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So that's it then. Championship hopes for the season blown away in a month of madness. With the manager's one-track CD on repeat play, the song of sorrow over injuries, suspensions and just general bad luck has outstayed its welcome. Did we ever realistically think we could win the title - that it would be a valid target for this season? I'm not sure - but I am certain that we have to aim for it, go for it wholeheartedly and not be deflected as easily as we have been this year if we ever want to win it again. To say that a CL place is all we're looking for is to concede defeat before the season starts, and if that genuinely is all that our manager and board were aiming for, we need a new manager and a new board. To succeed you've got to be prepared to try and fail: at the moment we seem so paralysed with fear of failure that we dare not try - and that's why we've lost the thread.
The match? Not much to say really. Better than Chelsea in midweek - we seemed a bit more clueful and with it, and that was largely down to the welcome return of Olivier Dacourt to the midfield. Despite falling victim to a two-footed horror tackle from Mr Sun-Shines-Out-Of-Unexpected-Places Gerrard, which saw the ref keep his cards in his pocket, he dominated the midfield and came up with some great passes and runs until injury forced him off after an hour. Rio scored (another) og from a free kick that we were conned into giving away: it was a good swirling kick, but one of the defenders - or Nige - should have claimed it properly.
Mick McCarthy was summarising - and no doubt will have been interested in the form of Gary Kelly at right back and Ian Harte on the left. Hopefully he'll have learned a useful lesson: don't pick either unless you're desperate. Kelly's form and crosses when he was playing on the right side of midfield were impressive - both have slumped back now that he's switched back to his old role. Ian Harte's performances at left back now leave him hunted by a horde of trading standards officers, anxious to discuss with him the fact that he appears to be trading under the false banner of "defender". Dom and Rio were solid enough at the back, and the fact remains that you need to defend as a team - not just rely on the poor sods with the low-number shirts.
In midfield, Batty and Bowyer were awful. Bowyer performed brilliantly under pressure during the trials: now those dark days are behind him you'd think he'd be even better. But with yet more harassment from the FA coming soon, and after the big falling out with the club over his fine he just doesn't seem to have the old motivation. He makes the occasional run into the box but the verve just isn't there anymore. Batts was a key figure in the decent mid-season run we had, but now just seems to be playing more and more negatively.
Harry Kewell didn't get much change out of Steven Wright, but when he switched flanks Jamie Carragher let a lot more get past him. But H's fitness still looks suspect, he pulled out of a number of 50-50 challenges that Liverpool players were happy to commit to, and his frustration with himself, the ref and his team-mates boiled over when he was pulled back, kicked, pulled again and finally had his ankle hacked as he tried to get free. He swung his boot at fresh air - and saw it land perilously close to Graham Poll. Yellow card for Kewell, nowt for his aggressor - and it looked like DOL was shaping to take off Fowler, but when the board went up to bring on Keane it was H that left the field. DOL ignored him as he left - there are clearly some serious problems brewing in the dressing room. At half-time all the subs came out for a kick-around. Not a proper warm-up mind you - this looked like they'd been sent out of the room so that DOL could give the troops the shouting at they deserved.
Up front - Robbie and Pieman can only be as good as the service they get. They're both trying, they both came close to scoring and Robbie had a cast-iron penalty shout denied. Keano also looked pretty useful when he was finally unleashed.
So where does this leave us? This wasn't a capitulation, but it wasn't a great performance either. Liverpool went ahead through a fluky goal, doubled it with an offside run and weren't pegged back by an ungiven penalty and cleared the ball off the line. If we'd lost 3-2 or 4-2 we'd probably be feeling better, and it was nowt more than bad luck that we didn't score. We're not getting any change from the refs - but that's something we've brought on ourselves to a certain extent and we have to live with it.
Can we win the title? Not this year. Champions League qualification: definitely. New manager needed? Maybe - but I can't think of anyone out there who's available who could do a better job with the available talent. Although a certain Mr Ferguson won't be looking after his team as of next season.... :-)
Copy from Football Unlimited of 04/02/2002.
Liverpool's pursuit of the title picked up in awesome fashion here yesterday and left Leeds United looking like also-rans. A 4-0 victory, Liverpool's biggest-ever win here, restored them to third place where they are once more within striking distance of the leaders, Manchester United.
Leeds, by contrast, began the match struggling to keep up and by the end were giving the impression of a side whose cause was already lost. Certainly this was the feeling in the stands, where the movement towards the exits steadily became more purposeful than the faltering activity of David O'Leary's players.
Form and confidence are draining away from Leeds's football. They have now taken only one point from successive encounters against four of their principal rivals and that in a scrappy 1-1 draw at home to Arsenal.
Copy from Yorkshire Evening Post of 04/02/2002.
UNITED'S jittery January evolved into a faltering February yesterday as David O'Leary's nightmare start to 2002 continued in emphatic fashion.
