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Must admit that the old heart was racing by the time that the ref blew the final whistle on this one. We are now showing some spirit, some resolve and some endeavour - it truly looks as if the team has turned a corner of some kind and it has to be said that those of us, myself included, who thought it wrong to sack Reid at that time, are well on the way to being proved wrong - only one less point from the last 3 games than from the previous 13 and all against top4 teams.
Once again we started a 4-5-1 formation, with Smith being withdrawn into midfield to battle alongside Matteo and Batty (in for McPhail, the only change from the Chelsea game), but in practise it wasn't as much of a negative move as it sounded with Pennant and Milner flying down the wings as often as possible. The both of them had very good games overall - Milner may have been a bit slow off the blocks in the first half - but they both covered back as well as attacking. The main problem with both was that several times in the second half, when Fulham were pressing for the equaliser, we got breakaway moves with the ball being flung out to one wing or the other, from these we could and should have scored on more than one occasion, but every time the final ball was woeful. Pennant was also unlucky to see a volley in the box come back off the bar and a deflected cross hit the post.
The difference in Leeds at the moment is that we are no longer lightweight. The midfield Smith, Batty and Matteo are difficult to get through - Matteo was magnificent again - in front of a mainly well organised and settled defence. Radebe was superb again - despite being launched into an advertising hoarding by one of their forwards. I thought he wasn't going to come back on. Whatever their limitations Kelly and Harte are making fewer mistakes now by doing the simple things - marking men, closing down and staying goalside. They will get murdered by the top players but they should have enough nous to be decent against most opposition.
All that aside though as the first half belonged to Duberry who had one of those games when all the rash charges into tackles pay off and all the attempted interceptions work and even the ref chooses to ignore the odd "indiscretion". He defended well in a no nonsense style and then capped it all with a goal off his bell-end - if you watch the replay it just sneaks out of his shorts and nods it home - before running off to the corner flag with the biggest grin you ever did see on his face. I did think that the award of the initial free kick for a foul on Smith was harsh, but Haret lashed in a good shot which the keeper could only parry.
Came out in the second half - after a fairly dull first half - and it all moved up about 3 gears. Viduka scored a cracker, collecting a thrown in from the left shielded it along the top of the penalty area, before hitting a curling shot with venom around a defender and past the keeper who didn't move. Over the 90 minutes he deserved it. A lot is being asked of him at the moment, leading the line on his own, and in this kind of form - and with this kind attitutde - he is invalueable to us. At the moment he would be a big loss in January.
2-0 up and we immediately fell asleep, allowing Saha to saunter up through midfield, stop and make a daisy chain, before carrying on and belting a low one home from 25 yards. The remainder of the half was Fulham pressing and us having moments of break away endeavour that really should have yielded a goal. Then 5 minutes from time and we've blown it as Saha gets a carbon copy of his first. On both of the goals Robinson looks slow to get down - but then he has made a couple of other very good saves.
Then we go down the Kop and and bombard the Fulham goal with Matteo evetually scoring a lovely header from a well taken Harte free kick (the 2nd of the match) out on the right. Pennant brought and excellent save from the keeper as well. Harte's deadballs were much improved, except for the one corner that came straight from the corner of the west and south stands and flew right across and out of play for a throw in on the other touchline almost without bouncing - prompting a chorus of "there's only 1 Johnny Wilkinson"
Why didn't we use any subs? Because they weren't needed. The starting 11 won the match. What would anyone else have brought to the game?
The game was great but I do have one complaint - not only have we lost all sign of the Balti pies this year but now the bloody Bovril supply has dried up - at least in the Kop.
Fulham equalised with 5 minutes to go. A month ago you would have put money on Fulham getting a 3rd and maybe a 4th. Not today. Straight down the other end and Matteo scored a peach of a header from a great Harte freekick. Cue mini pitch invasion from the North East.
