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I like this time of the year. The bulbs are beginning to flower in the garden, it's not arse-freezingly cold at the games, we've got a nice little run of close-to-London games for us exiles, and best of all, we appear to be getting a few things sorted out on the pitch.
With Lucas and Smithy sidelined plus all the usual injuries, there was talk of a rare appearance for Alan Maybury, but talk was as far as it got. DOL rearranged the usual suspects into a 4-4-2 formation and we set out to break down a Spurs side that had not been beaten at home in the league all season. If all you saw of this game were the highlights on Match of the Day, you'd be forgiven for thinking that they ran us remotely close. From the off Leeds were in control, dominating both the possession and chances. Robbie Keane broke into the area and nearly scored early on, and Mark Viduka's ability to stay upright in the area was severely tested inside 5 minutes. The ref kept his whistle unblown and somehow Vidooks managed to get a shot in all the same.
Neil Sullivan was the busier of the two keepers by a long stretch - and it required a very long stretch to keep out a rasper from Viduka. So it was of course inevitable that Spurs went ahead. A hopeful ball out of defence left Danny Mills and Rio against Rebrov and (Les) Ferdinand. Rio easily won the ball, but great anticipation by Rebrov left him in the right place to pick up the ball. Danny Mills' attempted appeal for offside on Ferdinand would have succeeded if Ian Harte hadn't been closer to the goal: as it was, Mills' hesitation gave Ferdinand the half yard he needed and he produced an excellent finish to beat Nige. In the Spurs end below us, someone produced a banner that said "West Yorkshire Spurs - Dewsbury" and waved it in anticipation of a good Monday morning's gloat at the expense of his Yorkshire workmates.
A couple of months ago, this goal would have jolted us and put the team off its stride. Now, the confidence that success in Europe and domestically has brought served the team well. Leeds continued to pour forward with Olivier Dacourt again playing well, but inevitably Lee Bowyer was crucial in the equaliser. Playing on the left/centre of midfield to accommodate Eirik Bakke on the right, he'd not been quite as central to the play as he normally is, but in first half injury time he made a great break through the middle and into the area. Gary Doherty caught his arm and caused him to spin to the ground: I've seen a lot worse fouls go unpenalised (like the one on Viduka earlier) but Jeff Winter was instantly certain about his decision. Ian Harte belted home a great spot kick and we went in all square.
Second half, more of the same. Harry came on for Eirik Bakke. Leeds pressed, Spurs retreated - only Rebrov showed any sort of threat, and that was patchy and restricted to long-range shots.
Just shy of the hour mark, Lee Bowyer took a corner, got the ball back and ran across the edge of the box. Seeing a gap, he aimed a shot towards the far post: at least one Spurs defender and both Mark Viduka and Robbie Keane tried to get a touch. None succeeded and Leeds were ahead. Mr Dewsbury Spurs Fan folded up his banner and looked most unhappy.
After 10 years in which Spurs have gone from being financial basket cases to a sound business with new stands, a new training ground and a good set of youngsters coming through, Alan Sugar was bowing out as chairman today. As is the way with these things, most Spurs fans seem happy for the man who saved their club to go. No doubt the Man in the Raincoat shares that view, hoping that he can manipulate the new owners to spend some more money by a carefully co-ordinated campaign from his Fleet Street friends. But ENIC are no fools, and you can be certain that further spending will have to see results, and European qualification via the FA Cup looks to be the way forward there. But not this season: "We're all going on a European tour!" we sang at the Spurs fans. Apart from the few minutes when they were a goal up, we got no reply: there is almost no atmosphere at White Hart Lane and it seems that the fans are divided between loyalty to the club and worries about (or outright hate for) for the manager and board. Since it's less than 5 years since we were in a very similar position with Graspian and Wilko, I guess it's easy to sympathise with their position.
We dropped a place today - since Ipswich managed a win that improved their goal difference. With 10 games to go, there's still a lot to play for, but 4th place and entry into the UEFA Cup will probably have to be the height of our ambitions this year - we've just got too much to do to hope for any more. Of course, there is still some progress to be made in the Champions League...
Outside the ground, a little bit of trouble kicked off outside one of the pubs on the High Road. Mounted police and dog handlers turned up pretty quickly, as did the mindless minority, looking for a scrap to join in with. No serious damage done to anybody - apart from the usual issue of reinforcing the image of the Leeds fan as a drunken mindless thug.
An interesting day, started off in Tottenham Conservative Club, ended up in singing along with Hefner and the "Day that Thatcher Died" .. Ding Dong the witch is Dead etc.
Back to things the list would understand, Leeds completed an excellent week by producing something close to the form we are capable of and totally dominating against a pretty average Tottenham team. The only blip was the fact that we didn't score the hatful of goals we should have and were left sweating with a couple of Tottenham attacks in the closing minutes.
