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It's always been a minor superstition of mine that it's bad luck to turn up early for a game. Well, superstition combined with the belief that it's criminal to waste Valuable Drinking Time and a well-justified horror of the abomination that is Pre-Match Entertainment. It's just as well that my watch is usually accurate and my estimates of my walking speed finely honed, because I'd have missed two excellent goals if they were anything less.
Just about figured out who we had on the pitch, straining to see who was on the bench when the whistle reminded me that we'd kicked off. A long ball from the left back position was headed down well by Smithy, Viduka was on the edge of the area and the ball was in the back of the net. 10 seconds gone and we're one up. A worrying thought starts to nag me: have we scored too soon???? On the evidence of the first 15 minutes, no - Charlton presented almost no threat for the opening period (other than to the fitness of Harry Kewell), with a couple of body checks and sliding challenges going unpunished by the ref.
The PA announcer and the stewards tried to convince us that we should sit down - but the abysmal cover in the first 20-odd rows of the stands had left the seats drenched, and we weren't intending to end up squelching around with soaking trousers for the rest of the day, so we politely half-sat when the police first walked past, stood up straight away and sang "Stand up if your seat is wet" to explain the situation to the jobsworths who were starting to threaten a few folks with ejection.
We've not seen Mr Wilkes from Gloucester before, and after the first 45 minutes, I hope we never see him again. First he blew for a foul by Viduka on Scott Parker. Viduka got a strong head to the ball, Parker went down and rolled around and the ref awarded a free kick. From the kick, Nige came to the edge of the area, hesitated as it looked as if Rio was going to head it clear, then watched in horror as Shaun Bartlett got there first to put a looping header past him for an equaliser. This isn't the first bungle he's made since his return, and with Sven Goran Erickson watching, it will have done nothing to improve Nige's chances of starting in next week's qualifiers.
Smithy went into the book for a fairly innocuous challenge (by his standards and when compared to what Charlton's defenders were doing to him) and the ref went further down in our estimation. Harry only just got his leg out of the way of a studs-first lunge, then got caught again and we were awarded a throw-in. The next time Charlton had possession Harry made a robust challenge for the ball - maybe illegal, but half as bad as the two perpetrated on him - and found himself in the book. As far as the Leeds end were concerned, that was it: the ref was a total homer, bribed or confused, biased or clueless the outcome was the same. "You're not fit to referee!" we told him after he booked Scott Parker for a nothing challenge on one of our lot. He proved the point 5 minutes later when Scott Parker went down (again) and rolled around in agony (again) after another borderline challenge by Danny Mills. David Batty tried to pull him up and got pushed away, John Robinson was desperate to get involved and at least one of the punches he threw seemed to make contact. The outcome was a booking apiece for Mills and Batty, nothing for Robinson (was he blind?) and most puzzling of all, a drop ball to restart.
When half-time came round and we still had 11 players on the pitch we were more than a bit relieved. Speaking of relief, the toilets at Charlton are not the most advanced facilities in the civilised world - like their mudpile of a pitch it's all a bit 20 years ago. Credit to their fans and board in managing to get the team playing back at the Valley and getting back up to the top division, but they really could do with spending a bit of cash on the facilities at some point. After an interminable wait in the queue to get out of the stand (what would happen in an emergency?), a queue to get into the toilet, a queue to get out of the toilet, a queue to get back into the stand I found the teams were coming out to the second half. Nige just shrugged as he ran up to the Leeds end. One of those days, one of those refs he seemed to say.
And then we were back in front. Charlton tried to replicate our first half feat of scoring from the kick-off and had a shot blocked just after the restart. The clearance went to Harry, who ran from the Leeds box to the Charlton box, produced a diagonal ball to Smithy and we were back ahead as he fired the ball under Ilic. The rest of the second half was almost an anti-climax. The players kept their tempers, Leeds dominated the possession and had two decent chances to extend the lead. Jason Wilcox - on for the tiring Harry Kewell - got into a good position but had left his confidence on the bench, and Ilic saved well. Jensen blazed Charlton's best chance over the bar and Lee Bowyer nearly made it safe with a couple of minutes remaining but Ilic was again quick off his line and produced another good stop.
Injury time with a one goal lead is always a nervous time. Of the three minutes declared, Leeds spent two and a half in the Charlton half, and when a Charlton defender, under pressure at the far end of the ground, squared the ball along the goal-line to Ilic and the keeper picked it up, we thought we could make the game safe with a free kick just two feet out from goal. Needless to say, the blatant backpass went unpunished and the ball was shifted rapidly downfield. Johannson broke into the box, Danny Mills slid in and when the Charlton player went down we feared the worst: with my unbiased head on, I think it was probably a penalty. Johannson made a bit of a meal of it and claimed loudly, and the ref made the only judgement he couldn't make. Given the choice of a penalty or a booking for a dive he chose to let play go on, ensuring that each set of fans would have an equally low opinion of him when the final whistle blew. And we did. Come back Uriah Rennie, all is forgiven.
