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Leeds United News from The Sporting Life    Yorkshire Evening Post

February 29: On-loan defender Didier Domi said that he was hoping to maintain his current form and make it very difficult for Leeds to let him go at the end of the season. He was unhappy at being asked to cancel his contract last month, but was intent on proving a point on the pitch. "It was a bolt out of the blue when I was asked to sign release papers. It was all a bit weird. I was hurt badly. It was a question of respect. I am not one of the players on a lot of money. They called me in and everybody knows the story. I was just a little hurt, but I said to myself, 'I am going to stay here and that is it.'" And he added: "I answered in the best way possible by working even harder the next day and as a result I am back in the team and I can say to them, this is working out for Leeds."

February 29: The club announced today that the West Stand would be formally named "The John Charles Stand" in honour of Leeds' greatest ever player. Charles' original move to Italy was forced on the club when the then-uninsured West Stand was destroyed in a fire. Writing in today's programme, Trevor Birch said: "Many outstanding footballers have worn Leeds United's colours with distinction but none better than John Charles, who sadly died last weekend. John's contribution to football at Leeds, in Italy and for his native Wales, went beyond his incredible talent. His sportsmanship is legendary, his modesty an example for all who achieve great fame, and his willingness to find time for people holds lessons for us all." And he concluded: "A man of John's stature deserves and will have a fitting memorial at Elland Road." Leeds' inability to organise the proverbial brewery drinks party was on show again today, with no tannoy announcements and nobody in the crowd understanding that the original silence was for someone making an unamplified announcement - presumably formally doing the stand-naming, and the ref's whistle was for the start of the minute, not the end. Both teams wore black armbands, and the programme and big screen all carried extensive tributes, with the programme carrying a further reminder of the details of tomorrow's memorial service at the ground.

February 29: If you had offered us two draws from the games against ManU and Liverpool a fortnight ago, we'd have snapped your hand off. It's a measure of the confidence that has returned to the side over the last couple of weeks that we had the chances to win both games, and created more goal-scoring opportunities in the last 180 minutes of football than we saw right through January. Harry Kewell got the expected hot reception, but answered his critics in the crowd with a beautiful curler past Robbo from outside the box - admittedly under no pressure at all. Just like last week at Old Trafford, the team didn't let their heads go down and we were soon back on terms - Eirik Bakke guiding the ball home from just outside the six-yard box after some good pressure. Five minutes later and we were in front: Smithy's delicate ball splitting the defence and allowing Viduka the chance to chip the advancing Kirkland. Throughout the game Durkin chose to interpret the contact laws rather liberally, but when Alan Smith was nearly decapitated on the halfway line three minutes before the break, a free kick - if not a booking - seemed inevitable. Durkin waved play on and 30 seconds later Milan Baros had repeated Kewell's trick from almost the same position and equally free from Leeds pressure. Lots of chances both ways in the second half - Robbo made a couple of good saves but Kirkland did equally well to divert Domi's late header, and the crossbar saved the Reds when Smithy almost repeated his brilliant header from last week. So we missed the chance to climb out of the drop zone, but this is definitely a point gained and another huge confidence boost. More of the same please.

February 29: Alan Smith reckons that Leeds could beat just about anyone on current form. After today's 2-2 draw with Liverpool Smith said: "We've started to go on a run and we believe we can beat anyone. We've got to get ourselves out of [the drop zone]. We've got to go out there and prove it." Eddie Gray was taking things one game at a time rather than worrying about the bigger picture. He said: "The boys are performing well and today we came back from a goal down which shows there's more belief among the players that we can win matches." Gray explained that Eirik Bakke was withdrawn at halftime to protect his thigh injury, while Alan Smith had not trained all week after picking up a knock at Old Trafford - which explained the late substitution that gave Simon Johnson his first appearance of the season. Gerard Houllier was once again on the defensive - and this time the focus was on Michael Owen's inability to find the target. Houllier said: "Ruud van Nistelrooy and Thierry Henry both go through the same thing, but at least Michael got himself in positions to score. On another day he could have won the match ball, but as far as I'm concerned there's nothing to worry about." Speaking about the match in general, the Liverpool manager said: "I thought it was a smashing game of football. It was very competitive, thrilling, with a lot of action and goals with two teams that really wanted to win right to the end." And he went on: "Credit to Leeds. It will be a shame if they go down because if that team is bottom of the League then it shows the Premier League must be of a really high standard."

February 29: The top three in Italy all won this weekend - but the chasing pack fell further back. Milan maintained their excellent away record with a cracking Ambrosini header giving them the points against Lazio in tonight's game. Although this week's police raids on the Serie A and Serie B clubs was said to be prompted at least in part by Roma's profligate - and possible insolvent - trading, they didn't let that bother them on the field with a 1-4 hammering of Parma, who have enough financial problems of their own. Ancona haven't won all season, so it was no surprise to see them 3-0 down at half-time at Juve, who then switched into cruise control mode for the second half. Inter continued their bout of foot-shooting with a 1-3 defeat by Brescia in the San Siro, while at the bottom it seems that the curse of Roque Junior has taken a breather, Siena managing to scrape a goalless draw against fellow strugglers Reggina after last weekend's 5-0 thumping. The we're-not-dead-yet award goes to Perugia: winless all season until last weekend, now on a two-match winning streak after a 4-2 win over Bologna.

In Spain, the tight struggle at the top of La Liga has been blown apart over the last couple of weeks with Real Madrid now leading Valencia by eight points. This weekend Madrid found themselves 0-1 down to a Sasa Ilic goal for Celta Vigo in the Bernabeu, but goals from Ronaldo, Figo and Zidane turned things round in a 15-minute spell of the second half, before the sides exchanged a goal apiece in injury time to leave Madrid the 4-2 winners. Valencia followed up last weekend's 0-1 defeat by Barca with another defeat to a Catalan outfit, this time losing 2-1 at second-bottom Espanyol with two Raul Tamudo strikes making the difference there. Two Ronaldinho goals around another from Saviola looked set to have sealed Barca's continuing revival when they went 0-3 up in the Riazor, but Deportivo came back with Walter Pandiani coming off the bench to strike twice. Depor just failed to do enough to snatch a point despite facing 10 men for the last 20 minutes. Barca look to have the fourth Champions League slot sorted, with a five point lead on fifth-placed Athletic Bilbao.

A couple of games in Belgium were disrupted by the weather this weekend, including leaders Anderlecht's game at home to relegation fodder Heusden-Zolder - but that didn't stop them improving their position as Standard Liege failed to follow up last weekend's 7-0 win over Cercle Brugge when they went down 3-2 at La Louviere. Anderlecht now lead the league by 16 points with a game in hand.

Only Sochaux out of the top 8 in France won this weekend. Monaco continue to lead the league by 4 points after being held to a 1-1 draw at lowly Toulouse, but Lyon let a 0-1 lead slip at Lens and PSG just about managed to retrieve a point with a late equaliser at Auxerre.

Werder Bremen are continuing to look comfortable at the top of the Bundesliga. This weekend, a deflected free kick from Valerien Ismael and yet another striker for Brazilian hitman Ailton gave them a 2-0 win over Dortmund, allowing them to maintain a seven-point lead on Bayern Munich - 2-0 winners over Wolfsburg with Roy Makaay inevitably on the scoresheet again.

Ajax followed up their shock 4-1 defeat at Heerenveen in midweek with another loss, going down 1-0 at Utrecht this weekend, but PSV also made it two defeats in a row when they failed to take the chance to close the gap, losing 1-2 at home by Roda JC. Interesting rumours this weekend say that Chelsea are moving to set up a formal relationship with PSV that would make the Dutch side the Blues' "nursery". Manchester United have a similar relationship with Royal Antwerp - but this is in a totally different class: Antwerp are a mid-table side with UEFA Cup hopes at best, but PSV are always in contention for the league title and are Champions League and UEFA Cup regulars. The first manifestation of the link is likely to come when Chelsea help provide the funds to bring young Santos defender Alex to the Philipstadion. AZ blew their chance to go clear of Feyenoord in third spot when they lost 4-1 at FC Twente.

