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I could almost taste the sense of excitement and anticipation as I walked down Lowfields Road. It was a good day to be a Yorkie - United full of promise and the news had just come through that the cricket team were only one good win from scooping the County Cricket Championship for the first time since 1968.
1968... 1968... 1968... the memories came flooding back. Earlier that year we'd beaten Arsenal 1-0 to win the League Cup Final and we'd started the 1968/69 season, as now, full of hope. Our first match was, as now, against Southampton. The team that day was Sprake, Reaney, Madeley, Bremner, Charlton, Hunter, Lorimer, Greenhoff, Jones, Giles and Gray and, as we all know, that team plus Cooper, O'Grady, Bates, Belfitt and Hibbitt won the First Division title. "No Clarkie" you ask. He joined us in the June of 1969. ( I really am a boring old fart - just ask my lad. On the way over to Leeds during our 57.7 mile car journey I had sent my three passengers to sleep by stating that the present squad was the strongest I had seen since those halcyon days. Yes! that includes Sgt. Wilko's lot.)
BUMP! The time machine has just landed and it's back to the present. In the car park we saw a large crowd gathered round one of the players' cars. An Aston Martin? A BMW? A Ferrari? No! No! No! "What then?" you ask. A yellow Reliant Robin - honestly! - a real Del Boy job. It's all part of a mickey-take by the players. Whoever is voted as having the worst training session of the week has to drive to the ground on match days in the Reliant Robin. Hartey was the first winner of the Plonker of the Week Award.
Copy from Football Unlimited of 20/08/2001.
Alan Smith would claim, like so many of his predecessors at Leeds United, that he is just misunderstood.
In football it is always easier getting a bad name than losing one, and this spiky young striker will tell you he is not proud of his reputation. Even if he does see himself as the Joe Pesci of Elland Road.
Two moments will live in the memory about his contribution to an afternoon when Leeds's opening-day nerves eventually made way for an ultimately humdrum victory.
Copy from The Independent of 18/08/2001.
This might not have been the explosive start that David O'Leary had hoped for, yet the Leeds manager could not hide his pleasure come full-time yesterday. The Irishman still maintains that it was his team's sluggish start to last season which prevented them from mounting a serious challenge for the Premiership, so it was no surprise to see him punching the air with joy at the end of this hard-fought victory over Southampton.
Leeds had started brightly but were in danger of drawing until the arrival of Eirik Bakke and, in particular, Alan Smith, changed the course of the game mid-way through the second half. Afterwards, O'Leary praised his two substitutes: "Eirik made things happen in midfield," he said, "and Smithy played superbly up front. They made a big difference and have given me a selection headache for the next match [against Arsenal on Tuesday]. But that's nice. We want more headaches all over the place."
His Southampton counterpart, Stuart Gray, must already be reaching for the aspirin box. He felt his team had done "well enough and only lost because they switched off for five minutes", but he must know that the next nine months could give him plenty more to worry about.
O'Leary's refusal "to buy for the sake of buying" means that only Robbie Keane, who had been on loan from Internazionale, signed for the club this summer. Leeds may have been shy in the transfer market, but, like their fellow title rivals Liverpool, they can at least point to their crop of returning players.
Most exciting was the sight of Harry Kewell completing his comeback. Although the Australian returned at the back end of last season, he never really seemed to have regained his sharpness. He has now, and yesterday we were treated to a virtuoso performance by the Leeds No 10, as he caused the Southampton defence constant problems.
Leeds' two best first-half chances, though, came courtesy of the regular front men. First Mark Viduka, who has signed an extension to his contract, headed an accurate Ian Harte corner inches over. Then, moments later, Keane latched on to a clever Viduka lay-off just inside the Southampton half and sprinted towards goal, only for his left-foot shot to miss Paul Jones' far post.
Southampton were hanging on just and managed only one dangerous shot on target in the opening period, when Kevin Davis' well-struck half-volley was saved by Nigel Martyn. In fact, Southampton would surely have conceded a first-half goal had it not been for the excellence of Dean Richards at the heart of their defence. On this evidence alone, the Tottenham manager, Glenn Hoddle, would be advised to spend the £8m the Saints are demanding for their centre-back.
Having made it to the break without going behind, Southampton returned from the interval with renewed confidence and belief. The former Manchester City striker Uwe Rösler, who did not enjoy the happiest of first seasons with Southampton, looked sharp and might have given the visitors the lead on two occasions. However, the German saw his first effort saved by Martyn and his second miss the target from no more than 12 yards.
Disappointed with his team's attacking play, O'Leary sent on his two "supersubs", Bakke and Smith. Their impact was immediate. Smith won a 50-50 ball in midfield, before Olivier Dacourt and Harte combined well on the left to set up the Frenchman for a shot. Jones saved smartly but, from the ensuing corner, the Southampton keeper was finally beaten. Harte swung in the corner, which the Southampton defence cleared only to Lee Bowyer, who was lurking on the edge of the box. His blistering left-foot shot sailed through a mêlée of players before finding the back of the net.
It is not the first time that the 24-year-old has scored a crucial goal for his team and O'Leary later confessed that he was hoping his midfielder would not be unduly distracted by his re-trial in October.
