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I was asked for my note of absence from everyone when I arrived at ER yesterday and the bastards proceeded to rub it in for missing such a fantastic night on Wednesday. What do I care, I got to see the cream of south coast football...
Another s***e team, another three points.
Which although could be Man U's motto this season, could hardly be ours. We've played a lot better this season and come away with nowt, but Southampton seem to have fallen apart quicker than an MFI cabinet since Hoddle flew the coop for a "bigger club".
Geoff Winter was the referee; now I kind of like old Winter 'cos he sent Frank the Beef off when he stamped all over Kewell - like a mad man from Middlesborough outside a nightclub - last season at Bates' Motel. He seems to have put on so much weight since last season I wasn't sure he'd keep up with play. He didn't.
The game started brightly, with the crowd noisy and Batty with one of his non-trademark bursts into the box in the first few minutes; a Southampton defender dived in with both feet and Batty went sprawling. The crowd went wild, sure it was a penalty. I hoped so, but it seemed to me like the defender had won the ball. Batty couldn't believe it and stood there with his hands on his head when no penalty was forthcoming. After having seen a couple of replays on the TV, I'm still not sure it was a penalty. Benefit of the doubt to Winter.
Ten minutes or so into the game and the ball found its way down to the kop end, on the left hand side of Southampton's area, Bowyer, harried Southampton defender A who under pressure passed the ball to just beyond the level of the D, to Southampton player B; Southampton player B was harried by Keane and the ball broke to Kewell. He seemed to bend down as he received the ball and wound himself up as he moved the ball onto his right (left) foot; Kewell drove in the ball from about the middle of the goal, outside the D, surely it would be saved by Jones. It bobbled just before it would have been saved and over his outstretched arm it went.
That was goal we, and the game, really needed. Now Southampton would have to chase the game and leave loads of spaces.
It seemed to make no difference at all to Southampton, there seemed to be no urgency to them at all. Leeds carved their way through the Southampton midfield at will, but seemed intent on walking the ball into the back of the net - or shooting from way out. Another goal seemed inevitable. And when Kewell was adjudged onside from a fantastic through ball from Keane with only the 'keeper to beat, I was sure goal number two was about to happen. Time seemed to slow right down as Kewell loped up to Jones, shimmied and the goal opened wide. Unfortunately as he wafted the ball lazily towards the net, two Southampton defenders chasing back at mach two got between Kewell and the net. No matter, the ball broke to Kewell again and he squared it to Keane who was in an unmissable position.
Well, to be fair the shot was blocked, but really - what a fuck up. This would come back and haunt us I was sure.
Keane ran around like a loon, at one point picked the ball up and beat about three hundred defenders before failing to pass out wide to Kewell in space on the left; Bakke swanned about tackling quite well, but passing like an arse; Bowyer ran his nads off (again - he must have a constant supply to keep re-attaching); Martyn got an easy chair out and did some knitting; Viduka got a bar stool out and ordered a pie and a pint; the crowd showted "shoot" to Batts when he got within thirty metres of the goal! Original? Us?
Half time came and we couldn't believe it was only one nil. The atmosphere slowly drained away with Viduka's energy levels. It got so quiet that at one point in the second half when Harte was out of position, he must've heard the bloke two down from me shout "Hartey, out here on the left, he's totaly unmarked". I swear Hartey looked round and pegged it (OK, lumbered over) to the unmarked Southampton player.
Another surging run from Batty, this time ending in a Viduka style back heel and the ball ended at Kewell's feet; he smashed it towards goal and the Southampton defender in the area hurled his arms up to stop the ball. Great save. Still no penalty. The bloke behind me gave us the punchline. "This is the Winter of our discontent..." I groaned and passed him his coat, pointing him towards the door...
A big punt upfield to Keane after a corner and he held the ball up 'til Kewell ghosted to the right hand side of the area. Keane squared the ball perfectly to Kewell who shot tamely at Jones. At this O'Leary pulled off Kewell. After that Kewell was subbed...