Finally in the Czech Republic leaders Banik Ostrava showed they are vulnerable after all, losing 2-1 at bottom side Blsany. They've still got a game and three points on Slavia Prague - 3-0 winners at Plzen yesterday and a further two on Sparta, who went 0-2 up at Budejovice, switched off and paid the price as Marek Kulic equalised for the home side with two minutes to go.

February 28: Former Leeds boss Howard Wilkinson was today reported to have been appointed as the manager of Chinese champion side Shanghai Shenhua. Wilko is reported to be on a three-year deal less than a month after he said that he wouldn't be taking the job because the time was not right. Looks like the times they are a'changing.

February 28: Club captain Dominic Matteo says that Leeds cannot afford to under-estimate Liverpool tomorrow, despite the poor run of form his one-time team-mates are enduring. He said: "Everyone writes Liverpool off and that's a mistake. They'll keep coming back. They've got a lot of good players and they've got a good squad. It won't be long before they get it right." Matteo promised a good contest in the midday kick-off: "It will be tough, but both sides will be well fired up so it should be a good game." Harry Kewell will appear after all, having served his one-match ban with the cup replay against Pompey, and everyone seems to think he'll get a bit of a hot reception. Matteo said: "He's a fantastic player with a lot of ability. One-on-one he can cause problems, but we know what he can do and we'll be well prepared... When it's the first time against your old team it's a real occasion and, knowing Harry, he'll want to play well against us tomorrow." And the skipper said that the team were fully concentrating on avoiding the drop. He said: "Points are vital to us. We have to approach every game with the same belief that we can get a result, like we did at Manchester United. Every match has to be like that now."

February 28: Leeds United Ladies have had tomorrow's game against Charlton Athletic Ladies postponed after the pitch at Garforth froze over.

February 28: Gerard Houllier says that Harry Kewell will cope with any abuse thrown his way at Elland Road tomorrow - but he adopts a typically one-eyed position when he says he can't understand why he should have to. He said: "It is something that is peculiar to British football. You can have that maybe between Real Madrid and Barcelona. I do not know why it happens here." Well try the permanently agitating for a move, refusing to go to clubs who would have paid Leeds much more money (and offered him more chance of winning major honours), not exactly giving the impression that he was committed to the cause... But the under-achieving under-pressure Houllier gets some sympathy from Eddie Gray. Leeds' caretaker boss said: "There is always going to be high expectations, and Gerard knows that, but I think he has done a fantastic job for Liverpool. People are saying they are having a bad time, but if you look at the run they are on, it's not bad with just one league defeat in their last nine games."

February 28: Andy Gray scored on his debut for Sheffield United today - but his early goal was cancelled and then reversed as Reading managed a 2-1 win that pushed the Blades back into the play-off chasing pack. Mark Tinkler struck from the spot for Hartlepool at Wycombe, making it 2-3. In an exciting game, the Monkey Hangers ended up as 3-4 winners. Nick Barmby made his debut for Forest today, helping to set up their opener in a 2-1 win over fellow relegation strugglers Bradford.

February 27: YTV will be screening a John Charles tribute programme at 2330 tonight - available on digital satellite if you're outside the YTV area - with recent interviews with King John's Juve and Wales team-mates.

February 27: Leeds fan and MP for Elmet Colin Burgon is calling on the footballing authorities to set up an appropriate award to remember John Charles. Burgon is suggesting that the FA or FIFA create a Fair Play Award, named after the player who was never so much as booked in a long and illustrious career. Burgon said: "I was one of those who paid treble to watch him play when he returned from Juventus. It's important that his memory does not fall into obscurity."

February 27: Alan Smith remains convinced that the club can avoid the drop as the team finally look to be getting the sort of spirit and togetherness back that has seemingly been absent for much of the season. Smith said: "Of course we will [stay up], although to be honest, I think the home games are going to keep us up. But I am a confident person and a confident player and things at Leeds have never once got on top of me and I have never let it affect my game. I would never let it affect me anyway. Even with all the uncertainty, I still enjoy it at Leeds."

February 27: Nick Barmby's loan move to Forest was confirmed today, although Leeds will continue to pay 80% of his wages while he's at the City Ground. New Forest boss Joe Kinnear is happy to have Barmby on board for their fight against the drop - starting with a real six-pointer against Bradford at the weekend. Kinnear said: "I'm delighted to have a player of Nicky's quality on board with us. He has got a great pedigree and he's enthusiastic to play for Nottingham Forest. He has played for some great clubs and his record of international appearances speaks for itself, as does the fact that he has been involved in transfer deals totalling almost £20 million pounds."

February 27: Shares in Leeds United were suspended this afternoon after Trevor Birch failed to get agreement from the creditors to extend the standstill agreement - although they have not yet taken the final step of withdrawing support from the club and forcing Birch to seek administration. On the day that Bradford returned to administration for the second time in two years, Leeds look to be on the brink of following them with the hint that the consortium has pulled out of a bid after learning the full extent of the financial problems. Football finance expert Bill Gerrard said: "The creditors are saying, 'Get a deal done because the next time a payment comes up and you can't meet it, obviously Leeds United will have to go into administration." A spokesman for the consortium said that negotiations were ongoing, and denied the suggestion that the involvement of Jack Petchey implied that they were interested in a land deal that would result in the club being forced out of Elland Road. They said: "Any suggestion that the consortium is looking at this acquisition as an asset-stripping exercise is completely untrue, so much so we can make a commitment now that, if we are successful in buying the club, Leeds United's future is and always will be at Elland Road. Anyone suggesting otherwise is simply scaremongering."

February 27: John Charles' wife Glenda today spoke of the huge wave of sympathy and support that had come from around the world following the death of her husband last weekend. She said: "The reaction to John's death has been absolutely astonishing. I have been totally overwhelmed. The letters and cards have never stopped and they say such wonderful things about my John. I knew he was held in high regard, but the tributes have been incredible. He does not seem to have had an enemy in the world, and that is the John Charles I knew and married." The service at Leeds Parish Church is primarily for friends, family and invited guests, including many of his former playing colleagues, but the church seats around 1,000 so there might be some room for members of the public. After the service is over, the cortege will travel through City Square, along Wellington Street and out to Elland Road for a final memorial service.

February 26: Leeds magistrates handed out a three-year ban to a fan who couldn't contain himself when Mark Viduka scored the fourth goal against Wolves. Christie Rutherford left his seat in the South Stand and jumped onto the track to celebrate with Viduka and Alan Smith as the big striker made it 4-1, but the police and stewards quickly move in and arrested him. He now faces a three-year ban from all the grounds in England and the possibility of a life ban from Elland Road. He said: "I just got carried away in the heat of the moment. I've followed Leeds all over Europe. It's awful to suddenly have the club you love taken away from you. I'm absolutely gutted."

February 26: Former Leeds player Andy Gray appears to be on the verge of quitting Bradford andmoving down the road to Sheffield United. Gray was one of the few bright sparks from the 1996 Coca-Cola Cup Final debacle, but slipped out of favour at Leeds with the arrival of George Graham. A spell at Forest was equally patchy, but since his arrival at Valley Parade he's been a regular on the teamsheet and on the scoresheet, as well as winning two full Scotland caps. Bradford are on the point of administration, as well as looking racing certainties for the drop, and unless some new backers are found by the weekend, they could be in serious trouble. Meanwhile it's also reported that Nick Barmby is ready to move to Forest on loan for the rest of the season. Barmby was the last player we paid any money for when Terry Venables lashed out nearly three million quid on him 18 months ago, but he's found himself out of favour under Eddie Gray, making only three appearances this season.

February 26: Earlier on today, ex-Terriers chairman Terry Fisher said that he wanted a bit more time in order to put together a bid for the club. He said: "There is an extremely big financial situation to resolve at Leeds and it is not something we can rush into. While I believe that other consortiums may be more advanced in their pursuit, I don't think it would be right to take the first offer on the table - just for the sake of a few days." But later a spokesman for the consortium revealed that they were pulling out: "Following our financial investigations we have reluctantly concluded that the consortium advised by Zeus Capital Limited will not be making a proposal regarding Leeds United Football Club," said Zeus Capital director Richard Hughes. So that leaves the other group of businessmen in the clear to make a bid, and at last we have some indication as to who is behind it. The group has been fronted by solicitor Gerald Krasner, but it has been suggested that former Bradford chairman Geoffrey Richmond was the prime mover. But today Jack Petchey was named as the key man in the group. Petchey is from London and was previously involved in Watford in the Elton John days.

