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Another Sunday, another Leeds match. A short drive up the M61 found us in Blackburn parking in the school grounds along with, seemingly, the rest of the Leeds fans braving a cold Lancashire morning.
I caught sight of a bent double old woman with sprigs of heather trying to sell lucky charms to Blackburn fans; when they refused to buy any I wondered how she'd wreak revenge. We were soon to find out...
Ewood Park's a strange looking ground, three modern stands and one tin pot stand and the biggest fcuk off telly you've seen in your life in one corner that showed highlights throughout the game and at half time.
Before the game it flashed up the team and answered the question we'd been debating - who would play right side midfield? Not Keane, but Kelly - an experiment tried many times before that had never worked, I wasn't filled with confidence. How wrong I was.
It was a cracking game, Leeds fans were noisy as we'd been for a few games, Blackburn knocking the ball around with some pretty football. Gillepsie skinning Harte (we knew this would happen) and Duff skinning Mills - back in his customary right back position - which was more of a surprise. Not many people beat DMIFB for pace. Although Harte was beaten for pace by Gillespie he made quite a few excellent tackles and was rarely found out of position. His arse was to save us early in the second half.
The first heartstopping moment of the game for us came early on with Jansen heading a cross past Nige that seemed destined for the back of then net - somehow the ball hit the post and rolled along the line, with Duberry staying cool enough to let the ball return and then hoof it away.
A few half chances at both ends and then a spate of bookings from Andy D'Urso who again showed us we're in pantomime season. Harte booked for a pretty inane chanllenge on Gillespie (who was more annoyed about not being given advantage), Kelly booked for the mildest of fouls and then Mills booked when Duff seemed to fall over. We kindly informed Mr D'Urso he wasn't fit to referee - I'm sure he knew that though. Then Batty was booked, but he desrved that, pretty typical Batts challenge.
Viduka ended the half bringing two saves out of Freidel, one after a quick free kick by DMIFB to roll the ball into the area to bring Viduka in on a one on one with Friedel. Outcome? You don't need to ask. Then, after a neat head back by Kewell from Fowler's cross, Pieman's header was brilliantly saved by the big, bald Septic.
Half time saw the bent double old lady grinning as she seemed to make strange signs first at Nige's first half goal and then at his second half goal...
Second half and Blackburn came out like dervishes - attack after attack on Leeds' goal, it seemed only a matter of time 'til Blackburn would score. First a tantalising cross had Nige *just* divert the ball away from one Blackburn forward for it to find Gillespie in front of the net, goal gaping at his mercy. Harte flung himself in front of Gillespie's shot to brilliantly preserve parity. Then Tugay battered the ball against the crossbar - again the woodwork saved us. There was no way we were going to hang on surely - Blackburn were all over us.
Then, rolling back the years, Kelly won the ball well inside the Leeds half and went scuttling off down the wing, holding off Craig Short and crossing the ball for the unbalanced Fowler, he managed to get a shot in with enough power to stop Freidel from doing anything but parry it out to Kewell, who popped in an empty net.
Minutes later, Kelly again marauding down the right flank with time and space looked up, saw Kewell, picked him out with a beaty of a cross and Kewell powered the header home. It was wonderful to hear everyone singing "There's only one Gary Kelly" far louder than lauding Kewell's efforts.
Seconds later, Blackburn had yet another attack, a brilliant slide pass to Grabbi, just on as a sub to fire just wide one on one from inside the area. Dave turned to me and said "I cannot believe we are 2-0 up." I looked at the old woman with the heather and drew my own conclusions.
In the build up to the second goal, Ollie had been injured and although Wilcox came on, tackled hard and ran hard, we seemed to lose control of the game at this point. Eventually some bastard from Blackburn bought some of the old woman's heather, and as she lifted the charm from the Leeds goal, Lemming Berg stabbed home the zillionth Blackburn cross of the game.
This precipitated ten minutes of anxiety not experienced since the Arse game at the start of the season. Fortunately we held out and only collected one more booking when Fowler, clearly fowled, was booked for diving. Is there some sort of conspiracy going on here?
The only cloud on Sunday's horizon, Thierry bleedin' Henry's injury time winner at Highbury.
Copy from Football Unlimited of 10/12/2001.
In the queue of rubber-neckers peering down the Premiership table at Manchester United no one will relish what they see more than Leeds, but the time surely arrived yesterday for them to forget about Old Trafford and turn their attentions to Liverpool.
After an absorbing trans-Pennine encounter David O'Leary's hugely efficient team closed their gap on the Premiership's pacesetters to four points courtesy of Harry Kewell's talent for popping up with goals from midfield and Blackburn's apparent failure to tell the difference between a barn door and a football net.
Had Graeme Souness's profligate side taken a better percentage of their chances it is a safe bet the Christmas party staged in a huge marquee besides Elland Road last night would have had the atmosphere of a wake.
Copy from The Independent of 09/12/2001.
