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Just what you need on Boxing Day morning a noon kick-off a couple of hundred miles away. There was so little happening as I got up that I could see the CCTV camera following me up and down the road as I walked up and down trying to keep warm waiting for my lift. Luckily the total lack of traffic meant it only took 3 hours to get to Bolton to find the left hand side of our team from Saturday (Harte, Johnson and Kewell) were all absent.
The starting X1 were;
Somewhat predictably the Leeds fans sang Bowyer and Woodgate's names before any others prior to KO. Before we could even work out who was playing where in midfield, Bakke had limped off to be replaced by Wilcox, with Smith playing on the right. Seconds later a seemingly innocuous lob over the Bolton defence found Fowler free and he had time to wait for the ball to drop before firing us 1 up. A cracking start (not the first time at Bolton) but before we could enjoy it too much, we found ourselves under a fair amount of pressure at the back. We seemed totally unable to get control of the ball and the ball flew across our box at regular intervals, both Woody and Kells responsible for crucial blocks / clearances.
Just as a goal looked inevitable it came, luckily enough to us. Viduka repeated the lob over the top tactic and Fowler got his second. When Bowyer narrowly failed to make contact with a cross-shot the linesman on the right was getting some serious stick from the Bolton fans. We happily celebrated the goal until the reality of a two goal lead set in and we got scared. Despite being two up we still weren't really dominating the game. We held possession better but were largely passing it around without posing any great threat and Rio and Woody were still being kept busy at the back, though Martyn only really had to make saves from a couple of long range shots.
Just before half-time Matteo limped off as well and so we got to spend the break eating Maggie's chocolate orange and debating the chances of holding onto a two-goal lead with nephew at the back. Oh yeh and jumping up and down trying to keep warm. Harte's opening 20 minutes of the second half proved to probably the worst spell by any Leeds player I've seen since the days of Nigel Worthington. A mishit backpass gave Nolan a chance to test Martyn, then a missed header nearly let them in again. As passes went straight to opposition players and balls bounced of his shin, it was hard not to feel sorry for him, as he was obviously trying hard just woefully short of confidence.
However, generally we were controlling the game better, Rio marshalling the defence and Batts the midfield. The clearer chances were still coming our way, although Robbie still seemed to lack the pace to get on the end of a couple of promising breaks. The closest we came was when Viduka cut inside and smashed a shot against the keeper, then Wilcox hit the post and the ball bounced back and ricocheted over the bar off Smith before he had time to react.
The boys pen to our right, who were far noisier than a largely subdued (hungover ?) Leeds contingent greeted one misplaced pass from Robbie with "What a waste of money". We responded with "He's Only got 2 goals" and when Bowyer fell over Diawara's leg for a clear penalty the chant of "Robbie, Robbie" went up almost immediately. A forlorn Harte handed over the ball and Robbie strode up and scuffed his penalty past the post. The Bolton fans laughed, then realised they were still 2-0 down and went home. Bolton did give us some jitters by attacking a bit more but a couple of chances were blazed high and wide.
Still time for Robbie to get played in again and a gorgeous dummy beat the last defender but he seemed to lack the energy to run in on goal and lifted the shot high and wide from outside the area. A final chance at the end, Smith won a 'robust' tackle and played Fowler into acres of space, he avoided the on-rushing keeper and dithered a bit more before tapping into the empty net. "What a Waste of Money" we chanted to the empty seats where the Bolton fans had been.
So a 3-0 away win, but we really didn't play that well. Looked shaky in the first half and only really looked good in fits and starts. The injury count is mounting again, we only had Duberry and McPhail left on the bench when Viduka was limping in the second half.
Snowing heavily by the time we got out of the car park, shame all our rivals won as our minibus rattled down the A1, engulfed in a cloud of Xmas turkey farts.
Copy from Football Unlimited of 27/12/2001.
Robbie Fowler supplied the Christmas punch that brought Leeds United some welcome festive cheer with a hat-trick in only his sixth game for the club since joining from Liverpool for £11m.
Fowler walked off proudly clutching the match ball but he could have been celebrating an extra goal had he put away a penalty in the 82nd minute. Not that his manager David O'Leary was about to dwell on his striker's shortcomings after Leeds had put their title challenge back on course following their surprising home defeat by Newcastle at the weekend.