February 26: Sunday's game against Liverpool could come close to being a sell-out - the first full house of the season. The Man U game came close to hitting capacity, but crowds this year are well down on last season's highs, with 35-36,000 being the norm rather than the 39-40,000 we've seen over the last few years. Liverpool aren't on great form - although they won in tonight's UEFA Cup tie at Anfield - and we've got to be hopeful of grabbing a point after last weekend's great performance at Old Trafford, with the added bonus of the return of Mark Viduka and Paul Robinson. So pick up the phone and grab yourself those last tickets now!

February 26: Michael Bridges returned to European competition tonight as he came on as a late sub in Newcastle's 1-1 draw at Valerenga. He said: "I'm looking forward to getting back involved in the European scene, it has been a mixed bag for me in the past... I had some cracking European nights with Leeds. We reached the semi-finals of the Uefa Cup one year and then the semi-finals of the Champions League the year after. I'd love to be able to do something similar with Newcastle." But it seems that the injuries have taken a toll on his memory - he added: "It's been a hell of a rollercoaster for me in Europe because it was against Galatasaray that I injured my knee..." - that would be Galatasaray as spelt B-E-S-I-K-T-A-S I think.

February 26: Eirik Bakke says that he'll be doing his best to ignore the pain as he tries to help Leeds avoid the drop with a win against Liverpool on Sunday. Bakke tore a thigh muscle just over a week ago and knows that it's the sort of injury that ideally needs some rest. But he's still putting the time in on the training ground and remains hopeful he can make it onto the field on Sunday. He said: "I'm struggling to get through games a little bit. I got a tear on my thigh. I felt it again against Wolves but decided to play with it against Manchester United because I just want to play after being out for so long. I just want to get through the games. And despite the fact that Leeds are still propping up the table, he's remaining positive: "Whatever happens against Liverpool we at least know we're in with a shout for the rest of the season. I think the run-in is going to be very, very tense this year."

February 25: Eddie Gray firmly believes Alan Smith can make it back into the England squad in time for Euro 2004. Gray says that more good performances for Leeds will leave him knocking hard on Sven's door. He said: "He is back up front now playing where he likes to play and that has helped him. He is working very well with Mark Viduka and I think that partnership can get even better the more times they play together, it's a thriving partnership. I still believe that if he scores a few more goals, and he is capable of getting them, then he can still break into Sven's European Championship's squad. I believe he has what it takes to be a top international striker."

February 25: Cardiff fans are coming out in support of a lasting memorial for former player John Charles. Although he only appeared for the club at the tail end of his career, his performances for the national side as well as the Bluebirds has brought about a bit of a campaign to name the soon-to-be-built new stadium after the legendary player.

February 25: There's no sign that David Batty will switch to any other club before the end of the season. There had been some suggestions that the veteran would take up an offer to join one of several Division 1 clubs interested in his services, but his agent Hayden Evans insists that Batts is staying put. Evans said: "Why would David want to leave Leeds? He's got a contract until the end of the season and he's going to see it out. There's been several clubs in for him in the last couple of weeks but he's not interested in going anywhere else." And he added: "There's never been any hint of David retiring." I refer Mr Evans to page 271 of his client's autobiography: "Most folk would love to be facing the big poser 'will I be bored if I pack in work at 35?' All I'm saying is I've got the opportunity to put it to the test. And I'm going to."

February 25: Scott Carson has insisted that he didn't feel any nervousness despite making his first ever start in front of 67,000 people at Old Trafford at the weekend. "I was looking about and just thinking these are the games you want to play in. Once it got going I settled down and it just seemed to all go so quick after that," he said. Carson was realistic about the balance of the game - but very happy with what the team achieved: "We did ride our luck, but you are going to have to at Old Trafford... We restricted them and they didn't have any clear-cut chances so overall it was a great team performance and a great result." And he became the latest in a long line of players to praise the support the team has had this season: "The fans were fantastic. We came out and they gave us support from the first to the last minute and once we got the goal I don't think we heard the Manchester United fans after that. It was class." Eddie Gray had some very high but simple praise for the youngster - he said: "He is as good as Paul Robinson was at his age."

February 25: The club released further details of what will be happening on Tuesday to commemorate John Charles. The funeral at Leeds Parish Church will be a private affair for friends and family, but the whole first team squad is expected to attend and Eddie Gray will lead the tributes from the club. Afterwards - at around 1230 - the hearse will arrive at Elland Road for a short memorial service, but the East Stand will be open from 1100 to allow people to get in in plenty of time. Trevor Birch said: "We want people to have the chance to pay their respects to John and felt this was the most appropriate way. Everyone connected with the club was deeply saddened by the news and we would like to pay our own tribute to John. He is held in high esteem in the city, and as a football club we are honoured and privileged that he felt such affection for Leeds and Leeds United." Donations to St Gemma's Hospice in Moortown are requested in lieu of flowers.

February 25: Leeds head coach Kevin Blackwell was being strongly connected with a move to the vacant job at Southampton. With chairman Rupert Lowe facing stern opposition from fans to the return of Glenn Hoddle, he has been forced to cast his net wider and the much-admired Leeds coach appears to be Lowe's main target. Blackwell simply said that he was not looking beyond Leeds at the moment: "It's always flattering to be linked with prestigious jobs, but at the moment I'm fully concentrating on the survival of Leeds United."

February 25: Recent recruit Steve Caldwell says he's convinced that Leeds can stay up, despite the perilous league position. Caldwell has done a good job fitting into the heart of the defence, and although he's no Woodgate or Ferdinand, we've started to see some of the solidity return to the backline over the last couple of games. He said: "[Old Trafford] was a massive point because nobody was expecting us to go there and get anything. To go out there and play pretty well and get a point, while keeping them to a minimum of chances and creating some for ourselves, is obviously great for confidence." But Caldwell knows that's only the start of a long job: "It's a massive game on Sunday. We have to go out there and give 100 per cent and maintain that work rate. With the quality players we've got here I am sure we will get those points to move up the league."

February 24: John Charles' funeral service will take place on March 1 - appropriately St. David's Day for a great Welshman - at Leeds Parish Church. Current plans are for the hearse to visit Elland Road prior to the funeral, with the East Stand being opened by the club to allow fans to gather and pay their respects.

February 24: Lee Bowyer's 6-match ban from European competition has not actually started yet! Bowyer received the ban for a foul on a Malaga player in his final game for Leeds, and the ban carried over to his return to European football with Newcastle. Well, the Magpies have now played a Champions League qualifying tie and two rounds of the UEFA Cup, so he'll be free to appear in this Thursday's game against Valerenga, right? Wrong! Newcastle never registered him as an "eligible" player for the previous rounds, so his ban is not considered to have started yet,and he'll miss the next six games that Newcastle qualify for.

February 24: Leeds reserves had a goalless draw with Manchester City tonight, after a nightmare trip over the Pennines delayed the start of the game by more than half an hour. Simon Johnson and Andrew Keogh had a couple of decent attempts saved in the second half, and Shaun Allaway came through the whole game none the worse for wear after last week's injury.

February 23: The second Yorkshire consortium are said to be ready to weigh in with a bid for Leeds before the end of the week. The offer is expected to be made on Thursday - just 24 hours before the latest deadline from the creditors expires. Ian Currie of Zeus Capital said: "Nothing much has happened over the past few days. But we are due for another meeting with the consortium members on Wednesday and we hope to be putting forward a proposal to the club on Thursday. It's looking positive."