Late for the list meet because the French look-a-like (Renee from Allo Allo according to the Bastard in Black) missed his train, but at least he had a good excuse, he's left his sandwiches on his bike. Luckily not late for the match, as within 11 seconds Smith had knocked down a long ball and Viduka had calmly side-footed it in to make it 1-0. Something of a miracle I did see it though as getting to my seat had involved climbing over a fence cunningly situated between my seat and the aisle. For the first 15 minutes we were totally in control and could easily have scored again, with Charlton having difficulties coping with ball skipping into their box through the mud. All the early excitement had all the fans standing up and after a couple of appeals to sit down Charlton got all moral on us, telling us to sit down as the disabled fans couldn't see. No idea if this was true or not, but it was met with a chant of "Stand Up if your seat is wet" and therefore didn't work.
Looked like it might be an easy game, so Nige decided to make it interesting, by coming for and failing to collect a long cross and allowing Bartlett to head in the equaliser from the edge of the area. The ref was also starting to liven things up, with a string of bizarre bookings, he obviously didn't realise how wet it was. Kewell in particular was stunned to get booked and some decisions were so bizarre that the Leeds fans broke into a chant of "Your not fit to referee", after a Charlton player had been booked. It all culminated in a bit of a pushing and shoving match after Mills had tackled Parker, but despite booking Mills the ref restarted play with a dropball. Batty was also booked for trying to pick the prone Parker up, though no Charlton player was booked for initiating the scuffle.
Smith was probably about the only one of ours who deserved to get booked and for the rest of the half we held our breathe everytime he went near the ball, as he looked odds on for a red card. However, he stayed and to our surprise didn't get swapped with Keane at half-time. A good move as it turned out, as in the first minute of the 2nd half Kewell counter-attacked with a 50 yard run into the heart of the Charlton defence and laid it off to Smith whose first time shot beat Ilic at the near post. We continued to be largely in charge, but Jensen was causing a few problems but Ferdinand and Matteo stood firm.
As the second half wore on, Charlton went to 3 upfront and this created space for us and we had a few breaks when we could have wrapped the game up. We failed to take any of them Smith, Viduka and Bowyer all missing chances. Towards the end a clearly knackered Kewell was replaced by Wilcox and we had a late scare when Johanssen went down in the box and I wouldn't have been surprised if the ref had given it. Luckily he'd stopped making decisions by this time and we held on for the win.
Back to the list pub afterwards to find that nearly nobody else had turned up. So after a couple of drinks, it was off down the not exactly scenic Riverside walk for a look at the Millenium Dome, which very usefully has signs outside telling you a number to call if you are interested in buying it. Though I had my credit card with me I wasn't quite pissed enough to take up their offer.
Overall, we played pretty well on an appalling pitch with an appalling ref. Yet another 2-1 away victory the 4th in 5 away games, the same result against Sunderland and Liverpool would be very welcome.
Left early anticipating horrendous motorway delays from Friday night's snow, but they didn't materialise and I arrived early at the list pub. Whilst waiting for the others, chatted to a very friendly bunch of Charlton fans who insisted on plying me with beer - top bunch of lads and lasses. Other folks arrived in dribs and drabs and eventually we made for the ground.
After negotiating Charlton's ticketing strategy ("seat number 1-45,66-103,118 up excluding all multiples of 13 and prime numbers upstairs") arrived at seat just as Smiffy flicked on the ball for Pies to slot past Ilic. Time: 11 seconds. Given the previous "Valletta in 13 seconds" thread on the list, I presume we witnessed the fastest ever goal in Leeds history? (well, those that actually got to their seats for the kick off, anyway - and the bloke next to me missed it as he was looking round the stand for his mate - you just don't expect it to be that quick do you?)
So, the team, now 1-0 up, looked like this
The game got rather scrappy, mainly due to the quagmire that passed for a pitch. And then it descended into anarchy. Pies flattened a passing Charlton player with an elbow and was extremely lucky to only get a yellow. The ref clearly made the 'elbowing' gesture - any bastards in black care to comment, as I thought that was an automatic red? Anyway, Rufus whacked the free-kick upfield, Nige came for the easy catch ... and for the third time recently (Anderlecht and Everton away), ballsed it up completely, Bartlett nipping in to nod the ball into the empty net.
Smiffy then showed us he'd been watching Nedved by assaulting a Charlton player with a high tackle (2 yellows), Harry kicked someone into the air from behind (3), Mills charged into Parker (4), Batts decided Parker was acting and tried to drag him to his feet (5). Oh, and two Charlton players went into the berserk referee's book. We sang "you're not fit to referee" and the home fans applauded. Top display, ref.
