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At 3:59pm yesterday I thought I finally had it all sussed. The day started with me having a possibly great get-rich-gradually idea that gave me a woody. The upward curve continued after a hefty fry up with the life-changing discovery of Andrex moistened toilet tissues. Where have been all my life, O gently perfumed towelletes? The drive to Ipswich was a breeze, the town was small and pleasant, the people were unforcedly friendly and the list meet was a model of its kind. Yes, I had the world under control. I could lift the veil and see its simple inner workings. It was all so laughably straightforward. Then the game kicked off and I realised that I knew absolutely fuck all.
How could the team that had just had a tiring trip to Moscow have by far the more energy? How could a team of professionals who allegedly practise for many hours per day make so many elementary mistakes, the kind of which would have a pub side cringing into their half-time cans of Skol? How the fuck did we get to top the league playing like a bag of shite? Search me. I'm just a mug who pays top dollar to watch our shambolic table toppers. The trouble is that I think O'Leary is equally clueless - and he's the one paid over a million smackers a year to figure it all out. No wonder he just falls back onto his comforting cliches. After all, football is a funny old game.
Ipswich are a good _team_ - they have no real stars, no out and out match winners, but they have been superbly coached in all the elementary basics that elude our haphazard collection of big-time Charlies. Pass it quick, move quick, make a yard, get it in the box, support the front two, work your bollocks off when you lose it. Sounds simple, doesn't it. Tell that to DOL and Brian Kidd then.
In the first half we were an embarrassing shower as we set the unofficial record for the number of times caught offside. The linesman's flag was a dayglo blur. Only luck and poor finishing kept the score down. Paradoxically, we did create arguably the clearer chances through our greater individual (key word) talents. 1-0 at the break was the very least we deserved.
As the second half commenced I could tell our manager had reduced the comedy quotient by using his interval team talk to arrange the tea cups in formation to give his gormless charges one of those Offside 101 explanations you usually save for birds in the boozer. It worked. We were just average now, Ipswich started to defend deeper, and we all sensed that if we got an equaliser we would go on to win. We did and we did. In the end our individual (key word again) class told. If only we had a fraction of Ipswich's team spirit.
Wildly guessed player scores. I may have been sober, but I was day dreaming of moistened bum wipes.
Martyn: 5. His inability to command his area, especially from awkward crosses will probably hinder his international ambition. Needs to stand in the mirror and practise shouting "KEEPERS!!!" whilst trying to look hard.
Harte: 6. As average as ever. Needs a few good set pieces to make us forget his other flaws again. Booed by the tractor boys for getting Stewart sent off in last season's fixture.
Matteo: 6. Off the skag, but still dabbling with Methodone. Got better in the 2nd half as the opiate wore off.
Rio: 7. Kept us in it while Matteo did his Renton impression.
Mills: 5.5. Lost his man for the Ipswich goal, and lost his rag far too often. Lucky not to walk for a horrific two-footed lunge. Booed by the home fans for his Norwich past. Booked.
Bowyer: 6. Tried wilfully to make up in effort what he lacks in nous.
Batts: 7.5. Please lord, let our David be fit for the full season.
Bakke: 5.5. Looked knackered from the start, and too wasteful with the ball.
Kewell: 6.5. A match winner. We need them, only without the superstar ego.
Viduka: 4. Seems to have started the PFA strike prematurely. His snail-like ambles back onside had to be seen to be believed.
Keane: 7.5. Putting the ghost of Huckerby behind him. Full of good movement and a model of dynamic effort to Pieman's static indifference. Loses half a point for not being remotely clinical enough yet.
Subs. Are we allowed them now?
Ref: 6. To his credit, Andy D'Ozy tried to let the game flow but he let some shocking challenges go unpunished.
Linos: 3. Got lazy and started to assume we were offside for every attack. Rightfully barracked into submission by the visiting fans.
Train chaos delayed our arrival at the list meet and only time for a couple of pints before off to the game. Still unlike Alan Dellow at least i hadn't been stuck on the train with Thirkers for a few hours. Lots of Russian hats around - wonder wear i've seen them before. We'd discussed on the way down how Bakke had played well enough on Thursday to keep his place and sure enough he did with Dacourt dropping to the bench as Bowyer returned.
