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Yesterday at Elland Road I witnessed a player of wit, imagination, verve and flair. He controlled the ball wonderfully, and commanded those around him imperiously. What's more, every time he got the ball, he looked forward, tried to start an attack down the flanks or, when he thought it expedient, straight over the top.
But that's enough about Nigel Martyn. The performance from the rest was poor.
Not individually, of course. Rio reinforced our belief in D'OL's spending plans by never getting beaten by Derby's attacker (there was only one at any given time) and bringing the ball out into midfield (and further), only losing out a handful of times before retreating to his defensive position. Ollie realised that he could go past players at will with the ball about ten minutes into the second half, so spent the rest of the game doing just that. Batty and Bows were models of industry, covering every inch of the pitch. So what went wrong?
Well, it doesn't take a genius to work out that your midfield is going to have utter control of the game when you have a spare man or two. Derby we so packed into defence, it's hard to be too harsh on Leeds because very few teams would be able to get through a packed midfield/defence that still have the bollocking they got for letting in five fresh in the memory.
That said, Matteo and Wilcox were awful. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't Jase's job to run like buggery upfield before pinging in a cross for Pies, Smiff or AN Other to get onto? But no, every time he looked like he was playing in the position of winger, he'd stop, let Smackhead overtake him, pass to him, and then... Nowt. Stood still. Waited for the ball to come to him. Pass and move? Pass to the opposition and move offside it seemed. The one good move Wilcox did was when he couldn't pass to Keano cos he was offside, so beat his man with sheer pace. And then he stopped. Matteo? Nowhere. This stumped Jase, who promp[tly lost the ball. Bakke did nothing. Smith did nothing. Rads was good, for all he had to do. Harry did well, should've put one away (what was the defender thinking? "Here's the best left-footed player in the Premiership, but he's not 100% fit. Well, he *might * go for a right- footed shot so I'll- BUGGER!"?).
The fact is we *should* have scored. But the fact also is that we should maybe play someone who is naturally right-sided. Harte most definitely is not. What happened to Maybury? Why hasn't the central midfielder Bowyer gone on strike ("Here, David, my job description says...")? We were utterly dependent on the left side. Until Harry moved into the right.
Anyway, as the friend I took to the game said, in response to my thought-out analysis of where the team was lacking, "The problem is you didn't score", and it's hard to argue with that, Brian.
Martyn 9. Nowt to do, but did it well.
Here's my hazy recollections from Satdi's snooze-fest.
No need for a report - we all know what happened. I will say though that (apart from the last 20 minutes) Derby weren't half as defensive as most people are making out. They were only getting 7+ players behind the ball because Leeds fannied about so long in the build ups that they were allowed the time to do so. Not that they attacked much though I'll grant you...
And I'm beginning to suspect that there must be a double-super-bonus paid for goals scored from within the six yard box. I can't think of any other reason for our incessant desire to keep passing it right up to and into the net.
You can imagine the scene on the Leeds training ground this week....
Eddie : Boss, we've struggled to break down teams this season - West Ham, Man City, Ipswich, Boro, Villa, Newcastle and the rest....
O'Leary : to be sure
Eddie : so do you think we should maybe practice some scenarios where we can try and breach a 10 man defence ? You know like pass and move, one- twos, overlapping fullbacks, central defenders breaking forward - Derby are certain to come for a point
Copy from Football Unlimited of 12/02/2001.
Leeds United's prospects of further advancement in the Champions League depend largely upon the fate of one man: Harry Kewell. His fitness will remain dubious but when Anderlecht visit Elland Road tomorrow the importance of his presence can hardly be overstated.
During Kewell's absence Elland Road has become a land of phobias. David O'Leary's team of bright young things have begun to doubt their own potential, fifth place in the Premiership has been salvaged amid considerable mystified shaking of heads, and a crowd once as clamorous as any in the land now resounds too readily to the uneasy shuffle of feet.
It is doubtful whether there has been such a thunderous ovation at Elland Road all season as the one that greeted Kewell's rise from the substitutes' bench after little more than an hour of this frustrating goalless spectacle. In the Australian's absence his worth has become even more appreciated. He is not only Leeds's creative heart, he is the catalyst without which they barely function.