February 23: The club and the city councils from Leeds and Cardiff are considering how best to make a permanent memorial to John Charles. Leeds council leader Neil Taggart said: "He really helped put Leeds United back in the top rank of clubs back in the 50s and built the foundations for the success that followed in the 70s. The city does need to honour him in some way, the mood is right. We do need to have a lasting memorial in the City of Leeds to John Charles." The Supporters Club has suggested renaming the West Stand, and other suggestions include naming the banqueting suite or one of the roads around the ground after the player. Similar plans are afoot in Cardiff, with the approach roads to the Millenium Stadium being considered for renaming. The club have yet to decide what to do - it's early days after all - although another statue to go alongside that of Billy Bremner has been mooted as a possibility. Meanwhile there's another obit online from BBC Leeds.

February 23: The players' union in Australia has ruled out a boycott of ASA games, but has firmly backed Scott Chipperfield and Mark Viduka after their ridiculous bans at the weekend. APFA chief executive Rob Anderson said that several players had been in touch to complain over the way the ASA had handled the two internationals last week. Anderson said: "The players are disappointed at the way a couple of their close teammates have been treated in this instance. We will discuss the issues in a considered way and will obviously form a consensus as to the best way to communicate this to the ASA. But there's been no talk of boycotts, no discussion regarding any action."

February 23: Sunderland today issued an apology for the behaviour of its supporters after they disrupted a one-minute silence for John Charles at Cardiff on Saturday. The club said: "The behaviour of the small minority of Sunderland fans who broke the minute's silence at Cardiff, following the sad death of John Charles, was indefensible and I know that the vast majority of fans would share this view. On behalf of the club and Sunderland supporters, we would like to offer our sincere apologies."

February 23: Leeds skipper Dominic Matteo said that the players dedicated their performance at Old Trafford to the memory of John Charles. Matteo said: "John's death is a great loss. Everyone wanted to give it for him on Saturday. He was a fantastic guy and we dedicate the performance to him." And the captain was very happy with his side's display: "I've had a couple of decent results at Old Trafford over the years, but given the position we're in at the moment, this was one of the most important. It's not often you go to Old Trafford and get something. You need to show character when you go a goal down against a team like that because you can go for two or three. It's important to hit back quickly. Maybe we got the rub of the green, but we haven't had that in a while. Everybody worked so hard and we showed what we can do." Matteo praised the support from the travelling Leeds fans again, adding: "It felt like a win afterwards and I hope the fans went home happy." Meanwhile Eddie Gray praised the team for turning in such a good performance despite not having Paul Robinson or Mark Viduka available. Gray said: "The boys worked really hard and at times we took the game to them which was pleasing. The whole team played well. The two centre-backs won a lot of challenges and made some good blocks. The boys in front of them did well and Alan Smith kept talking to James Milner." He went on: "They showed a lot of commitment and desire. If they've got the belief that I have then we can get out of trouble. The most pleasing thing was that we didn't cave in. We stood up to the challenge and we defended well. Everybody played their part."

February 23: Leeds Ladies nearly pulled off a shock win at Garforth yesterday. They were 2-0 up against League Champions Fulham courtesy of two strikes from Lucy Ward, but Fulham got back into the game on the hour mark and scrambled a draw with 5 minutes remaining. The Ladies reserve team won 1-3 at Everton to clinch their divisional title with three games to go.=

February 22: There will be a one-minute silence before the game between Bologna and Juventus today in honour of John Charles - the game is on Eurosport this afternoon. Links to a couple of online obituaries: The Guardian, BBC. Also the Sunday Times has articles here, here and here.

February 22: Alan Smith today hinted that relegation may see him finally move on from Elland Road. But he's in no rush to get away and wants to make sure Leeds stay up first and foremost. He said: "I am glad they didn't sell me in the transfer window because I want to see it through to the end. But if we go down, I've got to think about whether I stay. If the worst comes to the worst I'll see it out until the end of the season and then nobody can say that I bailed out half way through. Leeds have shown great faith in me since I was a kid and I want to repay them. People might say it will be a massive achievement to stay up because of the financial situation but in football terms we have the players to do it." And he hit back at people who have knocked his scoring record, pointing out that he'd switched to midfield for the good of the team: "I've played 100 games in midfield so how can people say my goalscoring record is not that good? If you take away those games, my record is not bad. Anyone who has seen me play knows my best position is not midfield but I can play there because I've lots of energy and I can win tackles. And because of the club's situation, players have to make sacrifices and I'm willing to do that even, if it has an adverse affect on me."

February 21: John Charles died today at the age of 72. He passed away at about 4.30 this morning at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield. The Gentle Giant of Welsh football had fought several battles against different chronic illnesses over the last few years before being rather more acutely afflicted on a recent visit to Italy. Our thoughts and sympathy go out to his family and friends.

February 21: We'll get to the game in a moment, but first up here's three positive things from today. First up, the silence for John Charles: impeccably observed by all 67744 people in the ground. Given what happened at Ewood Park after Matt Busby's death I'd half-expected them to not take the chance of creating what could have been a serious flashpoint if the Man U fans had shown a lack of respect. Full credit to the club for having the confidence to do it, their players for setting an example in the centre circle and to everyone in the ground for honouring the memory of the man recognised by the Italians as their greatest ever import. Secondly from our lot not a single Munich chant all day and from them not a mention of Istanbul. I don't have much time for the canonisation of the 1958 Manchester United team but after all these years I still can't understand the sort of mindset that sees the death of a group of people as a reasonable subject for winding up the opposition. Has it taken the death of our greatest ever player to finally get that fact through to everybody? Finally, PC Plod. For once a vaguely sensible bit of policing - enough presence but not so confrontational as to wind everybody up to fever pitch, and having the confidence in their own operation and our behaviour to not keep us in at the end of the game. Maybe they should send their matchday operational plans to Portsmouth for the idiots down there to digest.

Okay, now the game. It would be stretching things in the extreme to suggest we bossed the game, and on the balance of play we barely deserved a point. But ManU suffered from the same inability to test the keeper that has plagued us for much of the season: Scott Carson made some spectacular dives but was only really called to make a save maybe four times throughout the game. Steve Caldwell and Dom Matteo were solid at the heart of the defence, Didier Domi occasionally ventured a bit further forward than would be ideal but he is forgiven all of his out-of-position antics for the beautifully-weighted cross that Smithy nodded home. In midfield we remained a bit lightweight, but Bakke, Johnson and McPhail all covered a lot of ground, made the odd mistake and drew the odd groan of complaint from the Leeds end, but this was a hardworking performance and just the sort of thing we need a few more of if we are to stay up. Milner ran himself into the ground up front, and Smithy was a total star and if he can keep up this level of effort he must be in with a great chance of making the England squad for Euro 2004. It's a shame we're back on the bottom of the table after Wolves' win against Fulham, but this was definitely an unexpected point gained, with the performance as much as the point providing an additional boost for the squad in the remaining games.

February 21: Eddie Gray had plenty of praise for the side after the draw at Old Trafford. He said: "The players showed great character to respond after going a goal down because they could easily have caved in at that point. They stood up to the challenge and came back into the game. Hopefully it has provided us with a platform to move forward." And Gray paid particular tribute to Alan Smith: "I believe he is capable of scoring more often than he does and now he has got goals in his last two games. It was a typical forward's goal and I was delighted with his overall contribution," he said.

February 21: Footballing greats around the world weighed in with tributes to John Charles today as news of his death went around the world. Eddie Gray said: "Of all the stars Leeds have had, John Charles' name sits right at the top. It is a very sad day for everyone connected with this club. As well as being a truly great player, he was a wonderful man. He will be badly missed." Back in Wales, FAW general secretary David Collins said: "John was one of the greatest of all Welsh players, if not one of the world's great players," and First Minister Rhodri Morgan added: "We have lost one of the greatest Welshmen of the 20th century." In Italy, his former team-mate Rino Ferrario said: "I met many great people during my footballing career, but I don't think I ever knew anyone quite like John. He had a unique sporting attitude and was so courteous; he was also a fantastic player who was so effective in so many different positions... He was the perfect gentleman, and I am so, so sad to hear of his death." Juve vice-president Roberto Bettega said: "We mourn a great champion and a great man. He is a person who interpreted the spirit of Juventus in the best possible manner and he represented the sport in the best and purest manner. The whole of Juventus is thinking of his wife Glenda and of the children of the 'Gigante Buono', who we will never forget."