"He's as good as anything you get in this country," said O'Leary. "The price we paid was excellent because he's young, he can only get better and he'll score for many years to come."
Copy from The Independent of 26/12/2001.
Faith, hope and charity all made seasonal appearances at the Reebok Stadium yesterday although it was Robbie Fowler, with the first hat-trick of his Leeds career, who stole the show and the points.
That the prolific striker also missed a woefully executed penalty was of little more than fleeting consequence to David O'Leary, who saw his side consolidate their place amongst the title-chasing pack. "The penalty was rubbish," the Leeds manager said of the late spot-kick that Fowler dragged wide six minutes from time. "Robbie felt he should hit it to the right then changed his mind and totally messed it up."
O'Leary spent considerably longer pondering on what he hopes will be a glorious future for Fowler, who has now scored five times since his £11m transfer from Liverpool at the start of the month, including yesterday's treble. That was his second league hat-trick of the season after netting three for Liverpool at Leicester in October.
"I think what we've paid for Robbie Fowler is excellent business," said O'Leary, happy that his faith in a sometimes temperamental talent seems to be paying off. "Consider his age, and what he will give you for many years, and that shows what a good deal it is. Robbie is an intelligent footballer and a great goalscorer. I am sure he'll score goals for us for many years to come."
Fowler was not the only player singled out for praise, although another recipient, Jonathan Woodgate, must surely thank the munificence of his club, rather than his mere on-pitch work, for the fact that he is even in a position to receive any. The defender, found guilty of affray earlier this month in relation to a vicious attack on a student last year, was given his first start of season.
"It was a good, solid centre-half performance," O'Leary said, adding that Woodgate's partnership with Rio Ferdinand had the potential to become one of the best defensive pairings in the country. Woodgate and his fellow defendant in the Hull Crown Court trial, Lee Bowyer, are both reported to have been offered new contracts by Leeds, demonstrating that Leeds' goodwill to the pair extends beyond words.
Leeds showed little goodwill to Bolton aside from Fowler's penalty miss. The first goal arrived in the second minute after some neat interplay between Alan Smith and David Batty. Fowler made space with a decent run to capitalise and tucked the ball into the corner beyond the reach of Jussi Jaaskelainen.
The visitors were forced into an early personnel change a few minutes later, Jason Wilcox replacing the injured Eirik Bakke, who took an early knock, but the momentum was not unduly disrupted. Fowler added his second shortly after the quarter hour after latching on to another decent feed, this time from Mark Viduka.
Bolton, who went into the game with just one point from their previous four games and desperately in need of some confidence to halt their slide, tried to stabilise by pushing forward in numbers. Unfortunately for them, they found Leeds solid at the back, not least Nigel Martyn. Paul Warhurst tried one effort from 30 yards but Martyn reacted superbly to tip his shot over. He was called into action again shortly afterwards to deal with a shot from Ricardo Gardner and turned it wide.
Despite these chances, Leeds were looking comfortable. Viduka shot narrowly wide in the second half and Wilcox also went close by hitting the post. Fowler then let slip a chance of sealing his hat-trick from the spot after Bowyer was tripped in the box. He made amends two minutes from time, producing another smooth finish after a pass from Smith.
Bolton were industrious throughout, but without being threatening. "Two pieces of rank bad defending caused our downfall," was the appraisal of their manager, Sam Allardyce, afterwards. "We've got to stop shipping goals."
Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Jaaskelainen 6; Charlton 5, Whitlow 5, Diawara 3, Barness 4 (Southall, 85); Warhurst 4 (Johnson 5, 70), Gardner 6, Nolan 4, Frandsen 5; Farrelly 5 (Pedersen 4, 60), Holdsworth 5. Substitutes not used: Poole (gk), N'Gotty.
Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn 7; Kelly 5, Woodgate 6, Ferdinand 6, Matteo 5 (Harte 5, 45); Bowyer 6, Batty 6, Smith 7, Bakke (Wilcox 6, 6); Viduka 7, Fowler 8. Substitutes not used: Robinson (gk), McPhail, Duberry.
Referee: A Wiley (Burntwood) 6.
Copy from Yorkshire Evening Post of 30/12/2001.