Copy from The Independent of 10/02/2001.
Not even the return of the fleet-footed Australian Harry Kewell could lift Leeds, or this game, out of a moribund rut, marked more by errors and pompous officiating, not to mention the nasty side of Alan Smith's nature, as Jim Smith's Derby regained some pride with a battling stalemate at Elland Road yesterday. David O'Leary's team, on this evidence, were simply not worthy of anything better on a day they would rather forget.
Perhaps the prospect of returning to Champions' League action, after putting together a run of three wins and one draw in the Premiership, had some effect on their concentration, but in the opening period it was clear Leeds were playing at something less than normal tempo. Derby, anxious to avoid anything resembling a result like their 5-2 humiliation at home to Blackburn Rovers in midweek, were understandably cautious.
O'Leary's team were without the thrusting right-flank runs of Danny Mills, so impressive at Ipswich the previous week, and reshuffled by switching Ian Harte from the left. It was hardly fluency and understanding as the well-organised Derby defence, marshalled by the colourful figure of Taribo West, smothered and cleared at every threat.
Anderlecht, who visit Elland Road on Tuesday, will hardly quake in their boots when they read their scout's report, but may know also that this early spell of relatively anaemic football was untypical of Leeds' recent form.
When they attacked, Derby were unconvincing, but they did at least force the ball into the net after 21 minutes, when Deon Burton headed in but was adjudged to have fouled Nigel Martyn in the process. At the other end, a sublime Mark Viduka back-heel created an opening for Robbie Keane, and a save with his legs by Andy Oakes, but such incidents were scarce interruptions to the overall mediocrity on display. Shots by Oliver Dacourt (high) and Harte (wide) and cautions for Burton and Stefano Eranio, both for dissent, added notes, but not much else, to the entertainment.
The second period began more promisingly, shots by Harte and Dacourt forcing full-length saves from Oakes, before it descended back to error-strewn stalemate. The referee, Jeff Winter, did little to help, booking Branko Strupar and Chris Rigott for negligible time-wasting (and in the process wasting much more time) before adding Eirik Bakke and Smith to his list for bad fouls shortly after they had come on as substitutes.
If their arrival was to usher in violence, that of Kewell, making his first appearance since December, brought some skill. Replacing the hapless Jason Wilcox on the left, his sinuous running and accurate crossing deserved some reward as Derby hung on in the closing stages.
After a slow start, Kewell quickly picked up the tempo and created the best chances as Leeds looked for a decisive goal. His finest effort came in added time when he cut in from the right and unleased a solid long-range shot which flew just wide, but by then Mr Winter had added Derby captain Darryl Powell's name to his list of men cautioned, probably for dissent. No one could blame him. Everyone felt unhappy about this one.
Copy from Football Unlimited of 11/02/2001.
Andy Oakes is relishing his new life in the Premiership. While the First Division players of Blackburn shot five goals past him in midweek, the Derby County keeper is yet to be beaten in his two top-flight appearances.
Three excellent saves by the 23-year-old ensured an important point for troubled County, whose ambitions were strictly limited as they defended with depth and determination against a team they have yet to beat in the Premiership. It added up to an immensely frustrating 90 minutes for Leeds, who required a slice of good fortune or a flash of brilliance to secure a victory. They possessed neither yesterday.
Leeds lacked the imagination needed to break down Derby when talented trio Alan Smith, Harry Kewell and Robbie Keane were together for the final 20 minutes. By then Oakes had added to the favourable impression created in the win over Sunderland seven days earlier.
Copy from Yorkshire Evening Post of 12/02/2001.
A FAMILIAR story with an unhappy ending tore another shred off the reputation of the Premiership.
For so long regarded as the finest in the world, the top tier in England is running some pretty awful advertisements this season and unfortunately many of them are acted, directed and produced at Elland Road.
In their numbers, teams are queueing up to display their shoddy wares, making no attempt at the manufacture of the adrenalin-pumping excitement upon which our game was raised and instead giving us an unwanted insight into how poorly and unenterprisingly it can be played.