We started off with Matteo replacing Lucas in central defence and Bowyer coming in on the left with both Wilcox and Kewell left on the bench. Should have been one up within the first minute as Viduka got goalside of Campbell and was bundled over, unfortunately Jeff Winter who otherwise did OK hadn't woken up and failed to give it. We continued to keep control and Keane should have scored when Viduka's backheel put him in but Sullivan made an excellent save. More good saves from long range shots from Dacourt and Mills before Spurs scored against the run of play. Rio's weak clearing header going straight to Rebrov who cleverly played cousin Les in to beat Martyn. This was their best spell as Ferdinand also hit a post with a header as Martyn dozed off and another long-shot went just wide.
However, we came back strong, and a neat move ended with Bowyer playing Keane in, but he just lobbed it into Sullivans arms. Still we got the goal we deserved as Bowyer chased onto a goalkick missed by the defence and fell over under Doherty's challenge. Much less obvious than the pen turned down but whose complaining, Hartey did the business from the spot.
At Half-time one Leeds fan cheered himself up even more by winning 10 grand in the half-time hit the bar competition, whilst most Leeds fans er ... hit the bar. Second-half Kewell came on for Bakke and Bowyer switched back to the right. Harry virtually ended up playing as a striker as we totally dominated the half and should have gone in front as Viduka's shot was parried but Clemence somehow kept Bowyer's follow up out, though it looked like handball to me.
The goal came soon enough, a short corner saw Bowyer taking the ball into the box and shooting low through a crowd of players, for once Viduka missed his back flick which confused Sullivan and the ball ended up in the back of the net. We should have gone on and one by more but didn't turn several good positions into goals, Sullivan saving from both Keane and Viduka who had been played in by Kewell. Attacks up the other end were pretty sporadic though one header flashed just wide but in general Rio and Matteo looked in full control at the back.
A good performance a good win, time to concentrate on the league for a few weeks and make sure we get back into the Champs league.
Outside on Tottenham High Road there was a bit on a rumpus that threatened to spill down towards the list meet in the Phoenix but the police managed to arrive late and shove a few people around after all the culprits had run off to the BR station.
Alan Sugar has left his mark on 21st century football. You can go to the game at Tottenham, sit back in a nice comfy seat, have the peace of the countryside and watch the game on a giant TV. The only problem is that it costs the best part of 30 quid and there are lots of silly stick men running about on some green thing in front of you that distracts you from trying to watch the television.
On the stroke of half time Bowyer, in an unfamiliar role on the left of midfield, got the wrong side of Doherty and the impressive Irishman lightly nudged the Londoner to the floor. Definite, if slightly soft, penalty.
The man to my left in a soft Irish brogue declared that Ian Harte would miss the spot kick - I think it was O'Leary's brother. To make him feel even worse I informed him this was my 5th visit to White Hart Lane and I'd still not had the pleasure of seeing the Whites score here.
Copy from Football Unlimited of 26/02/2001.
At the turn of the year, suggestions that Leeds could make it back into the Champions League seemed faintly ridiculous. They were stuck in the bottom half, lurching from one defeat to another, and even David O'Leary had given up hope. "I didn't think at that time it was possible," he said. "No way."
The Leeds manager has presumably changed his mind. Today his side lie two points behind third-placed Liverpool, confirmation that the quality was merely latent. True, they have played two more games than Gérard Houllier's team, but the verve is back and a momentum is building.
Too quick and creative for Tottenham, Leeds are now unbeaten in six Premiership matches. Throw in two wins over Anderlecht to reach the Champions League quarter-finals and it is easy to understand why Olivier Dacourt is threatening to leave in a coffin if a title challenge is not sustained next season.
Copy from The Independent of 24/02/2001.
And another bastion falls. For Leeds, no fortress is beyond their extraordinary endeavours, be it the cities of Europe on their Champions' League odyssey, or here yesterday, at a stadium where Spurs generally offer three Premiership points like their outgoing chairman, Sir Alan Sugar, issues pleasantries to his critics.
When David O'Leary's men might have been expected to suffer fatigue after that 4-1 defeat of Anderlecht in midweek, they found renewed vigour after conceding the lead just after the half-hour and, with a penalty from Ian Harte and a winner from the inspirational Lee Bowyer, condemned George Graham's team to their first Premiership home defeat of the season.
O'Leary, like his counterpart clad in a long, dark overcoat with an upturned collar, giving them both the appearance of renegades from a CIA convention, enjoyed the moment. Rather a lot. The line between Graham the master and his one-time pupil has been so obscured that it no longer exists. Let O'Leary kid you not. Do not let his reference to "kids" kid you, either. Domestically and in Europe, they have become old hands.