Happily nobody got nabbed for it. Matteo deserved the goal and yet again was man of the match by a mile. I thought he did well last year in midfield but I thought by the end he showed his limitations in that role. I'm beginning to wonder now. He has pace , he can pass and tackle and he covers so much ground. He is the heart of our team at the moment. Batty sits along side him and does the simple things. SMith helps out and pushes forward when possible then we've got Pennant and Milner on the wings. This didn't quite work against Chelsea but today both wingers were effective. Milner was superb in the second half and Pennant always provided an outlet with his pace and skill on the right. Milner was probably our worse player agaisnt Chelsea but he really came back well in this game. He looked to have the beating of their number 2 everytime he got the ball. He maybe should have done better with one or two chances but that's been ultra critical. I thought Fulham looked a good footballing side. They played the best football at times with crisp , accurate , attacking football.
Chris Coleman really went for it subbing defenders and putting on the likes of Barry Hayles. They threatened on many occassions and Robinson did his best to confuse everyone with his dithering on crosses. He needs to get this sorted quickly cos we look like conceding everytime a decent cross comes in. Having said that about Fulham we deserved this game. We created the best chances - hit the bar twice and could have had a 4th in dying minutes. Continue like this and we'll be going for Europe.
Robinson - 6. dithered all afternoon and put his defence under pressure. Some good saves as always though.
Kelly - 7. Much better. He worked his knackers off and actually showed a bit of accuracy with his only pass he knows - the one down the line.
Harte 6.5. Generally ok. Excellent free kick for the Duberry goal. About time. Not exposed by Fulham. Can't understand why teams don't pinpoint Harte more.
Radebe 8. Good solid performance again. It must be hard playing alongside Duberry wondering what he is going to do next.
Duberry 6. An accident waiting to happen. Careless tackles resulting in free-kick after free-kick. His distribution is just a lottery. Where will it go ? Who knows ? His goal was pure comedy. Just a big bloke that gets in the way. Last two games this has been enough. I don't think it will be in the long run though.
Batty 6.5. Did ok. Occassionally doesn't have the legs to do what he wants to but still manages to influence the game and keep possession when others around him seem keen to give it away. Strange how Eddie went for a 35 year old crock rather than young Liam who had such a good game agaisnt Chelsea. (what a joke !). Batty wasn't brilliant but he did things that Mcphail could only dream of i.e make his presence felt.
Pennant 7. Unlucky to hit the bar with a left foot shot. Always looked dangerous.
Milner 8. Hard working with a load of skill thrown in. This lad is our future.
Matteo 10. Captain fantastic. Dodgy knee. Bleeding hell I'd like to see him with no injury worries.
Smith 7. Good midfield performance. I still think he's got more to offer up front but is definitely doing a job for us.
Viduka 7.5. Top quality goal. Their keeper never moved. Last time Viduka scored a goal like this was Arsenal, last game of last season in front of the Sky cameras. Strange that !? Cynical ? Yes but rightly so. You have to ask questions of this bloke. At times today he looked world class. He also ran his heart out although as Jez said he was out on his feet towards the end. Looking for a transfer to Scum in January or fighting for Leeds Utd. I know what I think, what do you think ?
No subs rather strangely although I thought everyone did well today. It was a great match and a great atmosphere.
On on on ........
Just about to watch Duberry win SPOTY.
Copy from Football Unlimited of 15/12/2003.
Leeds United will not be bottom of the Premiership come Christmas.
Leeds remain second bottom of the division but a second home win in the league this season lifted them four points above Wolves. With only one fixture between yesterday and Christmas Day, it means that Leeds cannot have the dreaded statistic about clubs bottom at Christmas always being relegated attached to them. It is a sign of the times at Elland Road that such things matter.
But Dominic Matteo's 88th-minute winner - it was the Leeds captain's first league goal for the club - was the cause of much rain-punching on the final whistle and doubtless much optimistic talk in the pubs of west Yorkshire last night.