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It's amazing the spin television highlights can put on a football match. A disjointed, uninspired performance from a team lacking in cohesion looked like a worthy win on tonight's highlights. In truth Leeds were abysmal, unable to string together more than two passes for most of the game. With just two midfielders again, the side was rediculously imbalanced; the most frustrating part of which was that there were two left wingers on the bench who could have replaced Smith, giving three proper midfileders and a right back with some recent success on the right wing. Instead, we had a right back in central midfield with Batts, a striker on the right wing and a central midfielder/right winger on the left. Madness, and possibly little wonder the game was so awful.
Southampton passed, harried, tackled and created better than Leeds and looked more like a team rather than a rag tag bunch of individuals not knowing what each were doing or what they were supposed to do.
The game strated badly, Batty backpassing to a Southampton player within the first couple of minutes, the resultant shot flashing wide. Later, a Southampton player created space with a neat shimmy on the edge of the box only to fire high and wide. A shot from the edge of the area parried wide by Nige. It was all Southampton.
Leeds created two chances of note, one a neat twist and turn by Smith after a corner, shot well smothered by Paul Jones and the other a disallowed goal by Bowyer who was (incorrectly it turns out after seeing it on TV) given offside. Typical fcukwit linesman.
Leeds looked slightly better in the last few minutes of the first half, but come the second half were just as woeful. The odd half chance being created, Fowler having a couple of shots on goal. As time trickled away a nil nil looked more and more likely. The game shouted out for a change from Leeds.
Now, I hate to complain about O'Leary. He's taken our club on to a different level. Rather than buying second rate Dutch forwards, we have a proven, English international forward; rather than buying Sheffield Wednesday, old fashioned blocking centre halves, we buy a high quality, world's most expensive, England international centre half
However, there's a but coming on. How the hell can O'Leary not see today's game being a disasterously bad performance and not have a go at changing things? For crying out loud, we had an England internation winger on the bench who could have come on and made a real difference to the whole balance of the team, but there was no chance of that ever happening. We could all see it, why could someone with thirty odd years' experience in the game not see it?
As it turns out, Lee Bowyer played our get out of jail free card with a minute to go. Rushing through on to Pieman's pin point pass and sliding the ball under Jones to cause delerious celebrations among the away supporters.
Southampton: nice enough ground, very noisy supporters, free buses (with friendly bus drivers) to and from the vistors' car park .
Tough month coming up, if we play like today, we'll be in sixth place by the end of January.
Copy from Football Unlimited of 24/12/2001.
English football needed a big, diverting result from here on Saturday. Thanks to Newcastle United it got one. When Nolberto Solano ran clear in the last minute to steer the ball into the far corner to make it 3-4, it did not feel absurd to suggest that the trumpet-playing Peruvian struck a chord around the country that he can never have hoped would be heard so widely.
Yet for some even that proved insufficient distraction. Afterwards we were immediately carted back to violence and Leeds United. That is where we, and Leeds, are now stuck on top of a most unpleasant bandwagon.
It would be great, for football's sake, to get off it, to reclaim the game. But, even though Newcastle staged a fantastic comeback from 3-1 down after 56 minutes, the post-match debate was dominated by Mark Viduka's twin strike on Nikos Dabizas.
Copy from The Independent of 22/12/2001.
Newcastle and Leeds started the day top of the table and under the table respectively. At least, according to public perception. But such were the passionate performance of both teams and the individual panache on display here that, at least for 90 minutes, all debate concerning street assaults and drunken rampaging was silenced. In brief, the vision, passing and splendid goalscoring, though not the defending, was a welcome antidote to the poison that has afflicted football all week.
As for the bête noire himself, Lee Bowyer - the man whose behaviour 22 months ago and his response to it in the last week have provoked a national debate on the lifestyle of the professional footballer - returned looking not the least bit chastened. Instead, he was the ferret in pursuit of the ball and the hare when presented with it, most notably when scoring Leeds' second goal, as he quickly confirmed that recent experiences had done nothing to impair his footballing talent.
Bowyer returned to the side after paying his four-week club fine, and having recovered from his handcuff - sorry, hamstring - problem, which had cost him nine matches. The referee, Jeff Winter, who had dismissed him at Arsenal earlier this season, curiously made the point of shaking hands with him before the kick-off. That was unpredictable. Otherwise, the reaction to the Leeds midfielder was entirely what one might have anticipated - choruses of "You're supposed to be in jail" from the Newcastle contingent; cries of adoration from the home supporters.
