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It's surely a measure of the consistency over the years of David Batty, Lord of Elland Road, that after a bad game and a half at the beginning of the season there were murmurings of the possibility that he'd left his best playing days behind him. Today he was back at his regal best, at the heart of the midfield, keeping everything going and always looking like he had more time to spare on the ball than everyone else.
So, did the scoreline flatter Leeds? Was it as easy as 3-0 suggests?
No. And no.
The first twenty five minutes of the game was the best football Leeds have played this season; rather than passing to the opposition, a player in a white shirt was found more often than not. At the back there was no panic, the ball was regularly played with little triangles out of a defence that had to watch they didn't look at, never mind touch, the flamboyantly annoying diving little shit that is Fabrizio Ravanelli. In midfield, Bowyer all over the place, Batty keeping control and Bakke looking a little more like his first season self. Kewell? He was woeful.
A goal early on is what is needed against teams like Derby at Elland Road and that's exactly what we got. Kewell had a rare foray out to the far left and after dallying too long got a crap cross in only for the ref to judge he'd been fouled. Harte whipped a beauty in and Bakke rose and planted the header firmly in the net.
But the goal was moments after Derby had had a goal disallowed because the silver haired, Italian cheating machine had scampered after Christie's shot too quickly. Christie's low cross bounced off Nige, into Rio and into the net with Ravvy breathing down their necks. A lucky escape; but how the hell the challenger for this year's David Ginola flouncing award for services to international diving escaped a yellow card for his protestations I don't know. At half time one of the Revie era superstars (surprise, surprise it was Paul Reaney) was dragged out and even the latest terrible announcer mentioned how it looked like there had been a sniper in the ground when the Silver Wanker had gone down.
Second half and Derby looked a different team, it became end to end stuff, with Leeds looking nervous and Derby looking like they could equalise. At one point they really should have. A long ball pumped up towards Christie had Dom (who looked as shaky as I've ever seen him today) tracking Christie and the ball back; Christie flipped the ball over Dom, nipped pass and had the goal at his mercy with only Nige to beat. Fortunately Derby seem as crap in these situations as we are and Christie fired straight at Nige. A bad, bad miss.
The-greatest-right-back-at-Leeds-since-Paul-Reaney (tm) and Kewell had attack after attack on either wing. Danny's usually involved pushing the ball ahead of him and sprinting past the hapless Boertien at about Mach 3 to spray in un-Sterland like crosses; Kewell's usually ending with him leaving it too late to get a cross in. Eventually, after a fantastic cross field pass from Bowyer to Kewell on the left hand side, for some reason he decided he should actually have a shot. We all thought it was going to hit the post and come out, but before the ball had crossed the line the prescient Viduka had his arms in the air as it [the ball] ping ponged between both posts and nestled in the net. Good this shooting malarkey, eh Harry?
The goal seemed to bring a change into Kewell and he suddenly seemed to remember what being a team player was all about, the Derby goal was bombarded with efforts and how only one more goal was scored... The one that did arrive was unlikely; Batts, Bowyer and Domehead were all creating overlaps on the left had side of their area, they seemed to spend about fifteen minutes all taking it in turns to create an overlap for someone to cross, and eventually one manoeuvre resulted in the perfect opportunity for Bowya to lay it off to Danny. Curiously he decided not to and cut back inside to cross with his left foot. Bugger I thought, wasted opportunity. Wrong! A great, low hard cross met the head of, er, Kewell, who thumped the header in for 3-0. That'll do on Thursday.
In the end we went back to the top with a fairly comfortable win against sh**e opposition. However there were times in the second half when Leeds needed a second goal to kill of an increasingly confident Derby side.
I was worried that after two successive 0-0 home draws against the Rams we'd spend a frustrating 90 minutes trying to break down their 11 man rearguard.
My concerns were misplaced.
The best possible thing happened. Ravanelli wound the Leeds fans up in the first 5 minutes by ludicrously feigning an injury. This in turn got the Leeds players fired up and before we knew it we were 1-nil up.
Copy from Football Unlimited of 24/09/2001.
Lee Bowyer came out for yesterday's second half with a pair of gloves on. As a metaphor for Leeds United's display and the manner of their ascent back to the top of the Premiership, it could hardly have been more appropriate. When the Leeds gloves eventually come off, they will definitely be a force to be reckoned with.
It is said that their coach, Brian Kidd, is aiming for Leeds to peak after Christmas. For the first 74 minutes of yesterday's match it was as if Leeds were kids on Christmas morning, so distracted were they. Only Rio Ferdinand and, occasionally, Eirik Bakke were playing with any great presence or urgency.
The scoreline was 1-0 and Derby County were beginning to scent an equaliser that would not have been wholly undeserved.
