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Good start to this away trip: cheap, comfortable, on-time(ish) train, sunshine and the prospect of visiting a team on a 3-match losing streak. Off the train at a station claiming to be Ipswich, head towards a ground with "Portman Road" written on it. Everything okay so far. Buy a programme, ask the sellers where the Black Horse pub is. Silence. Worries. Have we inadvertently come to Ipswich in Bulgaria? Try asking again....no response, just general incomprehension. Ho hum, might as well wander off to the town centre and sample some of their black bread, cabbage and cheap local beer. Eventually find the pub and put it down to language problems or the fact that my resemblance to Eirik Bakke is now being noticed by more people than Gav.
Make it to the ground ridiculously early - nearly 5 minutes before kick-off. Our sense of timing needs a bit of tuning up. And based on what we saw in the first 20 minutes, that's not the only thing that needs tuning up. George Burley's side enjoyed the majority of the possession, and only a couple of good challenges by Rio and Danny Mills, and an outstretched leg from Nige kept the scores level. With DOL finally deciding that he was happy enough with Batty's fitness to start with him, and finally recognising that Eirik Bakke's current dip in form needs to be addressed, the midfield was looking close to our strongest line-up, but the connections between attack and defence were still tenuous.
Then, against the run of play and just as Radio 5 crossed over to get an update, Leeds scored. Lee Bowyer's cross from the right was well-struck but not necessarily well-directed. Mark Venus moved to the near post to clear the danger before the ball reached Robbie Keane, but the ball kicked off the pitch, hit Venus's shin and left Richard Wright flat-footed and picking the ball out of the back of the net. "Sing when you're ploughing - you only sing when you're ploughing!" we sang at the Tractor Boys (markings round the edge of the pitch seem to indicate that we had missed out on a John Deere race round the ground before kick-off).
Leeds gained confidence and started to knock the ball around with a bit more belief. With half-time approaching, the Stattos among us (well, me anyway) watched each Ipswich attack with increasing concern - we've got a very poor record at keeping the ball out in the last 5 minutes of the half, and on a couple of occasions looked like being true to form. As it was, Leeds went in 2 goals to the good: Danny Mills charged forward, collected the ball with a first touch that looked too strong, but retrieved it to lay it off to Lee Bowyer. Bowyer's return let Mills head towards the byline and pull the ball back across the face of the goal. Again, it wasn't the greatest of crosses, but Titus Bramble got his feet caught up and Robbie Keane made it 6 goals in 6 league games. Batts was booked for a nothing challenge just before half-time, but it seemed that ref Peter Jones hadn't done too badly in the first half.
The second half saw a more confident Leeds start to take the game to Ipswich, with their defence looking more and more rattled, with Bramble picking up a card for a hack on Mark Viduka. Lucas Radebe took out one of their wingers by the corner flag to restore Leeds' lead in the card count, and the first hint of dodgy decisions started to appear as Keane and Viduka were both yanked bank as they tried to break clear with the linesman having a clear view but doing nothing. When Scowcroft climbed on, backed into and swung an arm at Lucas 5 yards outside the Leeds area, the decision and outcome was inevitable: free kick to the player who committed the foul, and Nigel Martyn left motionless as Mark Venus rocketed a free kick past the wall to give Ipswich some hope.
With just over 10 minutes remaining, Ian Harte left Marcus Stewart clutching air twice, released the ball downfield and paid the penalty for making the striker look silly as a spiteful and late challenge left him needed extensive treatment. The ref consulted with his assistant - who'd been standing just 2 yards from the incident and his decision left Stewart with an instant red card. Slow-motion replays show that there wasn't a huge amount of contact, but the intent was clear and that's probably why he got his marching orders.
Ipswich still pressed, and thoughts went back to Pride Park earlier this season when Derby managed to equalise when a man short. Leeds hung on, and when Smithy came on for a very brief run he was involved in two nearly-goals. First he broke the offside trap and laid the ball off to Mark Viduka who was behind him, but - in the interpretation of the law chosen by the same assistant who'd failed to see the countless shirt pulls earlier in the game - was offside. In injury time, Viduka had the opportunity to return the compliment: Smith was clearly onside and free in the area, but Viduka chose to shoot and Leeds had to endure another few seconds of uncertainty.
