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Was it worth the 400-mile round trip? A 6-goal European game that sees us hold our own against the Italian champions and I'm asking that question? Either I've gone mad, our standards have gone up, or it's got to that point in the season where fatigue is setting in despite the success and I'm just starting to think about what to do with those weekends in summer. Maybe a bit of all three....
Alan Maybury made his first start for 3 years, Gary Kelly was feeling his way back from injury, Matteo and Mills aren't doing badly, but playing your second choice fullbacks as centrebacks shows where your priorities lie. DOL picked Bowyer in the midfield mainly to give him a decent run out, since the court case is obviously ruling out the possibility of training, Robbo was given another chance in goal, Harry was offered the rare chance to play as part of a front two, Vidooks was given the opportunity to increase the amount Roma will pay for him, and Jacob Burns and Jason Wilcox were given a rare start with the clear message from the manager: "Prove you're worth your place."
For the first part of the game, Leeds dominated. Harry Kewell ran at the defence at will and was hacked on numerous occasions. It took 15 minutes before the ref finally punished one of these with a card, and the challenges got a bit lighter after that. It was probably just as well that Lazio scored first, otherwise this game could easily have headed for quiet draw boredom, and it was general defensive unfamiliarity that gave it away. Nedved found that the presence of numerous left-sided players in midfield and defence made no difference to his ability to get to the byline, and his cross found the equally unchallenged Boro reject Ravanelli with a free header from 6 yards out.
The goal made Leeds find a bit more purpose, and when Lee Bowyer chipped the goalie (well, maybe there was a bit of a shin involved) after taking a good headed knock down from Harry we thought we were in for a rousing game. Rousing? Well, the defence was pretty much slumbering 60 seconds later when Ravanelli went into the box, picked up the faintest of tugs from Matteo and acted like he'd been lassoed by a passing cowboy. Penalty. Their keeper ran the length of the field to try to persuade the ref to send Matteo off, but the ref kept a sense of perspective and left it at a yellow. They're good at these penalty things, these foreigners. None of this hesitation and worrying like we manage. Mihajlovic stepped up and restored the lead.
Still, we were playing well, Wilcox charging all over the park instead of being nailed to the left wing and Bowyer dominating the midfield. Bowyer had already hit the (joint) top of the Champions League scoring charts with his first effort, and nearly made the lead his own just before half time when he lost his marker from a corner and produced a superb glancing header that Marchegiani just held on to. Still, we did manage to draw level before half time when Wilcox smashed home a loose ball in the box from a corner: more cruddy marking by the visitors and lots of whinging because one of their players was being treated for an injured chest wig or something equally non-fatal at the time.
2-2 at the break, and with the second half we witnessed an amazing transformation. Alan Maybury had been a bit off the pace in the first 45 minutes - hardly surprising given the length of his layoff - but in the second half the rest of the team finally started passing the ball to him, he made some good tackles and with a bit of confidence in him started to run past defenders and put in some very good crosses. Just past the hour, Vidooks found himself free in the area again and Harte's free kick found his head: we were in the lead for the first time in the game.
Two other things enlivened the second half: first we'd decided that Ravanelli was the pantomime villain of the day due to his Heskey-like inability to remain upright (in fact he managed to get one of his own players booked when the "White Feather" dived, rolled around and watched his team-mates complain too hard to the ref on his behalf). And then there was the small matter of Mister Bowyer's smalls. His court comments have lined him up for some serious p@$! taking when he appears on the pitch, and we couldn't see any VPL in his shorts tonight, so the song went up: "He's here, he's there, he's got no underwear, Lee Bowyer!"
Tony Hackworth came on to let Vidooks get first dibs at the refreshment stand. Hackworth looked a bit short of fitness, and he may have been released without a stain on his character by the judge and jury in Hull, but the jury is very definitely out and considering its verdict on his playing skills at the moment. With time ticking away, a free kick from Mihajlovic was deflected and brilliantly saved by Robbo, and another shot from Nedved saw Robbo collect on the luck that had deserted him against Barca: there a rebound from the post fell to Rivaldo, but here he managed to collect the ball as it came back from the woodwork.