1-1 at half time, and the yellow shirts trooped off, presumably to a bit of tirade from DOL.
Was just trooping up the stairs for the second half when there was an "Ooooooo" from the home fans. Got in sight of the pitch to see Harry, having apparently collected a rebound from a Charlton shot, sweep the ball wide right to Smiffy, who beat Ilic easily from the edge of the area. Celebrated on the steps with a few others, one of whom managed to fall down them.
Again, the game settled down into mediocrity. Charlton pass it about nicely but don't have much of a cutting edge. Chances were few and far between - a nice Charlton move ended with a blast just over the bar into the Leeds fans, Bow shot straight at Ilic when he should've scored after being set free by Vidooks, and in the last minute a theatrical dive in the area by Johanneson gave us a heart attack, but the ref, who'd obviously been on the Prozac at half time, ignored it.
Scores on the doors:
Copy from Football Unlimited of 19/03/2001.
Sven-Goran Eriksson has a good grasp of English, but it is hoped that the Swede will not be fooled by the double talk echoing around The Valley after this trench warfare.
Ever the diplomat, Eriksson would probably put this acrimonious battle down to English "fighting spirit" - the well-worn euphemism for the physicality of the game here. Opposing centre-backs Rio Ferdinand - who subdued his prospective Finland opponent, Jonatan Johansson - and Richard Rufus may have enhanced their England claims, but managers and players alike spoke of manly virtues such as "standing up to it" and "not rolling over". They also claimed the referee and his officials "lost it".
The truth is several players lost control and Clive Wilkes's only fault was not to issue red cards for two of the eight offences punished with cautions.
Copy from The Independent of 17/03/2001.
The last time Charlton beat Leeds United, in a 1987 play-off, the victory kept them in the top division. To general surprise, Alan Curbishley's team had ensured their survival this season without leaving things quite so late and have even been casting their eyes towards the upper echelons. Yesterday's feisty encounter with genuine contenders for Europe emphasised that they should not get carried away.
The visitors, scoring right at the start of each half, allowed them back into the game before the interval but kept a firmer grip the second time and deservedly held on to inflict Charlton's first Premiership defeat since Boxing Day.
"Our European experience showed in the second half," said the Leeds manager, David O'Leary. As Charlton's is confined to a few games in the Anglo-Italian Cup, there was no disgrace in going down to a side who have been unfazed this season by the likes of Lazio.
What Europe has still not taught Leeds is the foolhardiness of being drawn into reckless challenges early in the game, bringing the added pressure of yellow cards. Mark Viduka, Alan Smith, Harry Kewell, Danny Mills and David Batty all had their names noted before the interval and needed to tread carefully thereafter. As O'Leary said: "Thank God half-time came when it did." By that time his team had lost control of the game after striking almost as soon as three o'clock did.
Sven Goran Eriksson had barely taken his seat and Charlton fans were still applauding Chris Powell, their first England player for 36 years, when Leeds knocked the ball forward from the kick-off for Smith to head down into the path of Viduka. A precise drive, and Ledley King's record of 10 seconds for the Premiership's quickest-ever goal was only just left intact.
If the home side had been caught dozing, the goal was as effective a wake-up call as a bucket of cold water. Booted and suited, they went to work with spirit, despite the negative effect of a sticky pitch, earning an equaliser within 20 minutes. Richard Rufus hoisted a deep free-kick, Rio Ferdinand left it for Nigel Martyn but saw the South African international Shaun Bartlett arrive first to head into an empty net.
Martyn prevented Bartlett scoring again only by closing his legs and trapping the ball between them following a sweet move down the left involving Jonatan Johansson and John Robinson.
At the start of the second half, however, Charlton were caught out again, in even more frustrating circumstances. Scott Parker, keeping his captain, Mark Kinsella, out of the side, had a shot blocked within 30 seconds of the resumption, only for Leeds to break out against inadequate cover. Harry Kewell sending Smith in to score and offer Eriksson further incentive to name him in England's squad later today.
The home side lost their way for a while, reviving only when Kinsella came on to spread the play out. Claus Jensen volleyed fiercely over the bar and a point might have been claimed right at the finish when Mills appeared to trip Johansson inside the penalty area.
Clive Wilks, the referee, already a villain with the Leeds support, sealed his unpopularity with both sets of fans by turning down strong appeals.
Copy from Football Unlimited of 18/03/2001.
There is something inconsistent about the current Leeds side. Yesterday at Charlton it appeared half-way during the first half that they would self-destruct in a flurry of petulance and niggle and retaliation that could have seen one, two or three players sent off. In the event, they had six players booked.