"I thought Lee did very well," said his manager, David O'Leary. "He tired in the last 15 minutes, but the goal he scored was a typical Lee Bowyer effort."
Yet what can you say about Bowyer's team? As they had done on Wednesday night, when allowing Everton almost to recover from being 3-0 down, O'Leary's men teased and then ultimately disappointed their fans mercilessly. They were 3-1 ahead and easing to victory. But Newcastle were unimpressed. They fought back tenaciously to equalise, and then in the final minute Nolberto Solano struck a fine winner to ensure that Bobby Robson's team reclaimed the leadership. Not thatRobson is making predictions quite yet. "The message to all my players is, 'Keep your trap shut, keep your feet on the ground, beaver away and let's see what happens'."
He added: "It's been a sensational week, nine points from three games, and each game we've been behind. There is a good work ethic from the players, good motivation and personal ambition to do well."
Kieron Dyer, who played his first full game since returning from a serious injury, was as determined as Bowyer to enforce his claim to a place in Sven Goran Eriksson's next England squad. His first-half performance, in which he contributed to Newcastle's goal, will have done that purpose no harm.
He made a major contribution to the opening goal, fashioned by England old and new and finished by Welsh wizardry. Alan Shearer instigated the move with an astute pass to Dyer down the right, and his low cross was precisely placed for Bellamy to convert the chance with aplomb.
Newcastle's celebrations were overdone, though. While they were still mentally completing them, Mark Viduka despatched a through-ball which invited that man Bowyer to race clear. He duly brought the crowd at the Elland Road end to its feet by pushing the ball through the goalkeeper Shay Given's legs.
Just before the interval, Viduka, who had already been spoken to by Mr Winter for a blow in the face of Nikos Dabizas which broke the Newcastle man's nose - a challenge presumably adjudged to be careless rather than reckless - felled the same player with a high tackle which made contact with his knee. This time he was cautioned as Dabizas was removed on a stretcher, clearly in some pain.
Harry Kewell departed with a sore back and was replaced by Eirik Bakke early in the second half, but it did nothing to destroy Leeds' rhythm. Seth Johnson laid the ball off to Viduka who had his back to goal. With a majestic turn, to which his marker, Andy O'Brien, had no answer, the striker curved the ball around Given. Robson later contended that the striker should not have been on the field had Mr Winter reacted more appropriately to Viduka's assault on Dabizas.
"He should have been dismissed," said the Newcastle manager, who reported that the Greek had a large swelling around his knee. "It was two violent offences and all he got was one yellow card." O'Leary disagreed. "I can't believe Bobby. He's right out of order," said the Leeds manager. "Mark Viduka is a footballing centre-forward. I don't think he meant what happened."
All arguments were to prove irrelevant even though, minutes later, the visitors were again undone. A Bowyer mis-kick fell to Ian Harte and, from outside the area, the full-back struck the ball past Given with exemplary power and accuracy. But was that game over? Far from it.
It was the industrious Dyer who cut in and drove fiercely across goal. Martyn could only palm the ball away, and Robbie Elliott headed home his first goal of the season. Then, as they had on Tuesday night at Highbury, Newcastle again benefited from a doubtful penalty decision when Bakke was adjudged to have handled. The contact looked ball-to-hand and unintentional, but Mr Winter was unmoved. Shearer was as clinical as ever when he drove home the spot-kick.
In the closing minutes the substitute Sylvain Distin and Bellamy both came close, and it was the latter who, in the final minute, slipped the ball through for Solano to out- pace Harte before placing the ball wide of Martyn.
The championship still looks a long way off. But you fancy there's a new glint in one venerable manager's eye.
Copy from Football Unlimited of 23/12/2001.
Lee Bowyer a goal in his first game for eight weeks, but mercifully it was Bobby Robson's spirited Newcastle United who stole the headlines, coming back from 3-1 down to win the game in injury time and stay on top of the table.
Had Bowyer helped Leeds United overtake them at a snowy Elland Road it would have been just like a fairy tale. Grimm. The snowy-haired 68- year-old manager makes a much more wholesome Christmas story, and Leeds have the whole of the New Year to give us all a break by returning to their core activity of playing football.
Elland Road was only about one-quarter full when Bowyer ran out to join the pre-match warm up, but from the affectionate cheer which greeted his appearance this was clearly a moment fans had been awaiting. That would be because, unlike sections of the London press and the Najeib family, they recognise that Bowyer has had an uncomfortable two years, has been found innocent by a jury of his peers, and was effectively fined £1m by the trial judge.