Leeds were suddenly rampant and it was no surprise when, 10 minutes before the final whistle, they netted a second. Receiving possession in the area with his back to goal, Smith executed a sharp turn before curling a perfect shot wide of the diving Jones. "It was a wonderful goal," smiled O'Leary, who is clearly looking forward to his first big headache of the season.
Copy from Football Unlimited of 18/08/2001.
If the hallmark of potential champions is the capacity to win when performing below par, this opening-day victory is a welcome start to Leeds United's season. Lord, did they make heavy weather of Southampton.
The form team in the second half of last season, Leeds ultimately paid the price for a stuttering start. They were eager to speed out of the blocks this time. Robbie Keane, picked ahead of Alan Smith (who was perhaps being held back with Arsenal on Tuesday in mind), was full of confidence and bounded at Southampton.
With the visiting team instantly on the back foot, Olivier Dacourt's strike had Paul Jones at full strength. The Leeds supporters prepared themselves for the expected onslaught.
Copy from Yorkshire Evening Post of 20/08/2001.
PATIENCE is something Leeds United supporters should should know all about.
Forced to wait a full decade for any silverware to return to Elland Road they could even be hailed as experts in the art of biding their time.
Now, it seems, the players too have learned that everything indeed does come to those who wait - especially in the case of Alan Smith.
For 65 minutes of this opening Premiership clash United had struggled to find a way through the packed Saints defence - and the Leeds-born darling of the Kop had been forced to sit on the bench as Robbie Keane was given the duty to partner Mark Viduka up front.
Chances had come and gone and the hysteria that had greeted the Whites before kick-off had died down into an uneasy feeling of frustration.
Southampton, clearly happy to leave West Yorkshire with a point, had dug their heels in and were proving a tough cookie to crush.
Indeed Nigel Martyn had been called upon to make a crucial save on the hour from German Uwe Rosler which, had it gone in, might just have given the Saints a shock maximum on day one.
Keane had earlier gone close when he flicked the ball narrowly past Paul Jones' post and Viduka had powered a diving header over the bar from an Ian Harte corner.
But if any proof were needed that patience is indeed a virtue it was handed out in plentiful doses once United boss David O'Leary had unleashed the hungry Smith.
Forced to sit on the bench for over an hour you could sense the pent up frustration and infectious enthusiasm pumping through his veins as he burst into the action.
Within two minutes he had played his part in creating the opening goal for Lee Bowyer, winning a tackle he had no right to get and playing in Olivier Dacourt to run on goal.
The Frenchman's effort was saved but from the resultant corner Rio Ferdinand rose highest at the far post and nodded the ball back into the path of Bowyer who lashed the ball in past Jones.
Frustrations lifted, the United fans could finally enjoy the show and young Smith put his own icing on the cake with a most brilliant turn and strike that had the Saints defenders wondering what day it was.
United then produced some scintillating football that could have seen them add a couple more, but two was enough and manager O'Leary was delighted that the lessons of playing the waiting game had sunk in.
"They came to nullify us and things dropped into a bit of a lull after a bright start," he said. "Teams are going to do that when they come here. Manchester United, for many years, have had to cope with teams going to Old Trafford looking for a point. They have had to be patient until late on, maybe, and score goals by grinding people out.
"We would love to be three or four goals up within 20 minutes of the start but that is not going to happen every week and I think we have learned now how to cope with that.
"The lads kept playing and yes Nigel Martyn made a vital save in the second half but we eventually wore them down and in the end we could have had a few more goals."
While it was not a pretty performance at times, O'Leary was just delighted to get the opening match out of the way and the three points safely on the board. It was a good, workmanlike solid three points for us and I think there will be more of that to come here at Elland Road," he said.
"Teams will come here and think they can defend, try to hit us on the break and hope for some success from set-plays. They will try to take a point away with them and wait for us to try and break them down.
"Over the last few seasons teams have been doing that and we have struggled. Derby came here two seasons ago, never had a shot on goal and we never really threatened until the very end when we did not take our one chance and the game fizzled out 0-0.
"We've got to be patient, play out our natural game and while I don't like to use Manchester United, we can look at how they have had to cope with it in recent seasons and learn."
His introduction of Eirik Bakke for David Batty on the hour and Alan Smith for Robbie Keane five minutes later turned the game. And unlike in previous seasons, when the chances came they made sure they buried them in the most clinical of fashion.
"I thought Eirik improved the play for us, driving us forward better and we all know that Alan Smith livens up everybody when he is around and he scored a wonderful goal," said O'Leary.
"When you look at all the quality sides, when you are playing in the big time you don't go bang, bang, bang and score three or four goals, you are clinical - if the gap opens you take it and thank you very much three points away you go.
"There are 37 games now and we have to start gathering up as many points as possible as quickly as possible. Through those 37 games there will be some great games but there will also be some poor games that we will win and get lucky.
"What we've got to do is grind them out because our goal is to get into the Champions League this season, that is our priority."
O'Leary, like all of the fans would love to see United lift a trophy of some shape or form this season but says in today's modern football that has to come second to making it into the big-money world of the Champions League.
"I want to take this club and put it into the top four," he said. "I am realistic and realistic for me is to put this club in the Champions League season in, season out. If we put a cup in there along the way then that is great.
"When you are dealing with the money men and PLCs like I am my goal is to look them in the face here in May and say, not that I have delivered a cup, but that I have delivered the Champions League place back to them. That is what I have been told I have to do, in the nicest possible way."