert Street in last season's Worthington Cup.
Elliott went close with a header and Akinbiyi with a shot as Leicester opened up, but United pulled one back on 74 minutes when Kelly fired in a cross, Smith's shot was pushed out by Royce and Viduka, closing in, stabbed the ball home.
Royce finger-tipped the ball off Kewell's head as he leapt at the far post for Bowyer's cross and another chance opened up for Leds when Smith was brought down on the edge of the box by Lennon, who was booked.
Dacourt's free-kick beat Royce all ends up but smashed against his left hand post.
Viduka won a corner on the left and when it was worked out to Kewell his shot was nearer the corner flag than the target.
Worse, when he was gloriously picked out by Dacourt, he contrived to blast over the bar from six yards with no Leicester defender in sight.
Said O'Leary: "I was delighted with Rio's debut. I thought he played very well, although a few around him didn't play particularly well.
"We gifted three goals and I have told them that you cannot go anywhere and give teams a three-goal start and hope to retrieve it, although we should have really.
"If Dacourt's free-kick had gone in it would have been 3-2 and they would have become very nervous. Kewell then missed a great chance and Alan Smith had a couple of opportunities.
"But when you're three down at this level you are looking for miracles to come back."