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Not usually my favourite trip of the season, being one hell of a long way away and there always being a pretty poisonous atmosphere surrounding the game. Not sure why having build a new ground the Mackems totally forgot to organise decent coach parking facilities. So again we have to walk the gauntlet of Sunderland fans to get to and from our seats, and on getting inside the ground encountered Leeds fans singing uncomplimentary songs about Michael Duberry.
Leeds team, wearing black armbands in memory of David Rocastle, had Lucas replacing Matteo at centre-back with Mills continuing at right-back. Under pressure early on as Sunderland won a succession of corners, which we failed to clear particularly well, and the ball bobbed around our box a bit too often for comfort. A Schwarz shot from outside the box went just wide and there were a couple of other desperate blocks. By this time we'd already lost Dacourt injured to be replaced by Bakke and from the same move Radebe was limping. The Sunderland fans were also trying to wind us up with chants of "Only one Michael Duberry", but luckily they were met with chants of "Only one Michael Bridges" and nothing racist as far as I could hear.
Gradually we began to control the match a bit more and began to look more threatening with Kewell and Bowyer, quickly up to support the strikers. Bowyer should have scored when clean through but dragged his shot wide and other decent breaks were halted by fouls that the ref (Steve Dunn) totally failed to punish. We also got caught offside on a regular basis which caused us to keep checking that Huckerby hadn't sneaked back into a white shirt. Then a long ball over the top was clearly handled by Phillips as he broke clear of Ferdinand who then collided with him just outside the area, Dunn copped out totally and gave neither decision and waved play on. We won a corner from the resulting move and Harte's second attempt at the corner was met by Harry at the far post who nodded back across the area for Smith to head in. We could have been further ahead by half-time as Bowyer again broke free but this time hit a weak shot straight at Sorenson.
Second half saw Kelly replace Lucas with Mills moving to centre-back, but Sunderland rarely threatened and the best chances still fell our way, Smith falling over when put through by Viduka's header and Sorenson making a great save as Kewell broke free. Smith was giving Craddock a torrid time, winning everything in the air, holding the ball up well and chasing down everything. Unfortunately he then blew it by getting booked twice in ten minutes, both times he good claim he was probably fouled first but that's no excuse for kicking out and tripping the opposition player running off with the ball, especially when you've already been booked.
This threatened to change the game as just prior to the sending off, Sunderland had taken off their best player Hutchinson and replaced him with Dichio to give extra height upfront. This looked a desperate move at the time but with a man advantage they were able to exert a lot of pressure and put some dangerous balls into the box. However, this was a game the team clearly wanted to win and a lot of bodies were being thrown in the way of seemingly goalbound shots as Batty and Bakke were forced back to help out the defence. However, a reshuffling with Kewell going upfront with Viduka helped relieve the pressure and as Keane replaced the tired Kewell we looked as likely to score as they did.
Martyn made one good save from a long range shot, but nearly ruined the impression by then dropping a cross again, but with chaos in our area, Sunderland blazed over with their easiest chance of the match. We should have scored with a minute to go. Viduka stood and watched as a long cross flew over his head and was slow to react as Thome collided with Sorenson, to present him with a near open goal and to compound the error then collided with Keane after his initial effort had been booked.
Still a minute later a Bowyer free-kick found Keane who looked offside at the time, but for once the linesman kept his flag down and Keane squared for Viduka to tap in. Cue relieved celebrations from our end as the Mackems streamed out of the ground. The players reactions at the end showed that it was a game they really wanted to win as well. After the game the police had cleverly moved some of the coached around to increase the chaos and thanks to the usual crap police escort meant it was nearly 6 before we got out of Sunderland and therefore I didn't get home til 10, 14 hours after I'd set off. Still it was worth it, a very important win and well deserved. Lets just hope Dacourt and Radebe are fit for Wednesday.
Copy from Football Unlimited of 02/04/2001.
Leeds may just have sauntered past one of their nearest challengers, but as many Yorkshiremen as Mackems traipsed off Wearside on Saturday wondering what might have been.
The visitors extended their unbeaten run to nine games with this textbook away performance, soaking up Sunderland's feverish early attacks before easing ahead from a set piece. Even the dismissal of Alan Smith did little to disrupt their rhythm and a late second plundered on the break duly reflected their overall superiority.