David O'Leary's insistence that Harry Kewell needed to build on his wondrous solo goal against Swiss opposition elicited the desired response from the Australian yesterday as Leeds, with generous assistance from the woodwork, squeezed past Blackburn in a rousing Roses match at Ewood Park.
Kewell demonstrated his capacity to claim more mundane goals than Thursday's effort against Grasshopper Zurich by striking twice in eight minutes early in the second half. Leeds looked set for a routine win, but an injury to Olivier Dacourt left them exposed in midfield and Henning Berg's riposte provoked fierce late pressure by Blackburn.
It came to nothing, which meant Leeds closed the gap on the Premiership leaders, Liverpool, to four points, having played a game more. They now face three matches in eight days at Elland Road, against Leicester, Everton and Newcastle, but will do so without another key player. With eight first-choice players already on the treatment table, Alan Smith suspended for a further two matches and the verdict expected this week in the trial of Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate, the dislocated shoulder sustained by Dacourt in what O'Leary described as a "shocking tackle" by Tugay Kerimoglu was a severe blow to Leeds.
The Frenchman will be absent for up to six weeks, and while Seth Johnson can deputise after completing a one-match ban yesterday, their challenge is in danger of being undermined by insufficient squad depth.
In the circumstances, Leeds could do with improving their discipline. They incurred another five yellow cards here, one of which, shown to Danny Mills, puts him out of the Boxing Day visit to Bolton. Not that it takes much to stretch the patience of the Essex referee, Andy D'Urso, to its limit, as Alan Shearer learned a week earlier.
Mr D'Urso later rescinded Shearer's red card, and O'Leary called on him to admit his mistake in cautioning Robbie Fowler . The £11m striker, who showed enhanced sharpness in every respect bar the vital one of finishing, was deemed to have dived when challenged by Berg in the Blackburn area. The Leeds manager, having seen the video replay, hoped D'Urso would be "brave enough to change his mind".
Graeme Souness, the Blackburn manager, claimed his team had "bossed the match" apart from two brief spells. This was overstating the case, for between the header Matt Jansen sent against an upright from Keith Gillespie's cross in the 13th minute and the 18-yard drive which rattled the underside of the visitors' bar five minutes after the break, Nigel Martyn did not make a save.
Ian Harte made one for him, mind you, two minutes before Tugay's effort, clearing off the line when Gillespie seemed certain to score. While Harte otherwise endured a torrid afternoon against the winger, his sometime Republic of Ireland full-back partner, Gary Kelly, made the most of his chance as Bowyer's replacement.
Kelly, edged out at right-back by Danny Mills, has hinted at leaving Leeds to further his World Cup ambitions. Happily for Kewell, he is still putting his considerable lung power and pace at their disposal.
Picking the ball up inside his own half after 55 minutes, when Leeds were struggling to resist Blackburn, Kelly left Craig Short in his wake before cutting the ball back. Fowler, for once, made a positive connection, forcing Brad Friedel to spill the ball.
Before Blackburn could ponder the irony of Friedel's fumble - he had made a stunning one-handed save to keep out Mark Viduka's 43rd-minute header after a slick move involving Kewell and Fowler - Kewell poked in the loose ball. Soon afterwards, Kelly again surged down the right. This time Kewell met his centre with a stooping far-post header - his ninth goal and a perfect response to O'Leary's advice that he had to produce more.
Dacourt, hurt in the build-up, departed in discomfort. However, Leeds, marshalled by Rio Ferdinand, looked to have weathered the storm until Berg lunged at Corrado Grabbi's low cross a split second before Martyn dived for it. Blackburn laid siege to Martyn's goal, but Leeds held firm. "No one can accuse us of under-achieving because we're getting everything we can out of this squad," said O'Leary.
Goals: Kewell (55) 0-1; Kewell (63) 0-2; Berg (83) 1-2.
Blackburn Rovers (4-4-1-1): Friedel 7; Curtis 5 (Grabbi 5, 62), Berg 6, Short 5 (Johansson 5, 62), Neill 6; Gillespie 7, Tugay 7, Mahon 6, Duff 7; Dunn 7; Jansen 6. Substitutes not used: Hughes, Ostenstad, A Kelly (gk).
Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn 6; Mills 6, Duberry 5, Ferdinand 7, Harte 4; G Kelly 7, Batty 8, Dacourt 6 (Wilcox 5, 66), Kewell 6; Fowler 6, Viduka 6. Substitutes not used: Keane, McMaster, Richardson, Robinson (gk).
Referee: A D'Urso (Billericay) 4.
Bookings: Blackburn Rovers: Short, Tugay; Leeds United: Harte, G Kelly, Mills, Batty, Fowler.
Man of the match: Batty.
Copy from Yorkshire Evening Post of 10/12/2001.
THERE was a sense of early Christmas cheer around Elland Road last night as the players and staff enjoyed their festive party safe in the knowledge that the Premiership campaign remains well on course.
And nobody could begrudge the players a glass of bubbly or two after pulling off a real hard-working victory against a tricky Blackburn outfit.