Nedved and Mihajlovic were both involved in the final, rather unsavoury incident in the game. Nedved went flying in studs first to leave the excellent Maybury writhing in agony. Nedved faked an injury in an attempt to avoid a yellow - or even red - card, Ravanelli fell over a blade of grass and the ref mysteriously awarded a free kick just outside the box. After Maybury had been carried off to be replaced by Batts, Mihajlovic produced an excellent free kick to equalise, but Robbo's placement, and the absence of players on the posts, must be questioned.
Still, not a bad result and well worth the trip. Playing the third game in a row against national Champions, we once again found ourselves clearly the better side, but denied by a combination of bad luck, good goalkeeping and poor refereeing. Maybe the quarter-finals will reverse the trend and give us a couple of dodgy decisions instead.
Bloody hell! David O'Leary in piss-taking squad rotation shocker. As the match started in a terribly disjointed and error-strewn fashion, I think myself and 36,000 others all shared a common speech bubble with "What the f**k am I doing here?" in it. However, once Ravanelli (a cheating, diving, niggly, contract-disrespecting disgrace of a human being, but a bloody good leader of the line) had evaded our day dreaming central defence and headed the first goal the game suddenly jump started into life. My prediction after the opener was for a 4-all draw.
Lazio had the best of the first half as the gulf in class in the middle of the park was exposed. Did Maybury touch the ball in the first 45 minutes? Bowyer's equaliser was a beauty, especially if he meant it. Again our defence went bye-byes, allowing a simple hoof up the field to cause mass panic. Ravanelli needed no excuse to demonstrate his world-class gamesmanship (nice word for cheating) and the ref fell for it. Another nasty piece of work in the shape of Mihalovic (apologies to mother Serbia for my spelling) stepped up to convert and his naff white boots did the business. Thankfully, Lazio's defence were plop at crosses, leaving Wilcox with a nice short-range volley from Harte's corner (who was obviously trying extra hard not to be upstaged by Mihalovic's superbly-struck set pieces).
In the second half we suddenly had a midfield. Bowyer proved that human cloning is indeed possible, as there were at least six of him out there, Burns started finding white shirts with his passes and Maybury grew in confidence after a few good runs. Vidooks earned his (pie) crust by scoring from yet another Harte set piece (gasp) and the points looked our as Mills and Matteo had obviously had a loud and expletive-ridden Central Defence 101 lecture from DOL at half time. However, as the clock tick down the defence's short-term memory loss proved fatal as we spurned about five dozen chances to clear the ball before Lazio won the inevitable free kick, despite Nedved nearly crippling Maybury. Indeed, given young Alan's distressed arm-flailings I half expected him to leave the field on two stretchers (he eventually hobbled off supported by a physio to rousing applause). The racist Yugoslav hit a belter (was Robbo at fault?) and the points were shared, leaving us with yet another moral victory.
- Bowyer was awesome, ramming home Rich Walker's point about him being criminally wasted out on the right.
- Burns looks useful as a squad player, and I can see why Jones was sold to warm Leicester's bench.
- Maybury looks too lightweight, for all his industry, and I don't think he's technically good enough to play at the hightest level.
- Hackworth's injuries have robbed him of his pace, and he needs to lose at least a stone in weight. Mind you, so does Vidooks.
- I loved the linesman on the east side, who actually made sure of his decisions before raising his flag (and as a result was bang on almost every time). If anyone at the FA had even a miniscule clue (obviously not from the debacle of the Arse-Spurs FA Cup semi arrangements) they would force every official in the country to watch a video of this man in action.
- Sadly, the ref cannot be praised as he let far too much go unpunished, right up to ignored a Lazio playing taking a swipe at someone at the final whistle.
- The Italians were a bit of a disgrace, right up to their crater-faced coach, who had the cheek to call us inferior. Excuse me, Signor Zoff, who finished bottom of the group after six games? Who qualified after four? The cheeky chain-smoking twat.
After my usual pre-match Kop bar pint of Strongbow (i dont actually like the stuff but it keeps our sponsors happy) I climbed up the dozen or so steps to the entrance to the arena.
The MC was announcing the Leeds substitutes - "...Danny Mills, Jacob Burns, Alan Maybury.."
I smiled - those jokers will never get a game..
The MC continued "...and the Leeds United substitutes are - David Batty, Ollie Dacourt ...."
Copy from Football Unlimited of 15/03/2001.