Yet his side's belated emergence from lower mid-table under-achievement has left the Leeds manager David O'Leary cursing early-season inadequacies. "The league this year has been a disgrace," he said. "I don't think Manchester United are playing anything like their best, yet they've been head and shoulders above everyone else and won it convincingly. They should have been pushed a lot harder; I haven't been able to do it because I have not had the personnel, but the Arsenals and the Liverpools should be nearer to them."
Copy from The Independent of 31/03/2001.
As David O'Leary prepares his rapidly maturing "babies" for their 27th European match in 20 months, the Leeds manager can keep their passports on hand for another continental campaign. Twelfth in the Premiership table at the end of January, Leeds are now up into Champions' League qualification territory. Alan Smith's 14th goal of the season and Mark Viduka's 20th earned the three points that took O'Leary's upwardly mobile side into third place.
It was a victory achieved at a cost, though. Smith made a premature exit, red-carded in the 71st minute after a second bookable offence, a clumsy foul on Patrice Carteron, Sunderland's on-loan right-back. More worryingly for O'Leary, Olivier Dacourt made a stretcher-borne departure after nine minutes, with a neck injury.
The French midfielder must be doubtful for the first leg of Leeds' European Cup quarter-final against Deportivo La Coruna at Elland Road on Wednesday. Of more concern to the locals, however, is the doubt about Sunderland's ability to finish in the European frame after a fifth defeat in eight games.
According to O'Leary, the Stadium of Light "was built for Europe" and Sunderland are "certain" to be playing continental opposition in it next season. That is a measure of how far Sunderland have come under the canny management of Peter Reid. Today happens to mark the sixth anniversary of his first match in charge of the Wearside club, a 1-0 victory against Sheffield United watched by 17,000 at Roker Park which eased Sunderland back from the brink of the Second Division. There was a sell-out 48,000 crowd packed into the Wearsiders' four-year-old home yesterday, and it did not take long to impress upon them the importance of the outcome to both sides.
Right from the kick-off they locked horns to juddering effect. It took six minutes for anything resembling creativity to emerge, and even then the right-wing move in which Don Hutchison and Gavin McCann combined to set up Julio Arca for a shot that was blocked by Lee Bowyer left Dacourt lying wounded next to the touchline, which he was soon carried over on a stretcher.
It was largely huff-and-puff stuff, though in a moment of rare composure Stefan Schwarz steered a dipping drive within a whisker of Nigel Martyn's right-hand post. If the intention of Sunderland's robust play was to nudge opposition minds towards their looming Spanish test, the ploy proved successful. For half an hour, at any rate. Until then, Leeds were on the back foot, looking for the kind of breaks from which Bowyer twice failed to hit the target with the home goal at his mercy.
It was after a close call at the other end that O'Leary's side struck. They were fortunate to escape without punishment when Rio Ferdinand wrestled Kevin Phillips to the ground inside the Leeds penalty area. Steve Dunn waved for play to continue and Leeds broke upfield to win a left-wing corner. Ian Harte hoisted it to the far post for Harry Kewell to nod the ball back along the six-yard line, where Smith rose to plant a perfectly-angled header past Thomas Sorensen.
The home players chased the referee in protest and their manager did the same down the tunnel at half-time. It was Sunderland who were left chasing the game, though, and with precious little attacking nous. Phillips did manage to forge an opening for Don Hutchison three minutes into the second-half, but the Scotland international headed across the face of the Leeds goal. Still, it could have been worse for Reid's men. They would have been 2-0 down by the hour mark had Sorensen not produced a brilliant diving save to tip wide a Kewell shot.
As it was, they had their chances to salvage a losing cause. The best three fell to Arca, who swept one into the arms of the diving Martyn, fired another on to the roof of the net and blasted the other over the bar. The suspicion of offside as Robbie Keane crossed from the right for Viduka to sidefoot Leeds' second goal, in the first minute of injury time, merely rubbed salt into Sunderland's wounds.
Copy from Yorkshire Evening Post of 02/04/2001.
LEEDS UNITED striker Alan Smith displayed the good, the bad and the ugly as David O'Leary's men powered their way to a precious Premiership victory at Sunderland.
The mercurial Smith bagged United's opener with a classic header - Mark Viduka grabbed the second - before becoming embroiled in the heat of a battle which ultimately led to a red card.