We've played better and lost this season, Ipswich will play worse and win before the end of the year. The fact that we managed to come up with an away win today was partly down to luck, partly down to an excellent defensive display, and also down to some woeful finishing by Ipswich. Bowyer was superb, Batty is looking to be back to his best, and with Nige back in goal, Rio is starting to gel with the rest of the side. And that Keane bloke looks to be a bit of a bargain buy: £13 million ain't cheap, but if he keeps up just half his current scoring rate, we'll be happy.
Nice to be home at a decent time for once.
Another away win, this is beginning to become a habit, though more due to a battling performance than a particularly inspired one.
Traffic jams on the way into Ipswich meant that by the time we found the list meet pub and got a beer it was nearly time to go. Team had Dacourt and Matteo back for Bakke and Wilcox. For the first half an hour or so Ipswich played the sort of flowing passing football we used to and looked a good team. Bizarrely we were 1-0 up at the end of this period. A quick break looked to have petered out as Bowyer and Mrs Mills dithered on the right, but Bowyer got a cross in and Venus beat Keane to the ball at the near post and deflected past his keeper.
At the other end Martyn had saved once from Stewart and had unintentionally saved another shot with his legs whilst lying prone on the ground. Another intricate move ended with an Ipswich striker directing a free header straight to Martyn and their passing and movement was allowing them to find space behind our defence.
The first goal seemed to slow Ipswich down a bit and Batty and Dacourt started to get some control in the midfield and just before half-time, the keeper failed to get hold of another Mills cross from the right and Keane cracked the ball home from close range. A somewhat fortunate two goal lead at half-time.
Second half we started better and were matching Ipswich and with Keane and Viduka finding space we looked the more likely side to score next, though the excellent Bramble got back to tackle Keane a couple of times. We also crossed badly at times, Matteo in particular, when we looked to have a threatening situation. Just as it looked like we may get a nerve free second-half, the ref gave them a free-kick on the edge of the area, despite the fact that the forward had clearly backed into Lucas. Venus lashed the ball in and it was game on with 25 minutes left.
I wasn't at all convinced we'd hold on, as though we were still getting room to break in, Ipswich were starting to exert some pressure. However, the ref returned the favour with 20 minutes to go. Stewart went to close down Harte on the left, Harte cut back inside and then dummied again and went on the outside, and a frustrated Stewart lunged at him as he cleared the ball and Hartey went down writhing in agony as is his want. A bad tackle, but I was surprised when on the linesman's advice Stewart got a straight red card.
A team with the class players we have should have been able to hold on comfortably from there but though Ipswich never had many clear chances, it took some good defending, a tackle from Mills, a header from Lucas and an interception from Rio all stood out. Smith and Bakke came on for Keane and Dacourt just before the end and as Ipswich pushed forward, a clearance reached Viduka who played in the unmarked Smith for a clear run on goal. Smith committed the keeper and slid the ball sideways to Viduka to tap into the open goal and we celebrated sealing the victory.
Astonishingly the linesman flagged for offside which looked an appalling decision (if it was correct Viduka was incredibly stupid to be offside) and Viduka was so shocked he took fully 2 minutes to trudge back to the halfway line whilst the game carried on. There was a fear that Ipswich would turn the situation to their advantage and equalise but the only other chance came when Viduka ran through and had his run stopped by the keeper when he should have passed to Smith.
Eventually the ref blew the final whistle and we could all go home happy especially us East Anglia Whites who are surrounded by gloating Ipswich fans most of the time.
Copy from Football Unlimited of 05/02/2001.
As spin doctors go, George Burley was of the government type: unconvincing. Asked how he rated his team's performance, the Ipswich manager tried to persuade the assembled media that it was "outstanding" and "exceptional".
One should not believe everything one hears, or sees. For as far as Leeds are concerned too, appearances can be deceptive. Although they have won three Premiership matches in a row for the first time this season and risen to within sight of a European place, it would be unwise to assume that David O'Leary's team have finally got their £40m act together.
With their current Champions League quest resuming next week, the Leeds manager will be encouraged to have stopped the domestic rot. But Saturday's performance was dangerously laid-back, lifted only by the maturing authority of Rio Ferdinand in defence - Tord Grip watched from the stand - and the midfield prompting of Lee Bowyer, who hardly looked like a man who had just hotfooted it to Suffolk after a week spent in Hull crown court.