Leeds United will go into tomorrow's draw for the Champions League's knock-out stages having re-affirmed that it would be outrageous to categorise them as alley-cats dining beside aristocrats.
For David O'Leary and his fearless players, reputations clearly count for nothing. They will face Bayern Munich, Deportivo La Coruna or Valencia for a place in the semi-finals and, as Lazio will be able to testify, they will not be there to make up the numbers.
They were within a minute of concluding a remarkable double over the Italian champions here last night. Having twice trailed Dino Zoff's team, they led going into injury-time, when Sinisa Mihajlovic's free-kick beat Paul Robinson from 25 yards.
Copy from The Independent of 15/03/2001.
Summoning all their trademark tenacity, Leeds United twice came from behind to lead in the meeting of two weakened sides at Elland Road last night before being stunned by Sinisa Mihajlovic's 25-yard free-kick in stoppage time.
Leeds, who went into their final Group D match knowing that the Champions' League quarter-finals will pair them with Valencia, Deportivo La Coruña or Bayern Munich, were entitled to feel aggrieved by Lazio's equaliser. The Austrian referee neglected to punish a vicious foul by Pavel Nedved on Alan Maybury but blew up instantly for a less ferocious home challenge, giving Mihajlovic his opportunity.
Although Paul Robinson had been relieved to see an 87th-minute shot by Marcelo Salas strike a post and rebound into the his grasp, the Italian champions could not have complained had Mark Viduka's second-half header proved decisive.
David O'Leary had the luxury of being able to rest key personnel, seven of last week's starting line-up at Real Madrid being left on the bench or watching from the stand. Among those brought in was Maybury, who had played under Howard Wilkinson and George Graham but was making his first appearance under the current manager.
Dino Zoff was similarly reluctant to risk certain players, especially with a home game against Juventus next Sunday that could go a long way towards determining Lazio's prospects of qualifying for next season's Champions' League. Hernan Crespo and Salas, their £50m strikeforce, were among the substitutes, but there was no doubting the superiority of Zoff's reserves during the early cut and thrust.
Lazio went ahead midway through the first half after Leeds were outmanoeuvered on their left. Fabrizio Ravanelli's familiar silver crop powered home a textbook far-post header from a cross expertly whipped in by Nedved.
Leeds drew level in the 27th minute following a corner by Harry Kewell. When the ball was cleared to the Australian, he nodded it inside to Lee Bowyer, whose first-time shot curled over Luca Marchegiani to make him the tournament's joint leading scorer with six goals.
Within seconds of the restart, Leeds' makeshift defence was exposed again. Dominic Matteo impeded Ravanelli as they challenged for a long pass, which was all the excuse the ex-Middlesbrough forward needed to hit the floor. Mihajlovic beat Robinson nonchalantly from the spot.
Ravanelli's tendency to go to ground repeatedly caused ill feeling on the pitch and among the crowd. However, Leeds' annoyance was assuaged two minutes before the break after Ian Harte's corner found Jason Wilcox lurking beyond the far post. A left-footed volley flashed through Lucas Castroman's legs on the line, bringing the winger his first goal since April.
Leeds went in front in the 62nd minute. Harte's free-kick was met by a sharp downward header from Viduka, who broke off his marker, Mihajlovic, to convert his 18th goal of the season from eight yards.
The burly target man, reputedly a target for Lazio's rivals, the Serie A leaders Roma, soon gave way to Tony Hackworth. Another graduate of the Youth Cup-winning class of '97 which produced Kewell, Maybury and Jonathan Woodgate, Hackworth thus added to a career portfolio which so far amounts to cameo roles against Barcelona, Tranmere and Lazio.
The newcomer's first involvement was to flight a cross which Kewell met with a header that Marchegiani did well to smother.
Yet the save of the night came when Robinson dived full length to keep out a free-kick by Mihajlovic that had been unwittingly diverted by Bowyer.
Copy from Yorkshire Evening Post of 15/03/2001.
IT was entertainment the United hordes wanted last night and, even with many of the celebrated names missing, it was served up in five-star style.
There may have been no Radebe, Ferdinand or Smith for Leeds; no Simeone, Nesta or Inzaghi for Lazio. Yet we had a goal-feast served up by two sides utterly determined to go their separate ways in the Champions League - the Italians out of it altogether - with their heads held high.