February 20: Terry Fisher - one of the people involved in the "new" consortium interested in bidding for Leeds - has said that there is no magic wand to be waved to wipe out the club's debts, and no single benefactor is in a position to do an "Abramovich" on Leeds. He said: "It can only be done if we have the support from other businessmen within Leeds. Nobody's in a position to throw millions of pounds at this." It seems that the new consortium have not given up hope, despite reports this week that the not-Richmond group are on the point of sealing the deal. Richard Hughes of Zeus Capital said: "We know it's in our interests to put something to the creditors sooner rather than later, but we are delighted with the way things are progressing." The next deadline from the creditors is next Friday afternoon, and one of the bidding groups is thought likely to be able to offer some concrete proposals by then.

February 20: Andreas Dracopoulos has further reduced his stake in the club. After selling nearly half of his holding on Wednesday, he disposed of a further 3 million shares yesterday, taking him down to a holding of 4.5 million shares - just 1.34% of the club compared to the 4% he held at the start of the week. If I were remotely qualified to read the market or offer advice, I'd say this speaks of an imminent move to restructure the club with the bondholders either getting an equity stake or taking a serious deferral or reduction of their debt and with the existing shareholders left with a negligible interest in the re-formed organisation.

February 20: Jermaine Pennant was banned from driving for 16 months and fined £1200 after he admitted drink-driving last week. He was stopped by police for making an illegal u-turn in Paddington last Friday morning and was found to be over the limit. In court he admitted that in the past he had picked up 6 points for driving without insurance and 3 points for speeding, so that made a ban inevitable. Pennant admitted the offence and was ordered to pay £55 costs in addition to the fine.

February 20: Alan Smith has returned from England duty in Portugal and is hoping to finally break Leeds' jinx at Old Trafford, despite the absence of Mark Viduka. Smith said: "It'd be great if we could get a win there. I love playing at Old Trafford for Leeds and it would be nice if we could come away with all three points. We've been close a few times without getting a win. I played when Solskjaer scored in the last minute. Even last year we could have had something when Vidukes should have a penalty and then they went and scored." Smithy isn't letting either side's current form make him think there's no chance of success. He said: "If we play like we can and defend like we can, and get enough ball forward then I'm sure we can cause them problems at the back. We're all looking forward to it. We've not played like we did against Wolves all season and that came at a good time. I'm sure a few teams will have been a bit shocked to see Wolves come to our place and get a performance like that. It should rattle a few cages."

February 20: That very nice man Arsene Wenger is on our side in the battle with the Australian Soccer Association. He was incredulous at the attitude adopted by the ASA over Mark Viduka, branding their decision to ban him from this weekend's game as "ridiculous". He said: "You don't expect a federation to suspend him, considering the situation of Leeds and the fact that it was a friendly. I think it's dreadful for Leeds. It affects us indirectly - but I don't consider that when I say what I think. Of course, it could be an advantage for us with Viduka playing, but I consider the direct effect on Leeds. They are in a special situation with their finances." And he made the point that the decision could backfire bigtime on the ASA as the biggest clubs would be forced to consider the ruling body's attitude should a talented Australian player come up for sale. Wenger said: "You wouldn't be encouraged to do that. Not only do you lose your players for the games, but for the travelling as well. What happens to Viduka makes you think twice about it."

February 20: Eddie Gray says that he's not fearful about tomorrow's trip to Old Trafford, despite the twenty-odd years since Leeds last managed a win there. He said: "I look forward to it because it is the place to go and play football, it's a great stadium at a huge club with fantastic players. It's the type of game your players look forward to playing in, and they should be. It is a big test, you look at going to Old Trafford, Highbury and Stamford Bridge, they're all tests, but for Leeds it's been a disappointing place for us to go to in recent years, we haven't picked much up there recently." Gray talked up Scott Carson's prospects for the game. He said: "I think he will be feeling great, what a place to make your full debut. Playing for the under-21's will give the boy a big lift in midweek and I think it will have helped settle him down for the week ahead. He's only young and traditionally goalkeepers mature a bit later in their careers than outfield players, but he has shown us everything to make us think that he will be at least the equal of Paul Robinson." Carson himself said: "It's hard to believe I'll be playing in front of all those people for Leeds, but I will be and I'm looking forward to it."

February 19: So they finally did it. The Australian Soccer Association (I presume they mean football but I guess it says all you need to know about a governing body when they don't even know what game they're supposed to be in charge of) have invoked FIFA's 5-day rule and Mark Viduka will not be available for selection against Manchester United on Saturday. Despite the fact that Leeds did exactly the same as Blackburn and Liverpool did for Emerton and Kewell, the biased morons who run the ASA have decided that they're going to get stroppy with Viduka and Scott Chipperfield, who had the temerity to miss a connecting flight after spending time with his wife and new baby. Viduka released a statement via his representatives:

I am extremely disappointed at the stance taken by Soccer Australia.

Leeds United officially requested that I be withdrawn over an injury picked up in the game against Wolves. A considered and submitted medical opinion was that the injury was sustained due to a lack of match fitness, treatment and rehabilitation was the best option rather than the amount of travel required for this fixture.

However, at this time, I also had an open and honest dialogue with the ASA, expressing my thoughts that this game had come at the wrong time for me due to my recent personal circumstances, a time when I feel I need to be with, and available to, my family.

Sadly, this also was deemed not acceptable. Therefore, because of my strength of feeling I took the difficult decision to withdraw from the squad. This was communicated to the ASA on Saturday evening before I was due to travel on the Sunday.

I want everyone connected with, or following the Socceroos, to know that I care passionately about playing for my country and retiring from the national team was never an option.

I would like to thank the lads for their support and understanding and my commitment to them has never wavered. I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate Scott Chipperfield, also sanctioned, on the birth of his baby at the weekend.

Meanwhile Trevor Birch has made it clear that he feels that Leeds have right on their side and are seeking legal advice on possible future action. The club issued a statement which reads:

This decision has shown a complete lack of understanding and compassion towards Mark whose father Joe is still critically ill over in Australia and to Leeds United Football Club who, given Mark's personal circumstances, had no hesitation in granting him unlimited compassionate leave so that he could be at his father's bedside. Furthermore having not trained for three weeks whilst in Australia, Mark complained upon returning to Leeds of pain in his lower back and tightness in his hamstrings.

Leeds United Football Club and Mark Viduka have following his selection for this game been open and honest with ASA and given his loyalty to both club and country it is difficult to understand why such a hard stance has been taken which does not appear consistent with that for those other players who, for whatever reasons, did not travel to Caracas.

Leeds United Football Club fighting a battle for survival both on and off the pitch, have just thirteen games to secure their place in the Premiership and, given the stance taken to date by ASA, they now face the prospect of taking on Manchester United at Old Trafford without the services of one of their key players.

Leeds United Football Club is taking legal advice and will explore every available avenue in seeking to redress this potential injustice.

Birch said: "What's happened is an absolute disgrace. It's an outrage. They have no right to treat people like this. We have a game on Saturday that could be worth £20m to this club and what's happened? Why do they have the right to take him away?... They have made a decision on a whim and we all have to suffer. We can't even appeal against the decision. It's absolutely disgraceful." He continued: "Mark is an employee of Leeds United. What right do they have to prevent him from playing for us at the weekend? We'll look at the employment laws - how can this be right? We will do everything we can to try and get this changed because it is not on." And those are probably Leeds' best two lines of attack: European employment legislation was deemed to have primacy over anything the national and international associations wanted to do over the Bosman ruling and on restricting the number of EU nationals in the side so the rights of the national associations to dictate what an employee of the club can and cannot do outside of basic disciplinary suspensions must be questionable, and further it's clear from the fact that only two of the eight players who failed to turn up in Venezuela have been sanctioned that they are applying the rules haphazardly and with no regard for basic equity. Could get interesting...