Before kick-off, the media were invited by Sugar to farewell drinks, a rare moment of fraternity from the chairman, whose resignation comes into effect at midday on Wednesday, when ENIC acquire control.
Sugar will relinquish his directorship as well as his chairmanship, but will still follow the club "home and away". It was suggested that it was an emtional moment, but he replied: "That day was really back in December, after the Arsenal game, when I made my decision." He was adamant that since his decision, he had received "correspondence from lots of fans who have appreciated what I have done here". Certainly, Sugar departs from the board with his club in the ascendancy.
Unbeaten this year until yesterday and in the last eight of the FA Cup, at the start of play they were only four points behind their fifth-placed Yorkshire rivals, who are still in contention for a Champions' League place. Graham maintained his faith in home-grown players, including Simon Davies, two-goal scorer against Stockport County last Saturday. This was the young Welshman's first start.
With Alan Smith, Leeds' two-goal scorer against Anderlecht, and Lucas Radebe missing because of suspension, Robbie Keane returned along with Lee Bowyer to the team which won 4-1 in Brussels. Rio Ferdinand, who was playing directly in opposition to cousin Les, was named Leeds captain for the first time. He was joined in central defence by Dominic Matteo, who had apparently impressed the England coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, despite the player's already declared association with Scotland.
This contest traditionally always promises a degree of friction, with menace always lurking, and within the first minute there was controversy when Sol Campbell appeared to wrestle Mark Viduka back as the pair clashed in the area. To O'Leary's disgust, the referee, Jeff Winter, was unmoved by his men's appeals.
Viduka was again involved when he back-heeled the ball cleverly to Keane, who rounded Luke Young before striking a venomous cross-shot which required a full-length save from Neil Sullivan. Otherwise, in the compelling conflict between Campbell and Keane, the Spurs captain was generally coming out better.
Although it was Leeds who assumed control in the early stages, on a Spurs break Sergei Rebrov and Davies combined well to set up Les Ferdinand. He struck his volley firmly, but just wide of Nigel Martyn's goal.
After a barren spell, Olivier Dacourt's left-foot attempt from 25 yards brought a fine save from Sullivan, and the crowd alive. Tottenham responded on the half-hour, when a Tim Sherwood free-kick was headed by Les Ferdinand against a post and off the goalkeeper for a corner. Two minutes later, the former England striker's fortune did not desert him. Released by an intelligent ball from Rebrov, enjoying one of his brightest games for the club, he sprinted into the area and beat the onrushing Martyn to deftly convert the chance.
Keane was offered the perfect invitation to equalise a minute before the break, when Bowyer played him in, only for the Irish international to shoot tamely at Sullivan. Right on half-time, Bowyer was felled by Gary Doherty in the area, and Ian Harte netted his seventh goal of the season the spot.
At the break, O'Leary brought on Harry Kewell for Eirik Bakke while Graham withdrew Davies and pushed Doherty into attack. Leeds, who thrived on their change and threatened Tottenham at regular opportunities, were denied the lead by an astonishing intervention from Stephen Clemence, who dived full length on the line to save with his chest from Bowyer's follow-up after Sullivan had failed to deal adequately with Viduka's initial attempt. But a few minutes later, there was no reprieve for Spurs when Bowyer drove the ball home from the edge of the area following a short corrner by Harte. It was still in the balance, though. Harte was just over with a free-kick. Sherwood headed just wide for Spurs. Keane's attempt was blocked superbly by the substitute Alton Thelwell.
In the end, Leeds hung on with relative comfort. Whatever elixir they are currently taking, someone should market it.
Copy from Football Unlimited of 25/02/2001.
Time to dispel a myth. Leeds a team who swagger in Europe yet stutter domestically? Given that they showed no signs whatsoever of a Champions League hangover, mustering the appetite and application to spoil Tottenham's proud home record three days after making a mockery of Anderlecht's, that criticism must be put to bed.
With an astonishing level of energy, they have edged up to within two points of the Premiership's third spot, which would guarantee another crack amongst the continental élite. Liverpool have two games in hand, but on this form Leeds are giving themselves a fighting chance.
Two sides brimming with confidence attacked the game full of positive intentions, and both had chances to forge ahead during a bright opening period. The first attempt fell to Tottenham, when Simon Davies nudged the ball to an unmarked Les Ferdinand, who dragged his volley wide. A couple of minutes later, after persistence from Olivier Dacourt and Mark Viduka, Robbie Keane burst into the box, only to see his angled drive repelled by Neil Sullivan's sharp reflex save.
Copy from Yorkshire Evening Post of 26/02/2001.