Liverpool's 4-0 thrashing left a limp Leeds side looking shattered and down-beat and their dreams of lifting the Premiership title hanging by the thinnest of threads.
Without a win now in the five matches since their New Year's Day beating of West Ham, the Whites have hit a rocky patch at precisely the wrong time - and are in danger of letting everything slip away.
After battling through adversity on and off the pitch for most of the season, with injuries, suspensions and court cases, it now seems that things are finally taking their toll.
Unless O'Leary and his management team can stem this free-fall there is a real fear that Leeds will once again miss out on, not only the title, but also on achieving that all-important Champions League spot - something which, up until the turn of the year, was simply unthinkable.
Confidence seems low, they have lost that special spark going forward and the rock which used to be the defence has developed a soft spot.
It is all very worrying if you are a Leeds fan.
However, all is not lost and it is vital not to forget that there are still 13 matches to play and that means 39 points still to gain, but drastic improvements are required if United are to take advantage of that haul.
This was always going to be a crucial period of the campaign as Leeds took on the might of Newcastle, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool in the space of a month.
Nobody expected them to come through totally unscathed, but then again I doubt many predicted that they would lose three, drawing only the one with a record of 10 goals against and just two in reply.
It is a shocking run of form against sides who have been happy to take the points off Leeds and see them fall from their lofty New Year perch to sixth in the Premiership and out of even a UEFA Cup placing.
O'Leary knew this month was going to be tough. He feared that, for once, events were going to get the better of his battered and bruised side.
Yet he will no doubt this morning start the revival and remind his players that, after all, Leeds United play much better when they are the under-dog and when they have their backs against the wall.
He will remind them also that in the dozen plus one matches remaining the only top six side they have to meet is Manchester United at home and that all the other opponents are expected to be beaten.
But above all O'Leary will remind the players that come May people will not remember what happened on Sunday February 3 as long as they see that Leeds have once again pulled the cat out of the bag and achieved the impossible.
They did it last year with that astonishing run in the second half of the campaign - more of the same is more than required now.
>From the very first minute they were up against it as Liverpool's Steven Gerrard signalled the visitors' intentions with a ferocious tackle on Olivier Dacourt which eventually saw the Frenchman limp out of the action.
That incident came after just 30 seconds and little improved for the home side after that.
Not even Robbie Fowler could produce the touch of magic needed to ignite the Whites.
Playing against his former club for the first time, Fowler did see a few snap shots fly wide and he was denied by a brilliant Jerzy Dudek save in the second half, but he was rarely given the chance to escape the iron clasp of the brilliant Sami Hyypia and Stephane Henchoz.
Their display was typical of Liverpool's all-round work ethic. Some may call them boring, but they have a system which not only requires hard work but a great deal of discipline and they play it to perfection.
Working their socks off throughout the park, they were organised and compact, giving nothing away and concentrating solely on the game. Very rarely did you see a player in red arguing with the referee.
Whenever Leeds did break away on an attack they were met with a stubborn red wall, and there was no way through.
In contrast, Leeds looked shaky at the back. Only Dominic Matteo, also playing against his former employers, looked to be assured on the ball. He looked desperate to do well and this defeat must have hurt.
It was that uncertainty in defence which was the undoing of Leeds as the visitors took a 16th minute lead through the most unlikely of circumstances.
Skipper Rio Ferdinand, usually a rock at the back for United, stuck out a leg and deflected a Danny Murphy free-kick with his shin past the astonished Nigel Martyn.
It was the first real effort of a match which had taken some time to warm up. Indeed, it was the only real talking point of a drab first half.
The only surprise was that Liverpool had not extended their lead. However, that was all about to change as Phil Thompson's side stepped up a gear after the break.
Gerrard shot over the bar and Martyn pulled off a magnificent save to deny Michael Owen before Liverpool finally broke through for a second.
A stunning ball from Gerrard with the outside of his right boot spun into the path of the steaming rhino Emile Heskey and the striker raced clear of the defence and around Martyn before squeezing his shot in between the post and a despairing dive from Matteo.
There was a touch of offside about the goal but any anger among the Leeds fans was soon forgotten as Liverpool killed the game off with a third.
Heskey, who had scored just twice in the 36 games before this match - spanning back to his goal for England in Germany - smashed in his second of the match as John Arne Riise's corner was flicked on first by Stephen Wright and then Owen right into his path.
He made no mistake from six yards out, thumping the ball into the roof of the net.
The boos which had bellowed around Elland Road at half-time returned and many of the 40,000-plus crowd were starting to leave their seats even though barely an hour had passed.
Those who left missed United's best moments, a Mark Viduka diving header which was superbly saved by Dudek and then the Polish keeper's stop from Fowler.
But the final word inevitably came from the red army as Owen first leapt the highest to head onto United's bar and then reacted the quickest to nod home the rebound.
Rout complete and O'Leary will be hoping that this is about as terrible as 2002 can get.