Smith had been a thorn in Sunderland's side before his 71st minute dismissal but he paid the price for failing to channel his aggression in the right direction and was dismissed for a petulant kick.
The red card marred what had been another outstanding display from the Leeds youngster and United boss O'Leary admitted his concern at Smith's inability to control his aggression.
His fiery temperament is what makes him one of the hottest properties in the Premiership but after enduring a lengthy verbal battle with Jody Craddock it came as no surprise when he was booked for an incident involving Michael Gray and Gavin McCann.
The red card was only a matter time and Smith was finally dismissed after aiming a kick at Frenchman Patrice Carteron. The on-loan defender certainly made a meal of the incident but Smith's intent was there for all to see.
It could have been so costly for a United side who were clinging on to a slender 1-0 lead. Sunderland were dominating in terms of possession and stepped up another gear after Smith's dismissal.
But, for all their endeavours, the home side never really looked like breaching the strong United rearguard. Rio Ferdinand was outstanding at the back and, with David Batty charging from box to box, Sunderland never created a clear cut chance.
Peter Reid has assembled a team of grafters - and the hostile Stadium of Light is an intimidating home - but Sunderland lacked the touch of quality needed to knock on the door of the Champions League.
Striker Kevin Phillips spent much of the contest moaning after referee Steve Dunn ignored his 31st minute pleas for a penalty when Ferdinand appeared to haul him down on the edge of the area.
Reid described the incident as a potential turning point - an unmarked Smith headed United in front 60 seconds later after Harry Kewell nodded on an Ian Harte corner - but Phillips was clearly frustrated and posed Leeds no problems.
Sunderland's biggest threat came from rampaging midfielder Julio Arca who threatened to be a real menace down the right flank. A series of corners caused United problems and the young Argentinean instigated a number of raids.
But, for all their possession, Sunderland never looked like hurting United and the visitors should have won by more. United frequently exposed Sunderland's woeful offside trap and Lee Bowyer wasted two great early chances.
The home side virtually dominated the second half but, again, it was O'Leary's side who carved out the better openings and could have finished Sunderland off long before Mark Viduka's 90th minute strike.
Thomas Sorensen pulled off a stunning save to deny Harry Kewell from close range but the Sunderland keeper could do nothing when late substitute Robbie Keane - again defying the offside trap - squared for Viduka to net his 20th goal of the season.
The second goal was no more than United deserved. O'Leary's side looked at ease in possession, broke quickly when handed the chance, and were dogged in defence.
United also showed plenty of aggression and a willingness to battle, and its no coincidence Manchester United are the only other side to record a Premiership win at Sunderland this season.
The game wasn't without it's disappointments for O'Leary though.
United, who wore black arm bands as a mark of respect for former midfielder David Rocastle, who died in the early hours of Saturday morning, suffered the early loss of Olivier Dacourt with a shoulder injury.
Dacourt was stretchered off in the sixth minute after an innocuous looking challenge from Gavin McCann and, as play continued, the returning Lucas Radebe appeared to damage his knee in a challenge on Don Hutchison.
While a patched up Eirik Bakke - still carrying a thigh strain - replaced Dacourt, Radebe battled on until the interval before finally making way for Gary Kelly.
Radebe's inclusion was a gamble on O'Leary's behalf but the United boss is clearly prioritising Champions League qualification. Danny Mills was switched to central defence, after an impressive first half, again equipped himself well.
Bowyer, jeered by the home support, was also kicked from pillar to post as the temperature within the stadium rose to boiling point. The game had been billed as a battle and some inconsistent refereeing from Dunn meant anything went.
Emerson Thome clearly took a swing at Bakke in the final moments and Kewell was felled in an off the ball incident. Stanislav Varga also had a kick at Keane as - Smith excepted - Leeds kept their discipline well in the face of provocation.
The home fans were also baying for blood at the whistle after having a couple of penalty appeals turned down but Leeds probably had the best shout ignored when Craddock clearly clipped Smith.
All in all it was another fine battling performance from O'Leary's men who are showing the hallmarks of a becoming a great side away from home.
United are now in third place - their highest position since August - and the Good Friday showdown at Liverpool will almost certainly decide their Champions League destiny for next season.