Wilcox came on for Kewell and was slagged for everything he did by the bloke who sits behind me. When he was out on the left in space he was shouted at for not being in the centre, when in the centre was slagged for not being in space. I told the tosser I was going to get some Wilcox fan club T-Shirts printed for the next game.
*Still* only one nil, but we weren't too worried, Southampton had created fuck all and we were sauntering towards another three points. Matteo was literally sauntering along when a ball was played through towards Petrescu and he saw fit to leave it. Harte must've thought Matteo was going to get it, and you can hardly blame Harte for thinking so. Petrescu one on one with Martyn and Nige pulled off one of his great saves. He is a great shot stopper if nothing else. Thankfully, Southampton were as piss poor on one on ones as Kewell.
Soon after, a big punt up field by Harte was controlled by Keane and nonchalanatly lobbed over Jones into the net. Two nil and the points in the bag. Southampton scored a perfectly onside goal that was disallowed for offside.Unlike the Man U offside goal, it would've made no difference to the outcome.
Amazing turnaround since Christmas, a win against the most boring team in the country on Friday and third place is a real possibilty. Another bonus would be my car being there after we get out of the ground on Friday. ;-)
After the euphoric highs of Wednesday night it was always going to be a fall back down to earth today. It was just a matter of how big the bump would be.
In the end things were pretty comfortable but at 1-0 with less than 25 minutes remaining Matteo dithered and left a through ball for Martyn, who was handcuffed to his post. Petrescu appeared with the ball from this confused mess, and shot what was a certain equaliser.... but Martyn, with lightening reflexes pushed the ball away with his free hand. Phew!
Matteo, who had been a rock, suddenly looked like Bez on his pay day. Southampton saw a chink of light.
Copy from Football Unlimited of 08/04/2001.
This was never going to be a match for Leeds's 3-0 roasting of Deportivo La Coruna last week. It was barely a match at all, a stick without the ignitable bit on the end. It had all the spark of "hangover meets bereavement".
For Leeds it was bound to be the yawning after the night before. Though the force is so extravagantly with them in Europe that being champions seems a formality, they need every league point they can get as a fail-safe to qualification for next season. This was their seventh win in an unbeaten run of 10 games. None can have come more easily - an early goal, downhearted opposition.
For Southampton it is still the mourning after the light before. Glenn Hoddle, with five successive wins, had guided them prematurely to safety before his abrupt departure. Though the caretaker Stuart Gray was part of the system, as first-team coach, he appears to have dropped the torch.
Copy from The Independent of 07/04/2001.
Another day at the office for David O'Leary and his playing staff; another productive shift. With one foot in the semi-finals of the European Cup, Leeds planted the other into a Champions' League qualification place at Elland Road yesterday. Extending their unbeaten domestic league run to a tenth game, O'Leary's Euro heroes moved into third place in the Premiership, four points behind Arsenal.
They did so without the clinical assurance that saw off Deportivo, the champions of Spain, last Wednesday night, but a half-decent performance, which yielded goals in either half by Harry Kewell and Robbie Keane, was more than enough to send the Saints marching out with nothing to show for their efforts. "It was important we got the three points to keep our run going," O'Leary said. "We're learning to cope with playing in Europe."
Which is one lesson Southampton will not get the chance to learn next season. They might have their 32,500-seater new home to move into, but the Saints have little hope of playing Uefa Cup ties at St Mary's - not next term, anyway. For the second match since Glenn Hoddle's departure, they were lacking in direction and self-belief. A second defeat under the caretaker management of Stuart Gray beckoned from the early stages as Southampton struggled to cope with the attacking nous of their opponents.
They were on the ropes from the second minute, when David Batty scythed through the left side of their defence with a charging run from deep. The Yorkshire terrier last scored for Leeds eight years ago, but was training his sights on Paul Jones' goal when the ground was taken from beneath his feet by Dean Richards' shuddering challenge. Fortunately for South-ampton, their Bradfordian centre-half also took the ball at the same time. Jeff Winter waved for play to continue, but the relief proved merely temporary for the visitors.