February 19: Leeds have pulled the youth team out of the upcoming Dallas Cup tournament, citing the pressure on the club and the fact that various members of the planned Dallas Cup squad had been promoted to the reserves or first team. Club Secretary Ian Silvester said: "During this season Leeds United have experienced many difficulties which have seen several of our first team players transferred to other clubs. In addition, we have suffered a run of injuries which, combined with the transfers, has seen young players from our Youth teams who had been pencilled in for the Dallas Cup promoted to regular Reserve and First team football, and they will be needed for those duties over the Easter period. As a result, Leeds United feel that it would not be fair to The Dallas Cup or to the F.A. Premier League - whose nomination we were - to send a team to Dallas that would be younger and below the strength that we had expected to have available when we accepted the invitation in June last year." Blackburn Rovers - who won the Youth Team League last season - will take Leeds' place.

February 19: It looks like it's too late for Eddie Gray to sign anyone else, so it's down to Scott Carson to keep ManU at bay on Saturday. The young keeper said: "I've been trying to keep away from watching Manchester United on TV or video. I've seen them scoring plenty of goals in the past, and if I do get nervous having seen that, it would only make me worse." Carson said he'd expected to be playing second fiddle to an emergency keeper, and said: "The manager hasn't said anything about playing at Old Trafford, but I suppose you really can't have many better places to play." Eddie Gray will be hoping that Alan Smith and Steve Caldwell will be returning from international duty unharmed, but with Mark Viduka out then Lamine Sakho could come straight back into the side alongside Smith after returning from the African Nations Cup. Eirik Bakke looks like he'll be fit enough to retain his place in midfield, and Didier Domi is also nearly ready to return after being forced off with an ankle injury at half-time in the win over Wolves, although both Salomon Olembe and Ian Harte are ready to step in if he doesn't make it. Jody Morris and Michael Duberry are unlikely to be available with a knee and rib injury respectively, and Lucas Radebe is also close to a comeback.

February 18: Just a week after being sent off against Celtic, Alan Maybury finds himself facing the scrutiny of the authorities again after Sunday's Edinburgh derby. Hibs player Scott Brown was injured apparently after a clash with Maybury that none of the match officials saw, so it's off to the video review panel to see if the cameras caught anything conclusive. Hearts boss Craig Levein had a typical case of Manager Blindness. He said: "I am not going to speculate on anything I have not seen. I have to reserve judgement until I look at the video."

February 18: Former Leeds boss Howard Wilkinson is being linked with a surprise move to China. Since taking Peter Reid's slumping Sunderland side exactly nowhere last season, Wilko has been out of the management game, but stories today suggest he is on the point of signing up with Chinese champions Shanghai Shenhua. He's said to be ready to sign a 2-3 year deal, heading out to take up the reins in the next month or so.

February 18: Now that the transfer window is closed, and with Arsenal seemingly over their injury and suspension crisis it seems that there's no rush for Jermaine Pennant to return to Highbury - particularly with his drink-drive court appearance coming up. Consequently the young Arsenal star has been given a further one month extension to his loan spell at Leeds, and it looks increasingly likely that he'll stay for the rest of the season.

February 18: Leeds defensive legend Norman Hunter says that the takeover of the club will be nothing but good news for all concerned. With the £30 million bid from the consortium - which is understood to contain members of Geoffrey Richmond's family but not the man himself - seemingly on the point of acceptance after long negotiations with the creditors, Hunter said: "This is the best news we had had concerning the club in a long time. It's going to takes ages for Leeds to challenge the big boys again, but this is the first stage in what is going to be a painstaking rebuilding process." Hunter points out that staying in the top flight is essential, but says that the very necessary rebuilding process can't start soon enough. He said: "Who know, in years to come we might be among the elite again? This development is helping that process along."

February 18: Some reports today indicated that Mark Viduka had been banned from playing in Saturday's big match at Old Trafford, but formal confirmation of the ban has been a bit sketchy. FIFA said that they had written to Leeds to remind them of their international obligations, but reports came out that negotiations between the ASA, Leeds and the player's representatives were ongoing after the ASA were forced to reconsider their hardline approach in view of Viduka's apparent determination to walk away from the international game if the ASA did invoke the five-day rule. In the Sydney Morning Herald, former Australia captain Johnny Warren indicated that both current and former players were on Viduka's side, and that the players found it hard to believe the ASA were picking on Viduka but letting Kewell get away with the same offence. Warren said: "It's amazing how this [availability issue] has gone from Harry Kewell to Mark Viduka. When [Channel 9 sports presenter] Ray Martin knows two days before the national coach that Harry Kewell is not playing, if that's the way Australian soccer is going, then I don't want to know." He went on: "Poor old Mark. Of all players to get hit. He's turned up when he was injured, he made himself available for the Olympics. His club let him go for four weeks with his Dad dying on the other side of the world and he wants to repay them for their support. This is a very special case - where's the compassion? The ASA has to draw a line somewhere but they've picked the wrong game and the wrong person to do it." Meanwhile back in England, Steve Bruce stuck his oar in, asking FIFA to ensure that Leeds were penalised after he had been forced to release Stan Lazirides. The not-entirely-un-self-interested Bruce said: "Clubs have no choice but to release players for international duty and even if those players are injured, the country in question has to have their medical people look at them or be satisfied at the evidence they're given as to why they can't play. Stan may not be as big a name or, and no disrespect to him, as important to Australia as Viduka or Kewell but it seems clubs like ours that are perceived as smaller or less glamorous get treated differently... It's been one rule for one, another rule for others. That's why I'm very interested to see if Australia take any action over this whole issue." Indeed - and unless Harry Kewell is similarly banned, it would be interesting to see what would happen if the case were taken to ICAS for a ruling: FIFA and the ASA's total lack of evenhandedness in this case would surely see the current rules subject to serious review and revision. A late update on this story: it seems that the Australian players look set to take a leaf out of England's book and confront their national association over the way they've handled Viduka and Scott Chipperfield, who faces disciplinary action for missing a connecting flight to Venezuela after spending time with his wife who gave birth at the weekend. Aussie midfielder Josip Skoko said: "If Mark Viduka has threatened to walk away, he might not be the only one. Half the team could go with him. The new board of the ASA want changes, but the last thing we need is to lose our top players." A further ASA meeting is expected in the early hours of the morning to make a final decision on what to do.

February 18: Leeds are hopeful that young keeper Shaun Allaway will be fit enough to take his place on the bench at Old Trafford at the weekend. Allaway was injured in a collision in last night's reserve game, and was looking doubtful for Saturday, but after a night's rest it now seems that the injury isn't as serious as was first feared and the player will be free to warm the bench.

February 18: Greek shipping magnate Andreas Dracopoulos has clearly decided to cut his losses at Elland Road. Although he's believed to be a fan of the club - and in the Ridsdale era his possible future involvement as a serious investor was hinted at on several occasions - he's also a hard-headed businessman, and he's clearly decided there's little or no prospect of getting any sort of return on his investment, so he unloaded nearly half of his 4% stake in the club today, realising just £200,000 from the sale.

February 18: Danny Mills came on as a half-time sub for England in their 1-1 draw in Portugal tonight, turning in a typically solid and occasionally close-to-a-dismissal performance in the friendly game. Alan Smith was given the last 20 minutes alongside Emile Heskey, and although he made a couple of useful knockdowns and passes, he barely had a chance to get into the game. Calamity James didn't have much chance of stopping Pauleta's excellent free kick for Portugal's equaliser, but Paul Robinson will have taken a bit of heart from his seat on the bench as the Man City keeper made yet another serious bungle when he totally misjudged the flight of the ball and needed to be rescued with a goal-line clearance from his defence. In Cardiff, Gary Speed set up two of Rob Earnshaw's three goals, with Steve Caldwell coming out of his third full international with a bit of a headache as Berti Vogts' team was hammered 4-0. In Dublin, Robbie Keane had a couple of decent chances to break the deadlock against the visiting Brazilians, but their defence - marshalled by the one and only Roque Junior - stood firm and the game ended goalless. Olivier Dacourt was in action for France in their 0-2 win in Belgium, but picked up an injury and had to be replaced by Claude Makalele. Raul Bravo may be playing at centre-back for Real Madrid, but when he came on as a second-half sub for Spain it was at his natural position of left-back where he did well enough in Spain's 2-1 come-from-behind win over Peru - Villa's Nolberto Solano scoring for the visitors. Teddy Lucic's powerful shot helped set up Sweden's goal against Albania in Tirana - but the under-strength Swedes fell to a surprising 2-1 defeat. In other international news, it looks like JFH's decent run of form for Chelsea hasn't been enough to boost his Holland prospects, with his name being omitted from Dick Advocaat's provisional squad list for Euro 2004.