First half and the defence just weren't alive. Ipswich strikers aren't that big but crosses were causing constant problems, Stewart was dropping off and then running across the line and was not being picked up. We'd already had a couple of scares when Stewart hit the post and Armstrong headed straight at Martyn after Harte nodded off, but we failed to heed the warning and Stewart got his goal by getting his head to a free-kick. The pitch was very wet but they were seemingly able to zip it around better than us. It wasn't all Ipswich though, we had a fair few chances first half. Keane forced a good save when chasing onto Bakke's flick - Bowyer failed to control properly when Keane played him in. Keane dummied a cross in - that'll work one of these days we said knowingly. Kewell also had a shot saved after Bakke had won the ball on the right.
Second half we started to show a bit more control but still had to survive a couple of scares, Armstrong won another ball in the air but headed wide and Magilton blasted over. However, Ipswich were showing signs of tiredness and the game looked there for the taking as space appeared. Keane and Kewell were suddenly finding space to run into and Batty was picking up the loose balls and distributing them to Mills and Harte who were finding room on the flanks. We knew if we scored one we'd probably get two but after Keane had been played through with all the time in the world but wasted the chance by hitting it straight at the keeper, we wondered if it would happen. Shortly after we were grateful when George failed to spot Stewart in acres of space and tried to chip Martyn instead. Then Robbie did his dummy and spin again, Kewell chipped it into his path and with less time to think, he instinctively beat the advancing Sereni.
We expected to go on and win but it took a bit longer than expected and with Kewell looking knackered, Mark next to me advised DOL to take him off. Mills missed Clapham with one horrible lunge but got the only booking later for a foul on the same player. With time running out Bowyer found Kewell lurking over the defenders shoulder with a crossfield pass, H found the energy to get round the outside and cut back in and tried to find the Pieman with his cross. Cometh the hour, cometh the man and Mark Venus was alive to the threat and dived in to bury the ball to score our winning goal at Portman Road for the 2nd year in a row.
We held on relatively comfortably - despite Rio picking up a knock - and the chants of we are Top of the League rang out again. A game we should have won as Ipswich were clearly tired and eventually win we did. The plusses - Keane had his best game of the season, Kewell continued his improvement and Batty continued to impress. Negatives - we let in a goal and the defence looked shaky at times and Viduka desperately needs a goal.
Copy from Football Unlimited of 01/10/2001.
It was not as spectacular as Manchester United's, but Leeds's comeback yesterday was just as effective and carried the bonus of lifting them back to the top of the Premiership.
David O'Leary's side did not play well but the manager was happy enough to dig out a result and keep the pressure on the champions and the other pretenders to the throne.
Because Uefa Cup games are played on Thursdays, Leeds often play catch-up in the Premiership on a Sunday. But after dispatching Maritimo da Madeira four days ago, they found Ipswich were not such a piece of cake.
Copy from The Independent of 30/09/2001.
Manchester United, it seems, do not hold a monopoly when it comes to Jekyll-and-Hyde performances. By their own admission, Leeds United have scaled the heights of the Premiership without playing at their best and for 45 minutes at Portman Road yesterday it looked as though they would be rumbled by an Ipswich performance full of enterprise and energy.
But David O'Leary's side are nothing if not resilient. They sit atop the Premiership again today after a second-half fightback masterminded by Harry Kewell and abetted by the misfortune of the Ipswich defender Mark Venus, who deflected the Australian's cross-shot into his own goal five minutes from time to seal victory.
"It was a good three points," the understandably chipper Leeds manager said afterwards. "They were passing better and bossing the game first half. I told them we had to go out and pass the ball better after the break. The sign of a good, honest team like ourselves is that we came here and dug out a result." For the hapless Venus, it was the second successive season that he had put through his own goal against the same opposition. At least in the last meeting he was good enough to level matters by scoring at the right end too, and should have done here with an early header which he could only aim weakly at Nigel Martyn. Had he done so Ipswich might have been beyond reach by half-time, and how they needed a result yesterday.
"We needed a second goal to finish them off," a disappointed Ipswich manager, George Burley, admitted. "But all credit to Leeds, they battled back well." The proliferation of furry Cossack hats sported by Ipswich supporters as spoils from the midweek Uefa Cup trip to Moscow were indicative of the Suffolk club's broadening horizons. But with only a solitary victory, at home to Derby, in the Premiership, it was on the domestic front that Burley's side badly needed to refocus their attentions. He responded by recalling Jermaine Wright in place of Jamie Clapham but otherwise kept faith with the side which beat Torpedo. For the visitors, Eirik Bakke was preferred in midfield to Olivier Dacourt.