Hero of the hour was Aussie winger Harry Kewell who bagged his eighth and ninth goals of the campaign to give the Whites only their second win in eight games and keep up the pressure on leaders Liverpool.
But, in truth, there were quality performances all over the pitch with David Batty outstanding in midfield and Rio Ferdinand a class above in defence.
The only downside to the proceedings - apart from the late goal from Henning Berg that made things a little edgy - was the horrible injury to Olivier Dacourt who went down awkwardly under a challenge from Tugay and dislocated his shoulder.
With eight players currently unavailable through an assortment of knocks and strains the fear is that last season's injury crisis is about to be surpassed.
Add to that the fact that Alan Smith and Seth Johnson were both suspended for this match and you realise that this was indeed a very special victory.
United can now look forward to three home games on the trot this side of Christmas, against Leicester, Everton and Newcastle. Nine points from those would certainly see them in good shape come Santa's big day and have the Merseyside Reds looking anxiously over their shoulders.
"We now have three games coming up at Elland Road which won't be easy, but just imagine if we took nine points in a week, and just think where that would take us in this league? It would be fantastic," mused O'Leary.
"I was delighted with this victory. All the players answered my call because the one thing I felt we haven't been doing is working hard enough this season.
"We were good on the ball, but we showed a lot more hunger to get it back when we didn't have it. I thought we had some great chances in the first half. Their keeper made brilliant saves, but we scored twice after the break and could have had more."
Once again the shortage of options meant O'Leary had to switch players from their accustomed positions - Gary Kelly pushing up into midfield on the right hand side with Lee Bowyer, Eirik Bakke and Smith unavailable.
Danny Mills moved out to right back after two games covering in the middle and Michael Duberry was given his first league start of the season alongside Rio Ferdinand.
New signing Robbie Fowler was given his second outing in a Leeds shirt up front alongside Mark Viduka, hoping to feed off the work of Olivier Dacourt, David Batty and Harry Kewell in midfield.
They started like they have not started a game before this season - with pace, vigour and a real energy that Blackburn simply could not cope with.
Dacourt and Batty were at the heart of everything, driving Leeds forward.
The Frenchman could have had two goals within the opening five minutes - shooting wide of the mark within the opening 60 seconds and then seeing a wonderful curling free-kick tipped away by American keeper Brad Friedel.
Friedel was called into action again before the tenth minute had passed, this time diving low to his right to hold onto a Viduka shot.
The fact that United did not score in their early onslaught gave the home side some encouragement, especially wingers Damien Duff and Keith Gillespie.
Gillespie in particular started to terrorise the Leeds defence and really gave Ian Harte a torrid first half, but the Republic of Ireland international recovered well in the second period to limit the danger from his Northern Irish opponent.
Jansen was first to benefit from Gillespie's work but the highly-rated striker's header back across goal was cleared after rebounding into play off a post.
It was a warning to United that the side which had already drawn against Manchester United and Liverpool this season were not going to be pushovers.
However, the visitors were producing some of their best attacking football this season and giving the Rovers defence a thorough examination.
Friedel, however, was proving an almost immovable object as Viduka first linked well with Dacourt and Fowler before seeing his shot blocked and then picked up a quick Mills free-kick before seeing the American save with his legs.
He completed a frustrating hat-trick on the stroke of half-time as Fowler got to the goalline, crossed to the far post for Kewell to head back and Viduka nodded the ball goalwards. It was almost over the line when Friedel changed direction in mid-air to brilliantly palm the ball away.
If United had the better chances in the first half then it was Blackburn who could feel a touch unlucky not to be ahead soon after the break.
A low cross from Lucas Neil was heading for Jansen until it was palmed away by Martyn. It fell to the feet of Gillespie at the far post who shot at the open goal only to find Harte had dived across to block it.
Minutes later and Dacourt dallied over a clearance to let in Tugay, but the former Rangers man hit his effort from the edge of the box with so much power it flew too high and crashed back down off the bar.
The home crowd sensed glory, but within five minutes they were behind to a classic breakaway goal.
Batty won a typical tackle in midfield and set the ever-willing Kelly away down the right wing. He pulled the ball back to Fowler whose shot was fumbled by Friedel and Kewell was on hand to lift the ball into the net.
Dacourt then went close again with a left foot curler but United's second goal was not long in coming, and once again it was makeshift winger Kelly who provided it.
Dacourt was fouled by Tugay and fell clutching his shoulder, but Batty played on and set Kelly away again down the flank. He had a little more time to weigh up his options and produced a wonderful cross to the far post where Kewell stooped to head the ball past Friedel from six yards.
The man who last week warned he could be forced to leave the club to ensure his World Cup ambitions had produced two wonderful crosses to provide the man who really should be able to grace the greatest tournament on earth with his talent with two goals.
Dacourt was replaced by former Blackburn favourite Jason Wilcox and just to make it interesting the home side scored a goal through Henning Berg, poking home from three yards, to set up a real nail-biting finish.
But United held on and ensured that the champagne at last night's bash didn't go flat.