February 17: England U-21 coach David Platt reckons that James Milner will be better off playing in tonight's U-19 game against Holland rather than turning out for the full U-21 side. After getting himself a decent run in the team at Leeds, it was expected that Milner would get his chance to show what he can do, but Platt reckons that other players would be in front of him at U-21 level but he'll start for the U-19s. Platt said: "My thinking is that he is better served playing for the under-19s rather than sat on my bench and getting on for x period of time that may not even happen. James is up against players like Stewart Downing and Darren Bentley, as well as front men like Dean Ashton, Carlton Cole and Jonathan Stead. It's almost like I've an embarrassment, so it's nothing against James in any way shape or form. But he will figure, without any shadow of a doubt, in the under-21s in the near future." If Platt had named a bunch of players getting regular first-team experience for Premier League sides, you could just about understand his selection - but then he is the man whose transfer decisions helped create the mess at Forest that Paul Hart was forced to sort out.

February 17: Today's YEP says that the deal to buy Leeds is more or less a done deal, with the unnamed Yorkshire consortium favorites to take control by the middle of next week. No announcement has yet been made to the Stock Exchange, and there's still a suggestion that the Sheikh may wade in with a late bid, but it sounds like the financial shenanigans may soon be at an end and we can concentrate on what's going on on the pitch.

February 17: Mark Viduka could walk away from international football if the ASA decide to enforce the rule to keep him out of Saturday's game at Old Trafford. On SkySports News, an Australian journalist reported that Viduka wanted to repay Leeds for allowing him time off to be with his seriously ill father, despite the fact that the club were desperate for his services, and that he had the support of several senior players. I hope it doesn't come to this, but once again Leeds find themselves on the end of the ASA's inflexibility, which never seems to apply to any other club and which always seems to be treated far more seriously for halfway-round-the-world friendlies that do nobody any good.

February 17: James Milner scored after just 11 minutes as the England U-19 side beat the Netherlands 0-2 tonight - maybe proving a little point to David Platt in the process. The other England goal came from Norwich's Ian Henderson just before half-time.

February 17: We could be faced with a serious keeper crisis on Saturday. Already without Paul Robinson through suspension, it looked likely that Scott Carson would be between the sticks and Shaun Allaway on the bench. However the second part of that combination is now open to question after Allaway lasted barely 10 minutes of tonight's reserve game before damaging his knee in a collision as Newcastle grabbed an equaliser. Academy keeper William Coyles came on to replace Allaway, but it looks like goalkeeping coach Steve Sutton might need to dust off his old gloves. Of course, we could always use Lucas Radebe as a replacement keeper - a duty he's already performed once at Old Trafford after Mark Beeney was dismissed in April 1996. In the match itself, Simon Johnson scored after 5 minutes and then again on 82 minutes, bracketing a brace from Newcastle's Lewis Guy with the game ending at 2-2.

February 17: Scott Carson made his England U-21 debut at the KC Stadium tonight as David Platt's side ran out 3-2 winners over the Netherlands.

February 16: Frank Farina and the Australian Soccer Association are set for yet another confrontation with Leeds over Mark Viduka's failure to travel to Caracas for their friendly against Venezuela this week. Leeds say Viduka has a hamstring strain and the player himself wants to make sure he's fully fit for the trip to Old Trafford on Saturday, but that doesn't cut any ice Down Under. The ASA released a statement saying: "ASA policy is that it expects any player selected by the national team coach for international duty to make himself available and be released by his club. ASA has confirmed the policy to ensure that the Socceroos have the best possible preparation, as a team, to ultimately qualify for the FIFA World Cup in Germany 2006. ASA will utilise FIFA Regulations if required to enforce this policy." In other words they're prepared to try to get Viduka banned from the ManU game if he doesn't appear. Meanwhile Harry Kewell - who I seem to recall seeing in Liverpool colours in the cup tie against Pompey yesterday - is apparently also too injured to travel - "I'm carrying a bit of a knock and it just wouldn't do my career any good just for a friendly," he said. Needless to say the fact that Kewell no longer wears a white shirt means that the ASA aren't kicking up a fuss over him. One rule for Leeds, one rule for everyone else as per usual.

February 16: Alan Smith thanked Sven Goran Eriksson for keeping his promise to pick him for the Portugal friendly this week, and says he's hoping to take his chance and win a place in the squad for the finals in the summer. With Michael Owen seemingly miles off form and no other English striker in the Premier League bar Alan Shearer showing any sign of life, Smith has a great opportunity to lay down his claim for selection. He said: "I know that being picked for this squad doesn't guarantee anything." But he added: "If I want to get in the Euro 2004 squad, I've got to do it for Leeds and get us out of the relegation zone. We still have a long way to go but, if we can do it, then it should improve my England chances."

February 16: I admit that on occasion - particularly earlier on this season - I've been a bit critical of Mark Viduka for his seeming lack of interest in the games, but there's no denying he's shown great form and commitment since he came back from his sick father's bedside. In yesterday's Sunday Times there's an interview with the player in which he sets a few things straight. For a start he says he wasn't on the point of signing for Boro on deadline day, saying: "I don't want to see Leeds go down and I didn't want to just leave them like that." He had praise for his strike partner, and interesting words about what's changed in training since his return: "I like Smithy. He's a good lad and a great partner to have. He's Leeds through and through, and he doesn't want to go down either. If key players here start promoting a different attitude, the whole thing can change, and people like me and Smithy have to take a lead. It starts at every training session, you know." Rumours have been doing the rounds about how key players promoting a different attitude gave rise to Michael Duberry's recent injury, but far be it from me to spread such unconfirmed tattle. He explains what happened with the Spurs game, where he started it the morning after hearing about his father's sudden hospitalisation and then left at half-time. He says: "They weren't going to wake Dad for a couple of days, so I thought, 'If I'm here, I should play. We've got a chance of beating Tottenham'. So I played. But in the first half I was so full of emotions, I couldn't carry on. I was thinking, 'What am I doing chasing this bloody ball around when my dad's lying there halfway across the world?' Some things are more important than this game. I'd give up football tomorrow if it meant my dad was going to be okay." Which is pretty hard to argue with. He also puts across his side of the almost permanent rumours about his putative departure from Elland Road: "For the last three years they've been saying, 'He wants to leave, he wants to leave'. Well, I had the chance to go to one of the biggest clubs in the world [AC Milan in 2001] and I didn't, because I thought we could win things at Leeds - the Premiership and even the Champions League. I like this club. I like living in Yorkshire. My wife likes it here. My feelings for Leeds are underestimated. It's the press. They send over the wrong vibe." Of course for most of the summer the press were quoting Viduka's own agent, so it's a little bit disingenuous to heap all of the blame on Grub Street when what was really needed was some action on the player's part. Whatever - I think he comes across pretty well and it's worth taking the time to read the whole thing.

February 16: Two doctors from Juventus accompanied John Charles as he flew back home to Yorkshire at the weekend. He was taken ill in Italy last month and was rushed to hospital where he underwent two emergency operations. He's still seriously ill, and is recovering in Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield after suffering liver and circulation problems and will have to spend some time getting back to full strength. We wish him all the very best and hope he makes a full and speedy recovery.

February 16: A new bunch of people have entered the fray to take over Leeds United. With negotiations with the original (the not-Geoffrey-Richmond-honestly consortium) having taken a month to get close to a resolution, and with the constantly shifting "standstill" date, another bunch of folks has come onto the scene with still nothing concrete coming from the Sheikh's camp or from Ugandan Michael Ezra. This latest consortium is apparently being advised by Glory Days great Trevor Cherry and consists of several wealthy Leeds fans, backed by corporate finance house Zeus Capital and including Bolton businessman Ian Curry and ex-Huddersfield chairman Terry Fisher. Richard Hughes of Zeus Capital said: "We are extremely serious about finding a solution that is in the best interests of the club and providing sufficient funding for it to go forward rather than backwards. We are looking at the process of what the funding requirement is, but we have the funding in place and we are not far off from making a bid." They're making pretty positive noises about their ability to fund a takeover, provide funds to keep the creditors happy and improve the club's ability to compete on all levels. Curry said: "There's been a lot of sleepless nights and we're not doing that for the fun of it. We're all interested in making sure that Leeds survives."