Buoyed by a rapturous ovation from their fans, the home side set about their task with some conviction and signalled their intentions after 13 minutes when Marcus Stewart controlled the ball expertly in a crowded penalty area and curled a right-foot shot goal-bound. The effort had the beating of Martyn but rebounded agonisingly off the upright and back into the arms of the Leeds goalkeeper.
The incident at least served to stir Leeds, hitherto dormant, into some semblance of life and the Ipswich goalkeeper, Matteo Sereni, was forced to beat away a fierce goalbound shot from Robbie Keane. But it was no surprise when the home side deservedly took the lead on 22 minutes when Venus's outswinging free-kick from the left eluded everybody in front of goal except for Stewart, who darted in to glance the ball low beyond Martyn.
If the visitors had been stung by the breaching of their famously tight defence it was not immediately evident and the half continued in much the same pattern, Ipswich controlling the play with their slick passing and Leeds limited to occasional forays forward which frequently fell foul of the offside trap.
Towards the interval, though, O'Leary's side did begin to find their feet on the slippery surface, and might have equalised when Bakke's persistence on the right of the penalty area led to Keane supplying Kewell in acres of space on the left. The Australian shot low and hard, but Sereni again proved himself equal to the challenge by dropping to his right to make the block.
Leeds came out with increased purpose and Lee Bowyer, on a mazy run, almost wormed his way through, only for Mark Viduka, having a slow game even by his own recent cumbersome standards, to stray offside.
Even so, the game was opening up nicely, with Leeds riding their luck at one end whilst hoping for some at the other. Viduka's goalbound shot cannoned off his striking partner Keane while Alun Armstrong directed a cross from Jermaine Wright just wide. Wright's volley was then blocked on the line by Bowyer and, almost immediately at the other end, Keane raced clear, only to see his effort superbly blocked by Sereni.
It was Kewell, though, who was becoming the game's pivotal figure with his powerful, incisive running and with 20 minutes left it was he who finally unlocked the Ipswich defence, threading a sublime pass through the middle to send Keane scampering clear again. This time the Republic of Ireland striker did not miss. "It was a good ball in," O'Leary said later, "although I was shouting at Harry not to pass it. It just shows what I know." For a while the game seemed destined for stalemate until Kewell, cutting in from the left, slid the ball across goal and beyond Sereni. Viduka was waiting at the far post but Venus spared him the effort. "He played alright," was O'Leary's assessment of Kewell's contribution. Heaven help the Premiership when he reaches full throttle.
Goals: Stewart (22) 1-0; Keane (70) 1-1; Venus og (85) 1-2.
Ipswich Town (4-4-2): Sereni 8; Makin 6 (Wilnis, 87), McGreal 7, Venus 7, Hreidarsson 5; George 6 (Clapham 72, 5), Magilton 7, Holland 5, Wright 6 (Counago, 86); Armstrong 6, Stewart 8. Substitutes not used: Naylor, Branagan (gk).
Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn 5; Mills 6, Matteo 7, Ferdinand 7, Harte 4; Bowyer 6, Batty 6, Bakke 5, Kewell 8; Keane 7, Viduka 3. Substitutes not used: Kelly, Dacourt, Woodgate, Wilcox, Robinson (gk).
Referee: A D'Urso (Billericay) 7.
Booking: Leeds: Mills.
Man of the match: Kewell.
Attendance: 22, 644.
Copy from Yorkshire Evening Post of 01/10/2001.
LEEDS boss David O'Leary hailed the commitment and patience of his team after watching them climb back to the top of the Premiership, But then promised: "The best is yet to come."
United are now unbeaten in seven league matches and lead the way with a remarkable 17 points from a possible 21. But while he is proud to see the Whites sitting on top of the pile, O'Leary still believes they have yet to find their true form.
The results so far this season have been quite brilliant with the only dropped points coming in the 0-0 draws with West Ham and Bolton.
However, even O'Leary admits that the performances themselves have been a far cry from the exciting, free-flowing game he himself has established at Elland Road in recent years.