HE stood tall and proud, the world's most expensive defender now wearing his adopted Leeds United's captain's armband.
And it was of particular significance to Rio Ferdinand on a day on which he was celebrating a call-up to Sven Goran Eriksson's first England squad and facing his cousin, the Tottenham hitman Les.
How deeply embarrassing for him, then, when after half-an-hour of frenetic action he made the kind of error which the snipers over his £18 million transfer fee had been waiting to gloat over.
Head in hands, his contrition was visible as his family member wheeled away in triumph, having given Tottenham a lead they little deserved. Water, it seems, is thicker than blood in the cauldron of Premiership battle.
There were no more errors. An Ian Harte penalty deep in first half injury time got him off the hook and Lee Bowyer's winner eleven minutes later ensured it was he, and not the soon-to-be-substituted Les, who revelled in the last laugh.
This was some Leeds performance; one which showed that the speedo now requires top gear and which had Spurs boss George Graham lamenting: "They tore us to pieces."
As for the rest of his summary, how much satire ran through his carefully-chosen words?
"We're only young and still learning," he said. "This was a lesson along the way. Hopefully it has been good experience for the younger players. We have been beaten by a team which is doing wonderfully in Europe.
"We have got to take the positives and learn from it."
Familar? United's leader David O'Leary has moved on from that territory now that he has some heavy artillery with which to go to war.
This was a seventh successive unbeaten match for a thoroughly rejuvenated United, who threw down the gauntlet to the rest of the Premiership's pretenders to a top-three finish with a hard-fought victory at White Hart Lane.
Unaffected by their glorious labours in the Champions League three days previously, United showed great resilience and more than a hint of class.
Ferdinand had been made skipper in the absence of the suspended Lucas Radebe and the injured Gary Kelly and was partnered at the heart of defence by Dominic Matteo as United welcomed back both Bowyer and Robbie Keane. Spurs, previosuly unbeaten at home all season, were on a run of nine matches without defeat and five without conceding a goal.
United were denied a blatant penalty in the opening minute when Viduka, running on to Harte's through ball, went down under a crude challenge from Campbell. But referee Jeff Winter waved play on.
At the other end Ferdinand had a fine shooting chance, but his point-blank effort was wide of the target. When a typical Viduka backheel set Keane free the Irish youngster youngster should have cashed in on the simple task, but Sullivan flung himself to turn the goalbound shot behind for a corner.
Viduka soon worked another opening, this time the effort was way too high as United, with six corners in the first 14 minutes, tried to press home their advantage.
Clemence won a corner for Spurs in the 19th minute but Rebrov's cross was hooked clear by Bowyer.
On 27 minutes Mills worked his way inside from Viduka's flick and his thunderous left foot shot, dipping under the bar, was only just kept out by Sullivan.
Sherwood swung in his free kick from the left and Ferdinand got above Matteo, but his header hit a post and came back off Martyn for a corner.
Bakke's excellent ball picked out Keane, who was unable to capitalise, and when Spurs came away in the 29th minute they were ahead through a crucial mistake by Ferdinand.
He failed to complete what should have been a simple clearance then Rebrov poked the ball almost through him for the running-on Les Ferdinand to skip past Martyn and stroke it home.
The goalscorer then caught everybody, including Martyn, completely unawares when blasting in a volley from 35 yards and United breathed great sighs of relief when it bounced inches the wrong side of the post.
Keane, looking distinctly rusty, had a fair chance to equalise just before the break when Bowyer stroked him through, but he poked his shot into Sullivan's arms.
With the half time tea in the pot Doherty floored Bowyer in the area and Harte smashed home the penalty for his fifth goal in nine games and United were deservedly level.
As the second half got underway Kewell replaced Bakke for Leeds and Spurs introduced Thelwell for Davies.
The Spurs goal had an amazing escape on 50 minutes when first Viduka and then Bowyer looked as though they only had to turn it over the line, but the twice-defelcted ball ran tantalisingly across the white paint before Freund hoofed it clear.
Rebrov's snapshot from distance was only marginally wide as the game reached boiling point and United were ahead on 56 minutes.
Harte's corner was worked to Bowyer, who moved infield past Clemence before unleashing a left foot drive into the far corner, with Sullivan unsighted by the massive presence of Viduka.
Harte wasn't far over with his direct free kick from 20 yards after 67 minutes and at the other end Sherwood glanced his header wide from Rebrov's corner.
Even a double substitution by Spurs 12 minutes from time failed to unsettle Leeds who, with a new defensive formation, had performed excellently.
Viduka almost made it three in injury time, but Sullivan clawed his powerful rising shot over for a corner.
Manchester United are up next and, in this form, Leeds have nothing to fear. It is other sides who are now being forced to worry about them.