Southampton only had themselves to blame for their 10th-minute deficit. Chris Marsden allowed himself to get caught in possession on the fringe of his penalty area, giving Keane the chance to flick the ball square to Kewell, who accepted the invitation with the minimum of fuss. The young Australian swung his left boot and thumped a low shot past the diving Jones.
It was Kewell's first goal of the season and it could have been swiftly followed by a second for Leeds as Southampton reeled under the pressure. First the overlapping Danny Mills set up Mark Viduka for a right-foot drive that the former Celtic striker dug into Jones' midriff. Then Viduka teed up Lee Bowyer for a shot that was blocked by Wayne Bridge, and Keane advanced from halfway to fire a 20-yard drive despairingly wide of the target.
Not until Leeds took their foot off the pedal, midway through the first half, did Southampton show any creat-ivity of their own. Even then, though, they struggled to muster an attacking threat. The right-wing cross that Jason Dodd landed on the roof of the net in the 30th minute was the closest call on the home goal before the break.
Southampton remained fortunate to reach the interval with just a one-goal deficit. The perceptive through-ball Keane played from well inside his own half left Kewell with only Jones to beat in the 37th minute. However, in hesitating before taking the ball wide of the Welsh keeper and dispatching his shot, Kewell gave Richards the time he needed to reach the goal-line and make a goal-saving block. It also allowed Claus Lundekvam to get into position and deflect Keane's follow-up shot.
Kewell had another chance to put Leeds into the comfort zone six minutes into the second half. After controlling Richards' stray pass in midfield and advancing to the edge of the Southampton box, though, he blazed a left-foot drive over the bar - with Viduka screaming for the ball in the goalmouth.
All of which left the Saints with growing hope of salvation. Indeed, they would have drawn level on the hour had Nigel Martyn not produced a brilliant diving save to deny Dan Petrescu after the Romanian had stolen behind the home guard and latched on to a free-kick from Jones.
As it was, Leeds emerged as comfortable victors. With 18 minutes left Keane applied the finishing touch with a finely- judged lob from 20 yards, courtesy of Ian Harte's defence-splitting pass. It ended a barren spell of two months for the Irishman, who played from the start yesterday to allow Alan Smith a deserved rest.
It also consigned Southampton to a second successive defeat since Hoddle turned his back on them. "Southampton can feel let down by their ex-manager," the Leeds chairman, Peter Ridsdale, opined in his programme notes. It was small consolation for the point-less Saints.
Copy from Football Unlimited of 08/04/2001.
With every win it becomes increasingly difficult to believe David O'Leary's in-built caution. Anyone but the man who apologised for sounding like a wet blanket in his match programme would see that potential, for Leeds United, seems limitless at the moment.
After dismantling Deportivo La Coruna 3-0 in such vibrant style three days earlier, Leeds ascended to third place in the Premiership with a performance built on sheer ambition. The virtuoso instincts of Harry Kewell and Robbie Keane, two players who have had restricted opportunities, made the difference. Both have a lot more to offer this season, another bonus for O'Leary, if he dares to admit it.
It seems impossible to imagine Leeds could crown their astonishing Champions League campaign with a place in the final - yet fail to assure their presence in the competition next season. That thought is driving Leeds domestically, and they have built up quite a head of Premiership steam since the new year. Still, David O'Leary feels a top-three finish is a 'massive task' given the gap they had to claw back after a patchy start and barren mid-season spell. Another dose of self-deprecation from the Irishman?
Copy from Yorkshire Evening Post of 09/04/2001.
IT is when you win without playing well that the signs are good - and United maintained their rush for European qualification while stuck in first gear against an unambitious Southampton.
It took two excellent finishes from Harry Kewell and Robbie Keane to lift the hangover from the brilliant Champions League success over Spanish champions Deportivo La Coruna.