ROBBIE FOWLER'S Boxing Day treble sent a clear message to the rest of the Premiership, proving Leeds are by no means finished in the title race.
A number of unconvincing displays prior to Christmas and last Saturday's 4-3 defeat against fellow challengers Newcastle had resulted in some outsiders daring to questioning the United credentials. They should have known better!
Leeds are never more dangerous than when they have been injured and poor Bolton bore the brunt of an Elland Road backlash yesterday.
No team with the quality currently assembled within David O'Leary's squad can ever be written off.
And with Robbie Fowler up front, Leeds have a man capable of scoring the goals they will need to sustain their challenge for the most valued prize in English football.
The former Liverpool striker, signed at the end of November for £11m, has added a vital cutting edge to the side just when they desperately needed it.
Fowler's double in the first half won this match with barely more than quarter of an hour on the clock and although he then missed two glorious chances, one from the penalty spot, he completed his hat-trick with little more than a minute to go.
All three goals had a touch of class and were what you would expect from a master craftsman. But by no means did Fowler win the game all on his own. This was a team display and one which blew Bolton away.
The team which had held Leeds to a 0-0 draw at Elland Road in September had no answer to the midfield domination of the awesome David Batty and the hard work of striker Alan Smith, who was once again used in the middle of the park to great affect.
Indeed, everything that had been wrong against Leicester, Everton and Newcastle went right against the, albeit very poor, Lancastrian outfit.
The United defence, which had leaked eight goals in that trio of matches, was remastered with the introduction of Dominic Matteo at left-back and Jonathan Woodgate in the centre.
Woodgate was never rushed, never troubled and simply purred through the 90 minutes without seemingly breaking sweat. What a partnership lies in store with Ferdinand.
Even when midfielder Eirik Bakke injured an ankle in the opening minute and Matteo pulled a hamstring just before the break, Leeds' domination was never questioned.
They took an early lead with only one minute and 12 seconds on the clock. Batty looped a ball forward and Fowler, finding himself ahead of the defence, buried his effort across Jussi Jaaskelainen into the bottom corner.
Kevin Nolan saw a snap-shot rise over the bar and Jamaican Ricardo Gardner miskicked a volley from close range before Fowler continued his lesson in finishing.
Jason Wilcox headed the ball forward, Viduka stuck out a toe to poke the ball through and Fowler again found himself clear on goal, making no mistake as he touched it past Jaaskelainen. There were only 16 minutes on the clock but there was never really going to be any way back for the home side.
They did have the possession and the odd chance did fall their way, but the finishing lacked authority and the Leeds defence always seemed in control.
Ian Harte's introduction for Matteo gave the left-back a chance to reclaim his post after being dropped.
However, he would have done his chances of a first-team return little favours inside the second minute of the half as a miskicked back-pass was seized upon by Nolan and his delicate chip toward goal required a fingertip save from Nigel Martyn.
Bolton, however, would not get any closer to breaking their deadlock as Leeds stepped up a gear and went in for the kill.
United almost notched their third shortly after the hour when Viduka, who had earlier seen an effort palmed away by Jaaskelainen, once again caused havoc in the Bolton defence.
Muscling his way through three challenges he struck a ferocious drive that the Finnish keeper just managed to beat it away. With Bolton unable to clear the danger, Viduka regathered the ball and teed up Wilcox on the edge of the box and he hit the base of the post with a powerful shot. Unfortunately for United the rebound came back too fast for Smith, who was unable to guide his effort under the bar.
Lee Bowyer tried an audacious lob before Fowler produced the moment of the match, stepping over the ball and dummying Batty's pass before skipping around Mike Whitlow and continuing his path to goal. It was just a shame he could not keep the effort on target as it would have been a stunning goal.
Fowler's third goal simply had to come and the massed ranks of Leeds supporters must have felt it was on the horizon when Djibril Diawara tripped Bowyer in the box and referee Alan Wiley pointed to the spot.
Fowler looked confident and so was everyone watching him, but his effort was woeful, dragging the ball weakly wide of the goal.
With only five minutes remaining Fowler was running out of time to complete his hat-trick. But all he needed was one more chance.
Alan Smith won possession from Warhurst before laying off a perfect pass to Fowler, who rounded keeper Jaaskelainen and then toyed with Diawara before calmly placing it into the empty net.