Copy from The Independent of 23/09/2001.
For an hour at Elland Road yesterday it seemed the Professional Footballers' Association threat to embark on industrial action had already started with Gordon Taylor, the leader of the players' union, ordering his members to conduct a go-slow.
Leeds downed their usual tools of passion, skill and invention while Derby, despite trailing to Eirik Bakke's ninth-minute header, sat deep in defence. As a demonstration of how the players could sabotage the Premiership's pay-per-view experiment it was highly effective.
And then, in a cunning twist, both sides stepped up the tempo, creating chances at will. The transformation was highlighted by Harry Kewell. Hitherto abysmal, he scored two excellent goals in the space of three minutes to confirm Leeds' return to the Premiership summit.
''He needed the goals because he was not playing particularly well until then,'' admitted David O'Leary. The Leeds manager added: "None of the major teams are playing particularly well but it is about getting as many points as possible and letting the League shake down a bit. It's nice to be top but I'm not getting carried away. Manchester United and Arsenal have better squads and better teams. We have the nucleus of a very talented side but we need a bigger squad to sustain it. When we get injuries we are disrupted."
The Leeds chairman, Peter Ridsdale, said O'Leary is signing three more players but the manager responded: "That's news to me. I have people in mind but I am not close to signing them."
O'Leary's plight looked very different from the visitors' bench. Colin Todd, the Derby coach, noted: ''Leeds have good depth in their squad.'' He added of his team, seven of whom were under 23, six of them English: "We are a young side and we gave a good account of ourselves. It is a learning process for some of the young boys. They will come of age - I just hope it is this season."
Derby, who last won at Elland Road in their championship-winning season of 27 years ago, were struggling from the moment Bakke rose to head in Ian Harte's free-kick. The timing was cruel. Two minutes earlier Derby thought they had gone ahead via a Rio Ferdinand own goal but Fabrizio Ravanelli had drifted offside. This bright start was misleading because, a well-timed tackle by Chris Riggott on Robbie Keane apart, there were no further noteworthy incidents until first-half injury-time. A foul given against Brian O'Neil, for tripping Mark Viduka, then incensed Seth Johnson so much he was booked for dissent and the free-kick moved forward to the 18-yard line. Harte thrashed it past the eight-man Derby wall but Malcolm Christie, on the line, cleared.
Christie should have capitalised on this five minutes after the resumption. Running onto a lofted pass from O'Neil he beat Dominic Matteo but shot straight at Nigel Martyn. The game continued to drift though, with Leeds constantly giving the ball away, Derby now had equal possession. This, perversely, worked in Leeds' favour for, as Derby emerged from defence, space appeared for Leeds to run into.
Not that they initially took advantage, Kewell ending a long run by dribbling into O'Neil. The crowd grew restless and, had Ravanelli done better with a free header after 67 minutes, might have become rebellious.
Instead they were soon in raptures. Lee Bowyer's long pass found Kewell on the left and he ran at Youl Mawene before shooting through the Frenchman's legs and in off the post from 20 yards.
It was his first goal of the season but the next did not take long in coming for, two minutes later, the Australian rose to head in Bowyer's cross. With Derby deflated, Leeds could have ended with six but the agility of Oakes ensured the scoreline would not be even more misleading. "It looks a drubbing," concluded Todd, "but until the second goal we took the game to them. The difference was that bit of class they have."
Leeds United 3 Derby County 0
Bakke 9, Kewell 74, 78
Half-time: 1-0 Att: 39,155
Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn 6; Mills 5, Ferdinand 6, Matteo 5, Harte 5; Bowyer 6, Bakke 5, Batty 5, Kewell 6; Keane 3, Viduka 4. Substitutes not used: Kelly, Woodgate, McPhail, Wilcox, Robinson (gk).
Derby County (3-5-2): Oakes 6; Riggott 5, O'Neil 5, Higginbottom 4; Mawene 3, Murray 4 (Kinkladze, 80), Johnson 6, Powell 4, Boertien 4; Christie 3, Ravanelli 3 (Burton, 80). Substitutes not used: Morris, Valakari, Grant (gk).
Referee: A Wiley (Burntwood) 4.
Bookings: Leeds United Matteo. Derby County Boertien, Johnson.
Man of the match: Bowyer.
Copy from Yorkshire Evening Post of 24/09/2001.
HARRY KEWELL provided a timely glimpse of his genius at Elland Road yesterday to finally dump a determined Derby and push uneasy United back to the top of the Premier League.
The Aussie ace showed his quality just when it mattered to sink a young Rams outfit which had threatened to wreck United's unbeaten start to the season with a spirited fightback.