Yet this facile success made it 28 points from a possible 39 and a leap from 13th to third in the Premiership this year, with the early-season disappointments just a bad memory.
The points were always going to be more important than the performance here, and managerless Southampton aided United's cause with their impotence, lack of imagination and overriding resignation.
Eirik Bakke and Robbie Keane came into the United side as manager David O'Leary opted to rest Olivier Dacourt and Alan Smith, who were on the bench.
There were early appeals for a penalty when an unusually adventurous Batty skipped through a couple of challenges and went crashing in a contest with Lundekvam, but referee Winter would have none of it.
Keane's eagle eye spotted Viduka on the overlap and it took a brave dive at feet by Jones to avert the danger.
United were ahead after ten minutes when Keane robbed Marsden and slipped the ball to Kewell, whose left-foot shot from 25 yards went like an arrow into the far corner for his first goal of an injury-hit season.
Mills worked an opening for Viduka as Leeds pressed relentlessly, but Jones sprawled to save.
Little was seen of the Saints as an attacking force and when, after 25 minutes, Beattie got in a header for their first effort on goal it was woefully tame.
Keane was making several exciting sorties and as the defence backed off two minutes later his left foot shot spun only just wide of the far post. Saints skipper Jason Dodd had Leeds hearts in mouths when he attempted to lob Martyn from the right of the area.
He was only narrowly out with his calculations and the ball landed on the roof of the net.
When Leeds came back Bowyer's dash for goal looked promising, but he couldn't get enough power into his shot to seriously trouble Jones.
It seemed Leeds must double their lead seven minutes before the break when Kewell broke clean through from Batty's thread, but the Aussie dallied and after he had rounded Jones his shot was stopped by Richards.
It fell kindly for Keane, but his blast was deflected by Lundekvam and a gilt-edged chance had gone begging.
For all their superiority Leeds were left with a slender half time lead, raising Saints hopes of sneaking something out of the game.
Jones was forced into a fine save at the start of the second period when Bakke put Keane through, but there was an offside flag waving anyway.
Kewell ran 30 yards with the ball before steadying himself for his shot, but it went sailing over the bar in another frustrating episode for Leeds.
Bowyer contrived a shooting chance for himself on 59 minutes, but again the sights had not been properly set.
Nigel Martyn came to the rescue with a brilliant save from Petrescu, who raced through unchallenged from Jones' deep free kick.
Kewell spurned another golden opportunity in the 69th minute when, unmarked from Keane's pass, he tried to place it past Jones but could not inject sufficient power and the keeper won the argument.
Wilcox immediately replaced Kewell.
And on 71 minutes some quick thinking by Harte set up United's second. Spotting Keane alone up front, he played it first time from the deep and Keane found a quality finish, chipping it neatly over Jones.
Bakke brought a diving save from Jones with 10 minutes left and at the other end Richards had the ball in the net two minutes from time only for the goal to be ruled out by a dubious offside decision.
O'Leary revealed: "I said at half time that the second goal in this match would be very important, and thankfully Robbie Keane came up with it.
"As soon as he scored it was game over and we won convincingly enough in the end. We dominated the match and I do know that at 1-0 the opposition can come up with one shot that goes into the net and you've been mugged. You've got one point when you should have had three.
"We needed to keep our recent run going in this match. The three points are extremely important.
"They finish off an important week and what, in the end, turned out to be a good week. I believe that strikers should be judged over a season, and if Robbie missed a few for Ireland then that's just the sort of thing that happens. They're going to miss a few, but he got a cracker here.
"Harry Kewell scored one, a great goal, and should really have had a hat-trick. But he's only operating at 75 per cent following his injury and we won't have the real Harry back until next season. But with him, that is some 75 per cent of a player.
"I really don't know whether we've given ourselves too much to do to finish in third place. We were once in the bottom half of the table because we had seven players missing through injury and we're on our run now because we've got them back.
"This season has been littered with injuries and off-the-field problems and if we can salvage something it will be a marvellous achievement."