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"What's the point in booking a trip to the Ukraine?" they asked. "The tie will be dead and there'll be nowt to play for." And I spluttered on a bit about it being a great excuse to add another country to the list, get another stamp in the passport and so on. After tonight, there's everything to play for and every reason to get out to Dnepropetrovsk to support the team.
Danny Mills was rested to give Gary Kelly a chance to show what he could do, but otherwise the injury-enforced switches of Lucas Radebe for Dominic Matteo and Eirik Bakke for Nick Barmby were the only changes that El Tel made to the line-up he's been using so far this season. With Elland Road only three-quarters full, and most of the crowd anticipating an easy win the game started as if it was a pre-season friendly. The ball was passed around slowly, space wasn't closed down and nobody seemed in any sort of hurry to get the ball up front and threaten the goal. Apart from Smithy that is: in an otherwise non-descript first half, he continued playing in the only way he knows: making himself available, holding the ball up, looking for lay-offs and flicks, and finally - in desperation - coming back to the edge of his own area to pick up the ball as the supply from midfield dried to a trickle.
The visitors seemed equally unhurried: a goalless draw away from home against the bigger team would be an excellent result, and they kept 9 men behind the ball at all times and wrung every last second they could from every goal kick, throw-in or free kick. The Finnish ref didn't have much to do - and sensibly decided that a bit of finger-wagging would work better than a rash of early yellow cards when the timewasting and shirt-pulling got a little too obvious.
Despite their lack of ambition, Metalurg still managed the first attempt on goal of any significance: a 25-yard shot from their Brazilian midfielder around the half-hour mark required Paul Robinson to make a fairly straightforward save. At the other end, their keeper was barely troubled: a header from Woody and a shot from Bowyer coming closest to being on target in the opening period.
After half-time things got a bit more lively. TV had clearly picked out the fact that their defence was dubious on crosses and for the next 45 minutes we saw a stream of diagonal balls kicked high towards the far edge of the six-yard box from 5 to 10 yards outside the area. A few flaps from the keeper and missed headers from the defence did enough to indicate that this was a sensible tactic to follow, but still the breakthrough never came and the crowd started to get restless. Typically, it was Smithy who managed to up the tempo and get the crowd cheering. A run across the pitch beat half a dozen players but ended when he just ran out of space outside the box.
Still no goals though. Michael Bridges came on to a standing ovation from the Leeds fans and soon showed what we've been missing. He ran at the defence, got wide and worked with Smithy to finally crack the Ukrainian defence. Chasing a lost cause, he got his boot round the ball as it reached the byline, and hooked it back for Smithy who had one of the easiest 5 yard tap-ins he's likely to receive in his career. Bridges and Smith combined well to make a few more chances - but nothing went in: their keeper showed he was as good a shot-stopper as he was a time-waster and the atmosphere and crowd both slowly drained away as full-time approached.
Other than the fact that it was easy to get a parking space and the M1 was relatively empty both ways there wasn't much to recommend this game - and after the upbeat mood that everyone left when we took the three points off ManU on Saturday, this result felt more like a defeat than a 1st leg win. But Metalurg were well-organised and fit, despite their lack of ambition, and will be no pushover in the return leg in a fortnight.
It's playing teams like this that really shows me which players are up to it and which players are a waste of time. It's gonna be hard, they've come to defend and there isn't a lot of room but through a mixture of effort and skill you'll get through them and create chances.
Kewell and Smith - I thought they both worked hard and both created chances for themsleves and for others. It's a shame that they both seem to be pushed slightly aside to make way for the fat boy. At times they both come central and invariably just get in Viduka's way ,or the other way round more like, cos he aint doing much. 4-3-3 doesn't work not with these 3 anyway. I think Smith is our best player at the moment. He deserves the no 9 shirt - straight through the middle where it hurts. Kewell would be the perfect partner. Viduka is a dead loss. He looked slow , flat footed , knackered and crap last night. He was dragged off after 60 minutes and we looked a better team immediately. When you see Smith still making fast runs in the 94th minute it makes you wonder.
Midfield - I though Bakke showed his real 1st division pedigree last night. Tried hard but just couldn't get into the game at all. His touch was poor and he had about 5 headers which he just plopped over. I thought heading was a strenght of his. He hasn't scored a goal for over a year. Not good enough. Dacourt - ok but needs support in midfield. He got none from Bakke. Bowyer - another incredibly poor performance. He gave away possession almost everytime he got the ball. Terrible. Mcphail - came on and on the face of it did a good Batty like job when in possession. Easy balls keeping the team ticking over and occasionally seeking out the attackers with decent balls over the top. The problem with Mcphail (if you didn't already know) is that when he hasn't got the ball he looks like a spastic. He doesn't run he waddles and it's no coincidence that when Mcphail came on they actually had a bit of midfield possession. Watching Mcphail trail after the ball is agonising. Why is he still at the club ? He's not an athelete in any sense of the word.