Despite being 1-0 down to an early Eirik Bakke header, Derby looked on top and had the finishing from Malcolm Christie and Fabrizio Ravanelli been better then maybe they would have got their reward.
But the cream always rises to the top and as United struggled to maintain their decent start it was Kewell who pulled a class double out of the bag to erase any doubts of a victory.
His low strike in the 74th minute crashed against both posts before nestling into the net and then three minutes later he thumped a header past the despairing Andy Oakes.
It provided supporters with a double dose of delight as, not only were they able to celebrate another victory, but they finally saw something special from Kewell.
The quiet Aussie, who rarely shares his thoughts with the media, is a player of undoubted talent. However, while he may have the ability to mesmerise defenders his form this season has also mystified the supporters.
A series of below-par performances in these early stages of the campaign have left many wondering if he will ever be capable of conjuring up the magic he showed before his injury.
For a 20 minutes spell at the end of the game yesterday it seemed as though Kewell was answering that very question in the affirmative.
"It is about time I got on the score sheet," said a relieved Kewell. "Derby were still in the game at 1-0 and we needed those extra goals.
"Derby are a good team and it took time for us to break them down. They came here to win the match and we needed to be patient to find the gaps. However, once we'd scored we knew that we'd go on to win the match."
If Kewell was the attacking hero then there was no question about the star man in defence as Rio Ferdinand once again proved why he is not only the best defender in this country but possibly Europe as well. Even when United were looking stretched under Derby pressure he kept calm and assured, sending out the right messages to those who flustered ahead of him.
He as much as anyone should take the credit for this victory which at one stage looked to be a formality as the fit-again Bakke glanced in a ninth minute opener.
Part of a midfield that also included Lee Bowyer once again, he rose the highest to flick Ian Harte's perfect cross past the stranded Oakes.
United's players and fans were, no doubt, still smarting after Thursday night's embarrassing 1-0 defeat against Maritimo in the UEFA Cup and a mauling of the Rams seemed to be the perfect tonic.
However, it did not materialise immediately. Derby had already seen a Ferdinand own-goal disallowed for off-side and while definitely on the back foot they held their own in a disappointing first half.
They were lucky, however, not to go in 2-0 down as Mark Viduka was tripped on the edge of the box and Ian Harte had the chance to strike on goal. Derby midfielder Seth Johnson was booked for dissent and the kick moved 10 yards closer to goal.
Irish international Harte struck a fizzing effort low on goal which, despite beating Oakes, was cleared by the lunging Christie. A goal then would surely have killed off the East Midlanders, but they lived on and then took advantage of a very cold start to the second half by United.
The Rams best chance fell to Christie within minutes of the re-start as a long ball from Brian O'Neil found the lively striker just inside the penalty area. He beat Dominic Matteo with a cute lob but with Ravanelli waiting for a cross he took on Nigel Martyn who made a fine save.
Powell then saw a left foot effort thump into Martyn's chest from the edge of the box before a Ravanelli diving header went wide of the target when he should have scored.
When the home side did break away their final ball was lacking. Kewell or Robbie Keane more than once lifted the hopes of the fans with exciting runs but dallied too long on the ball allowing the impressive Derby defence of O'Neil and Chris Riggott to recover.
It was tetchy stuff until Kewell decided it was time to step out of the shadows - with a little help from the creative mind of Bowyer.
It was his raking ball across field which found Kewell in space down the left. Youl Mawene retreated and the Aussie midfielder went in for the kill, sending in a cross-shot that beat Oakes after crashing against both posts.
The relief as hardly out of the system when the double act struck again. This time Bowyer's cross from the right wing was met by a powerful Kewell header which flew past Oakes.
With the game now signed and sealed United were able to relax and turn on something of a show in the closing stages.
Kewell skinned Mawene in the 84th minute and crossed to the far post where Keane's downward header was clawed away by Oakes and a minute later Mills tried luck with a left foot strike that again the keeper did well to palm around the post.
Mills was involved again with just three minutes remaining as he played in Keane with a delicate flick only to see the impressive Derby stopper make another decent block.
Even Bowyer had a chance to make it four as he played a ball into Batty and then ran on to receive the reply but his low left foot shot was brilliantly saved by Oakes.
A fourth, although unfair on Derby, would have capped the scoreline for United but manager David O'Leary was just happy to claim the three points and see a return to some sort of form from Kewell.
"I think the guy needed the goals to be honest," said the boss. "I don't think he was playing particularly well up until he scored them. Hopefully, the goals have given him a kick start because if he does start playing to his full potential then we know what a talent he is.
"I thought we played very well in the first half and might have gone in 2-0 ahead but we came out in the second half and did not play particularly well."