Copy from The Independent of 03/02/2001.
Just as Leeds appear to be returning to form in time for the challenge of the resumption of the Champions' League, so Ipswich, with sufficient points in the bank to avert any embarrassing struggle for survival, seem to be running out of Premiership steam.
Yesterday, David O'Leary's team were never required to play outstanding football to beat an attractive, plucky, but sometimes naïve home side who finished the afternoon with only 10 men after Marcus Stewart, their prolific striker, had been sent off for a rash challenge on Ian Harte. Instead, solid defensive play and smart work by Robbie Keane, including a goal, was enough as they climbed to seventh.
Given the various problems affecting O'Leary's side, including the court case in which Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate face assault charges, this was a very satisfying triumph, their third in successive Premiership outings.
"Not bad for a team in crisis, is it?" said O'Leary, who agreed with his Ipswich counterpart, George Burley, that Stewart's dismissal, by Peter Jones was unnecessarily harsh. "I was very surprised he was shown a red card," he said. "I thought it was only worth a booking."
Stewart's sending-off, after 73 minutes, was the flashpoint of an unexpectedly combative match which also saw Titus Bramble and Lucas Radebe cautioned as the tempo rose in the second half. Mr Jones faced chants of "cheat" from the home fans, who also barracked Bowyer, but their feelings were triggered by frustration as their 10 men poured forward in vain. Ipswich have now lost four important games in succession and Burley, who afterwards claimed his men showed outstanding character just three days after their humbling Worthington Cup semi-final defeat at Birmingham, sounded more strident than convincing.
"We'll be looking at the video before we decide what to do about the sending off," he said. "Yes, the tackle was late, but I am told it appears there was no sign of any contact with the player. I thought the team were fantastic. We were outstanding overall today and I felt we were robbed of three points."
The cold light of day may persuade him otherwise, but he is unlikely to admit it as he and his squad enjoy a mini-break in Malaga's sunshine this week.
After a bright start, when Stewart delayed shooting on the turn from a Jermaine Wright pass, allowing Lucas Radebe to stretch and intervene, and Matt Holland had a good header saved, Leeds took control through a 27th minute own goal by Mark Venus. A low cross from Bowyer, on the right, fell awkwardly at the near post where the defender sliced the ball past Richard Wright.
The Suffolk team responded, but Alun Armstrong wasted another opening, from a Jamie Scowcroft pass, by allowing Nigel Martyn to save with his legs before Keane struck his sixth goal in six League outings. Again, Bowyer was involved, inter-passing with the impressive Danny Mills, whose cross eluded Bramble to leave Keane with an easy finish from six yards.
O'Leary was delighted for Bowyer. "He's a fantastic player," he said, having revealed that Bowyer had not trained due to his trial and had only re-joined the squad at 9.30pm on Friday. In midweek, he said, Bowyer arrived just in time for his name to be included on the team-sheet to face Coventry.
But the second goal did not end the contest. Ipswich, urged on by a noisy crowd, rose again in the second half when a Keane miss saw Venus go close to scoring a second own goal before he thundered in Ipswich's reply with a 25-yard free kick, deflected in off the defensive wall.
Copy from Football Unlimited of 04/02/2001.
It is a problem for those promoted to the Premiership: by this stage of the season the element of surprise has gone and the more established clubs have learned from the first meeting and done their homework for the return.
So it was at Portman Road yesterday. An improving Leeds United reversed the result between the sides in September, recording a third league win in a row, and condemned Ipswich to their fourth consecutive defeat. The Tractor Boys' season is in danger of going a little turnip-shaped after also exiting both cup competitions in the past week.
There was plenty of their customary passing and passion but now an edginess has crept into Ipswich's defensive play. Leeds, their expensive talents beginning to gel, are rediscovering some form in time for the second phase of the Champions League.
Copy from Yorkshire Evening Post of 05/02/2001.
CONTINUING down a line of playing only moderately at best and still getting a result, United emerged unscathed at the halfway point of a four-match run that always promised to be the defining period of their season.
You must beat Coventry and Ipswich if you are going to realise your ambitions and now, with Everton and Derby completing the quartet in the next five days, United have a serious chance of qualifying for Europe.
There were widely-held views that Leeds were lucky to have left Portman Road with three valuable points, but I do not concur.