With United's safe passage to the quarter-finals already assured, manager David O'Leary sanctioned appearances by fringe players Alan Maybury, Jacob Burns and, for a third of the game, Tony Hackworth.
Maybury, whose catalogue of injuries has prevented him from making the progress everyone at Elland Road had hoped for, particularly caught the eye and showed us all what we have been missing.
Burns didn't really get going, but Hackworth showed some nice touches and one deep cross from the left was right out of the top drawer.
Was this really the megabucks Italian champions, or was an illusion cast by the comfortable integration of Leeds players who would not normally figure in senior selection plans?
The spirit which runs through the United camp is so deeply ingrained that almost anyone in their ranks could pull on the white shirt and enter the battle arena with seamless result.
The ascendancy see-sawed with whirling motion, but in the end the draw kept intact United's record of never having been beaten by Italian opposition on home soil.
At times that seemed unlikely, yet with the tormenting Harry Kewell, the constantly-moving Lee Bowyer and the rejuvenated Jason Wilcox gnawing away at them Lazio were never allowed to get out of sight.
In the early exchanges both Kewell and Bowyer might have done better with shots from reasonable positions, and Pesaresi was woefully off target for the Italians.
Wily old campaigner Ravanelli was proving a handful for Mills and Matteo and he showed his class in the 21st minute, steering home a powerful header from Nedved's accurately-delivered cross from the right.
United were level on 27 minutes when Kewell bravely got his head into a 50-50 challenge and Bowyer, seizing his chance, delightfully clipped it into the far top corner to leave Marchegiani stranded.
It was Bowyer's sixth goal of this Champions League campaign and leaves him joint top scorer with Rivaldo, Paul Scholes and Marco Simone.
However, within 30 seconds Lazio's lead was restored. Matteo wrapped his arms round Ravanelli in the area and Mihajlovic blasted an unstoppable spot kick into Robinson's top left hand corner.
The impressive Lopez cut inside Mills and tested Robinson low down, then Bowyer whipped in a fine header from Harte's corner only for Marchegiani to save well.
Two minutes before the break United were again on level terms when the unmarked Wilcox met Harte's corner on the volley for the sweetest of finishes and his first goal of the season.
Baronio wasn't far wide with his long-range shot as proceedings resumed and Bowyer put in a carbon-copy effort at the other end.
Wilcox was unlucky to find a deflection to his well-hit volley and Kewell scooped his shot over as Leeds sought the initiative.
Maybury conjured some quickfire magic down the right before firing in a cross which Bowyer just couldn't quite control well enough to get in a telling shot.
Another Harte set-piece orchestrated a third goal for United on 62 minutes, his lashed-in free-kick bringing the bravest of headers between defenders from Viduka, whose 18th goal of the season this was.
When Hackworth then replaced Viduka he soon won the plaudits for his left wing delivery which brought a fine header from Kewell.
A brilliant save from Paul Robinson preserved United's lead on 73 minutes, when a stunning free-kick from Mihajlovic took a deflection off Bowyer and was heading for the corner until the young keeper flung himself to his right to keep it out.
But he could only watch in hope three minutes from the end when substitute Salas fired past him only for the ball to come back off a post.
Then, deep in injury time, Salas was fouled and Mihajlovic rifled home from a direct free-kick 25 yards out to deny Leeds a fine win.
Said O'Leary: "It was a disappointing end to proceedings, but that's life. We're on now to the quarter-finals and I thought the lads did fantastically well.
"We try not to let people down in terms of excitement and we did our best for them. I felt we were tremendous under the circumstances.
"I was especially pleased that we did not get beaten. As far as the penalty was concerned, I thought from my view in the dugout that it was one, but Dominic Matteo says that not in a million years had he touched him.
"He says that he would hold his hands up every time if he had done anything wrong but he swears that there had been no offence."
Anticipating tomorrow's quarter-final draw, O'Leary said: "Knowing us we will get the biggest of the lot. But having come this far, and I never expected us to, the aim is to get into the semis."
United's opponents will be either Bayern Munich, Valencia or Deportivo La Coruna and O'Leary said: "They're all hard teams to beat, but if anything easy came our way I'd find it very strange."
Lazio coach Dino Zoff said: "Leeds are an excellent team, very strong with a good technique. I think they can go very far in this competition."
They already have. How many more miles on the yellow brick road?