Defence - nowt to do but Harte's deadballs were a disgrace. Never mind his defending he should be dropped on that basis alone. Shocking !
Copy from Football Unlimited of 20/09/2002.
The potential for embarrassment will follow Leeds into eastern Europe next month, but that did not conceal the sense of relief here last night. For long uneasy spells they played as though they were wearing straitjackets only for a late and decisive contribution from Alan Smith to rescue them in a hugely disappointing match.
Rather than making the second leg a formality, Leeds will head for Zaporizhya, an industrial city on the banks of the Dnipro, for a test of nerve against the Ukrainian novices.
Metalurg, embarking on their first-ever European campaign, had arrived exuding a serious lack of self-belief, their bleak start to the season comprising only two wins from nine games and the sacking of the coach Oleg Taran, the man responsible for guiding them to their best-ever finish, fifth last season.
Copy from Yorkshire Evening Post of 20/09/2002.
IT was a case of after the Lord Mayor's show at Elland Road last night as Leeds United's UEFA Cup campaign stuttered into life with a narrow victory over the competition's minnows.
Man of the moment Alan Smith spared United's blushes against struggling Ukrainian outfit FC Metalurg Zaporizhia with an 80th minute strike to give them the upper hand in the tie.
The goal was no more than Leeds deserved, but after high quality performances against Newcastle United and Manchester United the Elland Road faithful could be forgiven for feeling short-changed.
The performance never came close to those produced in the last two Premiership outings and, for the biggest part of what was an awful contest, United looked well below par.
The passing was sloppy and the delivery of crosses was disappointing as United lacked the killer instinct required to breakdown the determined Ukrainians.
The predicted goals avalanche never looked like materialising after Leeds started the game at a snail's pace, and one can only wonder what the outcome would have been had United gone for the jugular from the off.
Zaporizhia were certainly vulnerable, but Leeds didn't ask enough questions early in the contest and Metalurg were allowed a fairly easy ride for the first hour.
However, despite a lacklustre display Leeds should still have won by more than the single goal margin, but a combination of poor finishing and some goalkeeping heroics by Andriy Glushchenko kept United at bay.
Smith was United's biggest threat throughout, but the majority of chances fell to full-back Ian Harte, who endured a frustrating night.
Harte's radar was off target in dead-ball situations and when he found himself in space with a clear header on goal Glushchenko pulled off an outstanding save to thwart the Irishman.
Mark Viduka spent much of the contest starved of service, under the shackles of Mario Dodic, and it wasn't until Michael Bridges' arrival midway through the second half that United seemed to find their spark.
Bridges was making his first senior appearance for almost two years and the young striker acquitted himself well in what was threatening to become a tricky situation.
The unambitious visitors actually had more shots on target in the first half, but they were restricted to long-range efforts and Paul Robinson spent much of the game as a spectator.
Unsurprisingly, the Ukrainians came to defend and with 10 men behind the ball for much of the contest it was down to Leeds to find a way through.
Sadly, it took a full 54 minutes before United showed any real urgency about their play and, even when they did up the tempo it still took another half- hour to finally get their noses in front.
A spell of concerted pressure failed to produce anything for Leeds and, with lady luck favouring the visitors, a European shock looked on the cards for Terry Venables' side.
Lee Bowyer and Eirik Bakke both ran their hearts out in the middle of the park, but all too often the final ball either went astray or was deflected to safety.
Zaporizhia's game plan was to frustrate, but the Ukrainians showed a great work rate and frequently closed men down quickly enough to thwart any attacking raids.
The visitors were also intent on wasting as much time as possible and the referee could have booked more than one player for winding the clock down before the deadlock was finally broken.
As the game wore on Leeds did assert their authority more ? they were always in control ? and the home slid effortlessly into second gear in a bid to end the visitors' resistance.
Harry Kewell's downward header was beaten away by the keeper while Smith and Bakke also fluffed headed opportunities.
But Leeds finally got their noses in front with just 10 minutes remaining when Bridges fought off the challenge of Oleg Raty and teed up Smith with an easy chance to score.
It was too late for the floodgates to open then, although Leeds twice came close to adding to the tally
Harte saw a vicious effort fly inches over the bar while Lucas Radebe's spectacular volley was well saved by the impressive Glushchenko.
The Ukrainians did mount a couple of late raids of their own but, in keeping with the rest of the contest, they never seriously looked like hurting Leeds and there was no question of a shock equaliser.
At the whistle the celebrations were muted. It was a game Leeds couldn't win no matter what they did, but they had failed in their objective to put the tie beyond doubt.
It will now be a cautious United side which travels out to the Ukraine in a fortnight for a potentially nervy tie, but the onus will then be on Zaporizhia and it will be interesting to see how they fare.
They showed no ambition last night and lacked quality, and Venables' side will make the long trek knowing they are still favourites to reach round two.