Leeds had taken a comfortable, very early lead and appeared to be able to stroll to victory; then they conceded a soft equaliser and all hell was let loose. For 20 crazy minutes they were more concerned with imaginary slights than a real game and could have lost players and goals and the match. Yet, after the break you couldn't have wished for a more calm, controlled and composed performance. Certainly they had the comfort of another early lead and did not suffer the discomfort of an equaliser but surely this alone cannot explain it.
Perhaps of course, they have much to preoccupy them at the moment, with the European Cup as well as the gaining of a European place via the Premiership on their minds.
Copy from Yorkshire Evening Post of 19/03/2001.
WHEN the final bell had sounded on this mud-wrestling contest, and the judges' verdicts were being eagerly anticipated at ringside, you knew that in there somewhere would be a dodgy scorecard.
Close scrutiny revealed Alan Curbishley as the culprit, his marks loaded in favour of a Charlton side whom he, and he alone, believed had matched Leeds all the way and that both Danny Mills and Mark Viduka should have been sent off.
His opposite number David O'Leary was more accurate, revealing that both he and Curbishley had had to help the man in the middle who was in danger of losing altogether what little control he had exerted, that there had been some questionable decisions and that Leeds were the winners on points.
Appropriately, it had been Charlton's first Premiership defeat since Boxing Day.
Goals early in each half from Viduka and Alan Smith landed the spoils for Leeds in what was almost throughout a highly-charged encounter at The Valley.
United looked in a different parish to opponents whose immobility often gave them the appearance of statues, having made five changes from the side which drew with Lazio, with Smith getting the nod over Robbie Keane to partner Viduka up front.
Mills and Lee Bowyer were included against their former side, who were playing at their Valley home for the first time in five weeks. They had been beaten only once there this season and United succeeded where Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea had all failed.
The match was saved only by the loan of a heavy roller from Kent county cricket club to remove the hundreds of gallons of water which had accumulated on the pitch over several days of relentless rain.
United, captained by Rio Ferdinand, made a sensational start with a goal after just 11 seconds.
Harte fed a long ball forward for Smith to head into the path of Viduka, whose finish from 15 yards was clinical.
Shellshocked Charlton took seven minutes to raise their first effort, Kishishev drilling in a shot which Martyn held low down.
Powell was relieved to see his sliced clearance from Kewell's cross go behind for a corner as Leeds pressed, then Ilic had to spread himself to keep out Bowyer's long-range drive.
Viduka was booked for an elbow on Parker in the 19th minute to instantly change the mood of the game.
From Fish's deep free kick Bartlett beat the advancing Martyn to the ball to head home from 12 yards and another hasty defensive clearance, this time by Fish, was even closer to an own goal than Powell had been when Smith flung over a right wing cross in the 24th minute.
The seconds were out and round one started. Batty and Parker squared up and then Smith was booked as he got his foot in.
Martyn spread himself well to save when Robinson sent Bartlett on his way and Bartlett again went close when glancing his header from Powell's cross just wide.
Robinson worked hard to create a chance for himself out on the left and his curling shot towards the far post drifted only narrowly wide.
Then it all went up again, Mills clattering Parker and Batty getting involved as tempers boiled over in what became a mass confrontation.
Harte came in with a fantastic saving tackle as Bartlett shaped to shoot from close range and seven first half bookings reflected the ding-dong nature of the game.
Incredibly, United had another quickfire start to the second half, Kewell racing down the middle and laying the ball right for Smith to rifle home in style with only seconds gone. When Dacourt fed Bowyer he unleashed a long-range shot which Ilic spilled and the keeper was lucky to get away with his error.
Jensen's fierce drive on 73 minutes screamed over the bar but Charlton were struggling to find any kind of rhythm and their ideas were strictly limited.
Johansson went down in the box under a challenge from Harte in injury time, but referee Wilkes waved aside the frantic penalty appeals, leaving Leeds to head for the dressing room without submission.
Said Curbishley: "The times of the goals made it a bit difficult for us, and there were cases for both Danny Mills and David Batty to have been sent off. I was particularly disappointed with Mills' challenge on Parker.
"All the top sides have physical strength and I am pleased that we stood up to it when, a couple of years ago, we may not have done.
"The bookings count was a bit high and I didn't think we deserved to lose. But we have.
"It was a bit muddy and the challenges came flying in. But there was a lot at stake. We could have gone above Leeds in the table."
O'Leary said: "This was a good three points because not many come away from The Valley with that. It was an excellent result. There were some strange decisions and some strange bookings.
"I didn't think we were over-physical. There were two sets of good players out there and the control of them needs to come from the referee. The two managers had to get hold of them at half time and restrain them.
"You then saw a different game in the second half.
"I don't care whether we score early or late, so the timing of the goals is not important to me. But they were two good goals while we gave one away at the other end. Nigel Martyn is in no doubt who should take the blame for that."