Yesterday's performance was typical for the season so far as United absobed a lot of pressure before putting in a late show to win the game with their superior fitness and quality.
It also showed that O'Leary is not afraid to experiment as he introduced a new attacking system for the second half which saw the full backs push up and the two wide midfielders almost take on the role of wingers.
Bold it might have been, but it worked against an Ipswich side who rarely allow teams to escape Portman Road with all three points.
Town may feel aggreived that they did not come out of the match without a point after Marcus Stewart had given them a first half lead, but United were always in the hunt and had plenty of chances before Robbie Keane and a Mark Venus own goal gifted them the victory.
It was a bizarre twist that Venus should score the winner for Leeds exactly after his own goal in the corresponding fixture last season.
"It was a good win for us," said O'Leary. "However, we can play better, although I suppose people are fed up with hearing that.
"I felt that throughout the game we were creating chances, even though we did give a poor goal away. If you look at the stats we had the most chances - the most shots on goal.
"I always felt that if we kept probing then we would get the goal. I told them at half-time that we would get something if we improved the passing. The way Ipswich were playing the off-side was borderline and we thought we had a chance of breaking through."
However was not happy with the goal that United gave away.
"To be fair at one stage Ipswich were bossing the game," he said. "They took their goal well although it was sloppy on our part because we gave away a silly free-kick and then did not defend it well. We then had a few chances and their keeper has made a few decent saves.
"I felt at half-time we had a chance if we passed better and too be fair to them nobody hid from the ball and we kept playing it about and creating chances.
"With Keane and Kewell looking lively I always felt that we would get in against their backline although I felt we were a little indecisive at the back, we did some nervy things there.
"However, the sign of a good, honest team is that they can dig out a result when they are not playing well, and we did that today at a difficult place to come. We know there is better to come from our boys."
It was certainly a test for United as the home team came out with all gun blazing in the opening 45 minutes.
Their set game plan of bombarding the United penalty area with high balls and deep crosses seemed to unsettle United's defence and only the calm head of skipper Rio Ferdinand ensured the Tractor Boys did not get off to a flier.
Ipswich still created chances though as first Alun Armstrong guided a free header straight at Nigel Martyn and then Marcus Stewart curled an effort past the stranded keeper only to see the ball rebound back off the post and into his arms.
United took their time to settle but Keane had looked dangerous from the very first whistle. He almost scored in the 16th minute when a long Martyn kick was flicked into his path and he raced away from two defenders before firing a powerful low strike goalwards, but Matt Sereni did well to palm it around the post low to his right.
The goal that Ipswich had been threatening came in the 21st minute as Venus delivered a curling free-kick from the left which was met by the glancing head of Stewart.
If anything it provided the visitors with something of a wake-up call as Bowyer then tested Sereni and Keane lashed a shot wide on the turn.
Five minutes before the break and United again had a glorious chance to level matters as Bakke and Keane worked together to set up Kewell on the left but the Aussie's left foot strike was blocked by Sereni's legs.
The second half continued much the same as the first with both sides creating chances, but Ipswich possibly looking the most likely to score. Ian Harte did head over from a Kewell corner but then the home side had three glorious chances to increase their lead.
Irish international Jim Magilton crashed a shot high over the bar and then Armstrong saw a good downward header bounce wide of the post before African Finidi George attempted a cute chip that had Martyn scampering back.
But as the match wore on the gaps started to appear in the home defence and United's attacking formation started to pay dividends.
Keane was the dangerman as his pace and astute running gave the Ipswich defence nighmares. He should have scored in the 68th minute as Mills played him in on goal but again Sereni blocked with his legs.
However, a minute later he did find the net as United finally found their way through the defence and the off-side trap. It needed something special from Kewell however to pierce the Ipswich armour and his deft cushioned-volley pass fell perfectly for Keane who drew Seremi before slotting the ball into the corner.
The customary cartwheel followed but, sensing victory, United did not stop there - even if it did take a large slice of luck for them to get the winner.
Chris Makin failed to deal with a long ball, his poor header fell to Kewell who only had eyes for the goal. He cut inside and fired over a low cross toward Mark Viduka but Venus cut it out but could only divert it into his own net.
With a break for international matches next week O'Leary can enjoy the break knowing that he is king of the Premiership castle. His belief, however, that United are still not playing at their very best, will no doubt give many a Premiership manager sleepless nights.