No, they didn't play to their true capabilities and yes, Ipswich had the lion's share of the possession.
What Leeds did, absolutely immaculately, was to defend with real authority and, in the process, broaden the education of those who say that football is all about scoring goals.
Chants from a succession of opposing fans inferring that the £18m United spent on Rio Ferdinand was a waste of money are having increasingly hollow rings about them as the Londoner grows more in stature with every game.
And here captain Lucas Radebe all but matched him with an exemplary display.
It is a formidable defensive pairing.
This was one of those games which produced a clutch of talking points; a good, old-fashioned English encounter which kept the arguments raging all game.
Top of the list was the sending off of Ipswich striker Marcus Stewart, who has made such an unexpected impression on the Premiership goalscoring charts.
Down went Harte, as though he had taken a bullet in the temple, in a touchline tangle with the former Huddersfield man and, after consultation with his linesman, referee Peter Jones produced a red card.
Did he touch him? Was there any contact at all? Ipswich manager George Burley says he will be studying the match video and if, as he suspects, there was none then an appeal will be lodged.
Two down at half time, Ipswich had already reduced the arrears by then and were advancing in waves of attacks in search of an equaliser.
Despite their flow being interrupted they proceeded to come forward to the end, yet the rearguard they assaulted was made of stern stuff.
There was more controversy when Leeds hit them on the break, Smith and Viduka raced away together unchallenged and Smith, who would have been better to have finished the job himself, passed to Viduka to prompt the raising of a linesman's offside flag.
In the event it was academic that Viduka's goal did not stand, though United manager David O'Leary argued differently, saying: "The players talked of nothing else in the dressing room afterwards and it was tough on Mark because he really does need a goal."
United made two changes from the midweek victory over Coventry, with Dacourt replacing Bakke and Matteo in for Wilcox.
A run of three successive defeats for Ipswich had threatened to blow a season which started so promisingly way off course, but they were boosted by the inclusion of England Under-21 defender Titus Bramble, who passed a late fitness test.
And the youngster who sounds as though he has stepped straight out of a Charles Dickens novel proceeded to have a blinder at the hub of most of the good things which Ipswich produced.
After a seven-minute feeling-out period Dacourt got in the first effort on goal but Richard Wright comfortably collected.
Then Jermaine Wright put in Stewart with an inch-perfect pass and things looked ominous for Leeds, but Martyn spread himself well to keep out the shot.
And Martyn had to be alert again on 16 minutes to hold on to Holland's bullet header from point blank range after a fine cross by Venus.
Leeds were gifted the lead on 27 minutes, when Bowyer's softly-delivered cross into the area was turned into his own net by Mark Venus under pressure from Keane.
Ten minutes later Leeds had a narrow escape when Croft's delivery from the right to the far post was scooped goalwards by Armstrong but Martyn, already totally commited, dragged the ball off the line with his legs.
And five minutes before the break Leeds took full advantage. Mills cashed in on dithering by an over-apprehensive Clapham to set up a Bowyer one-two in the area which was comprehensively finished off from close range by Keane for his sixth goal in ten games.
Considering their long absences from the danger zone it was quite incredible how Leeds had contrived a two-goal interval lead and, to all intents and purposes, this had been sewn up for them by crass Ipswich errors.
Incredibly, within five minutes of the restart the hapless Venus did his level best to put Leeds three up, forcing Wright into an acrobatic save to keep out his touch from Matteo's cross.
Ferdinand scrambled Bramble's cross to the far post behind for a corner but as Leeds broke Keane sprung the offside trap only to be denied by Wright.
Venus redeemed himself by pulling a goal back for the home team, blasting a direct free kick home courtesy of the most wicked of deflections.
Ipswich were reduced to 10 men in the 73rd minute when Stewart appeared to jump in on Harte after the ball had gone and referee Jones produced a red card.
Scowcroft got in a header from Holland's cross but it flew over and with four minutes left Leeds made a double substitution, with Bakke on for Dacourt and Smith for Keane.
Leeds should have made sure in injury time when Smith and Viduka beat the offside trap together but Smith, instead of completing the simplest of tasks, passed to the now-offside Viduka and his strike was ruled out.
Said O'Leary: "That wasn't bad for a team in crisis. It's been an indifferent season in which we have been a shadow of how we can play. We dug this one out and it was a vital result really."