The succession of inert visitors argue, of course, that points are everything and performance is irrelevant in their pursuit, and the fact that Premiership survival in this of all seasons is paramount because of pending financial jackpots through television rights goes a long way to explaining their stubbornness.
But it makes for some rank entertainment.
The leisure pound is highly prized by the providers of recreations in all their diversities and if football is to maintain its market share then it has got to get its act together on the only place that really matters in the game and that is on the pitch on matchdays.
So well done Derby for making and winning your point. And a thousand commiserations for the way in which it was achieved and to those who paid good money to watch it.
At least Leeds try to play football in the way it should be played and are rarely lacking in entertainment value.
It says much about the perversities of the Premiership when you can hit a brick wall, play out a goalless draw and still go up a place in the league table and so it is that United, on a run of just one defeat in eight, now lie in fifth and are right there among the Europe challengers.
This was an action replay of the goalless draw with Derby at Elland Road on the opening day of last season and saw United denied, frustrated and short-changed.
Despite a corner count of 17-4 in their favour, United were unable to capitalise on almost uninterrupted possession as struggling Derby simply sat back and soaked it up.
A stomach bug kept Danny Mills out of the starting line-up and Ian Harte switched to right back with Dominic Matteo at left back.
Unsurprisingly, Derby had won only one of their previous 21 Premiership away games and their abysmal record against Leeds showed a solitary success in the last 25 meetings.
It all looked teed up for a resurgent Leeds and they had a scoring opportunity in the first minute when Dacourt was scythed down just outside the box, but the Frenchman's direct free-kick was straight at Oakes.
Derby were dealt a blow when O'Neil had to leave the field with a knee injury after just 12 minutes and United almost immediately carved a lead. Viduka's exquisite back-heel put Keane through on goal but from his close-range shot the immaculate reserve keeper Oakes spread himself well to make a fine save.
From a second successive corner Deon Burton had the ball in the net with a header, but referee Winter ruled that he had fouled Martyn.
Viduka worked an edge-of-the-box opening for Dacourt on 21 minutes, but he was falling as he hit his shot and it sailed over.
Good work on the left by Wilcox opened up a shooting opportunity for Harte after 33 minutes but he was well wide of the near post.
Three minutes before the break Harte's direct free-kick ricocheted for a corner and it was proving a frustrating afternoon for United against a side playing to restore some dignity after their FA Cup humiliation against Blackburn.
We have seen it all before; an opposing side coming to Elland Road with 10 men behind the ball and defying United to find a way through. At half-time, their game plan had worked to perfection.
Keane won a corner and a free-kick early in the second half and only a brilliant flying save from Oakes kept out Harte's piledriver.
Then Dacourt hammered in a drive from fully 30 yards which again produced an excellent stop from the agile Oakes.
Harte's shot from distance dipped over the bar as Leeds came forward in waves, but then Derby came on the counter, Powell crossing for Christie to test Martyn at the near post.
A tremendous reception greeted Harry Kewell's introduction in place of Wilcox on 62 minutes and with Leeds continuing to struggle to break through Bakke and Smith were sent on for Bowyer and Viduka seven minutes later.
With 14 minutes left West powered in a shot from distance which Martyn dived to save at his near post and when Leeds came back Kewell turned Riggott inside out before producing a cross which eluded everybody.
It was a hint of what we had all been missing in Kewell's injury-ravaged season.
He did the same to Christie and Burley with four minutes left but again no-one could get the finishing touch.
Then who but the immense Taribo West was embarrassingly left on his backside by another Kewell twist and turn.
Two minutes from time Strupar was allowed a free header from a corner and United were mightily relieved to see it go marginally over.
Said United boss David O'Leary: "They came not to get beaten and wasted time from the first kick of the match.
"The onus was on us to score a goal and we failed in that respect."
Derby boss Jim Smith said: "We worked very hard for our point and that's four points from top-six sides in Sunderland and Leeds on successive weekends. I'm delighted."
Glad you were, Jim.