February 16: The reserves are in action tomorrow night against Newcastle reserves (probably with Michael Bridges facing many of the youngsters he's spent most of the season playing alongside), but their home game against Bolton has been put back by two days and will now take place on March 4, KO 1900 at Belle Vue as per usual.

February 15: Leeds are through to the fourth round! Of the Nationwide FootballMind Cup that is! Leeds - in the shape of Roy Hill - beat Barnsley and Lincoln in round three and goes on to face York and Oldham as the competition hots up. Prizes range from replica shirts through to FA Cup Final tickets and a pass to watch the England squad at a training session.

February 15: Head coach Kevin Blackwell says that the midfield pairing of Seth Johnson and Eirik Bakke can provide the base to drive Leeds clear of the drop zone. Blackwell said: "I thought they were excellent against Wolves. Eirik was still making runs past the front two in the last 10 minutes and Seth put in a massive performance." Of course, that's only Wolves and both players have produced some fairly anonymous performances so far this season. Blackwell adds: "That's the standard they've set themselves now and there's no excuse for them slipping below that... If they can keep things tight in there it frees up our wider players to go forward and take the game to the opposition. There have been times when we haven't been able to do that this season because the attacking players have been worrying about what's been going on behind them. It makes a big difference if they don't have to think about that." In the People today, Blackwell is interviewed about his time at Leeds, and says that he'd still have made the switch from Sheffield United last summer, even if he'd known of the financial hazards ahead. He said: "I have no regrets because when Leeds came calling, they were too big a club with too much charisma to turn down. I believed in them then and I still do. I honestly think that they will always be a major force in football. Surely no one will allow them to die?" Blackwell says that he'd barely got his feet under the table when the Prof asked him if Peter Reid was the right man to be in charge, and adds: "When Peter did leave in November, he apologised for bringing me here. He said that he had no idea the situation was so grave. I said I couldn't thank him enough. I believe that what can't kill you, you can learn from so this will stand me in good stead."

February 15: Danny Mills says that his move to Boro is not his to control. He was expected to complete a permanent move to The Riverside during the transfer window, but there was a hitch which he says was between the two clubs - although it's widely believed that the problem was the player and his agent holding out for more money (maybe Leeds refused to agree to keep paying part of his wages a la Keane and Fowler). Now he says he has no idea who he will be playing for next season: "It's always nice to be settled. It's easy for people to say 'do your best' and I have done, but I've got my family to think about, I've got my future to think about. But now it's out of my hands. As it stands I'm on loan. All I can do is my utmost, my best for Boro."

February 14: What is it about Leeds players? Does somebody remove their common-sense gland when they join the club? Or have they all been infected with the live-for-today-and-sod-the-consequences virus introduced by Peter Ridsdale? Jermaine Pennant is the latest one to bring more embarrassment to the club after being caught drink-driving on the A40 in London on Friday. He will appear at Horseferry Road Magistrates Court to answer the charge next Friday.

February 14: The good folks at Football Fans Census have got two new surveys online asking for your opinion on a couple of current topics. First up they'd like to know what you think about the current FIFA "clarification" of the offside rule - I see that the FA are rushing to issue further guidance after Sam Allardyce decided to employ tactics which expose the full lunacy of the rule. Secondly they're after your thoughts on some of the recommendations that came out of the All-Party Football Group last week (which in a nutshell said that too much money was being concentrated at too few clubs for the continued health of the national game). They've also got the results online from previous polls, including some not totally unexpected revelations on who we think are our biggest rivals - take a look and make your voice heard now.

February 14: David Batty has issued a statement via and has asked for it to be passed on to Leeds fans around the world. He says:

As you're probably aware, I've been told I no longer have a role to play at Leeds, which I accept totally because football is all about opinions.

Contrary to a lot of reports, myself and Eddie Gray get on well and have no problem with each other.

Eddie thought, rather than have me hanging around the training ground with no prospect of ever playing again, he has given and shown me a lot of respect by being honest enough to tell me the truth.

I wouldn't expect to be treated in any other way, because I'm straight-talking, upfront and honest - although I am deeply disappointed as I feel I've got a lot left to offer.

May I take this opportunity to thanks all the fans for their support and wish them and the Club all the best for the future.

Jabba adds: of course, this is the internet, so don't expect that to kill off the conspiracy theories!

February 14: Alan Smith found that Sven keeps his promises today when he received his call up to the England squad for next week's friendly in Faro. Smith was called up and dropped in short order for the Denmark game after being arrested in connection with the bottle-throwing incident at Elland Road, despite the fact that no charges were ever made. Paul Robinson and Danny Mills are also included in the squad - but Jon Woodgate misses out with an injury and Rio is obviously sidelined for some time. Scott Carson and Matthew Kilgallon get a call into the U-21 side for the friendly against Holland in Hull - the first time "Killer" has been in the squad but a second appearance for Carson after he was an unused sub last time round. Henry McStay is another player to be given his first call-up for the Ireland U-21 side, joining Paul Keegan fo the friendly tournament in Madeira in a fortnight, with Italy and Portugal providing the opposition.

February 14: Robbie Fowler scored Man City's consolation goal at Old Trafford today, netting to make the score 4-2 to the 10-man Reds after Gary Neville was dismissed for a head butt on Steve McManaman. North of the border, Livingston might be laying off players left, right and centre as administration takes hold but that didn't stop them running out 3-1 winners against Motherwell with leading scorer Derek Lilley bagging the middle of Livi's trio.

February 13: UEFA have said that they won't sanction any clubs with unviable financial positions taking part in its competitions. In yet another attempt to remove any possibility of a club outside the (18-strong) G-14 upsetting the applecart and making any progress in the Champions League, they say that clubs will have to prove their finances are sound if they want to take part. UEFA Chief Exec Lars-Christer Olsson says: "Too many clubs plan as if they are playing in Europe even though not that many actually qualify. We are determined to be firm about this system. In future, clubs will not be allowed to have significant debts to players or any related party." Quite how that squares with Italian clubs being allowed to write down transfers over 10 years, or the huge debts owed by various Spanish clubs is unclear, but you can bet your last Euro-cent that the rules will be applied with a rod of iron to the likes of Basle, Leeds or Lens who have all got to the latter stages of the Champions League or UEFA Cup in the last few years, but should Real Madrid or Arsenal (how much are they going into hock for that new stadium?) breach the rules, it will be swept under the carpet as a minor technical violation. Olsson said: "We can ask an external auditor to intervene if we are suspicious that a club is not fulfilling the requirements. After that, we have the authority to expel clubs from our competitions."

February 13: The club's creditors have granted Trevor Birch yet another extension to the standstill agreement, this time giving him an extra fortnight to make some progress towards finalising details of a takeover of the club. Talks were going "reasonably well" according to a representative of the Yorkshire consortium leading the takeover race, but Ugandan businessman Michael Ezra remains hopeful he can step in with a winning bid.

February 13: Robert Molenaar has been offered an extension to his contract by RBC Roosendaal. Molenaar moved back to the Netherlands when his contract ended at Bradford and has impressed for mid-table outfit RBC, even managing to get on the scoresheet a couple of weeks ago with the only goal of the game at Utrecht.

February 13: Former Leeds keeper Danny Milosevic has been given some time off by Celtic in order to sort out what the club described as "personal problems". Milosevic only joined Celtic last month after a successful trial, and was seen as an ideal backup to Rab Douglas, but now the Parkhead side are looking to sign Livi keeper Alan Main. Martin O'Neill said: "We will give him time and see how that develops, then have a look at it... He signed a contract, but he has a few personal problems that he wants to get resolved."

February 13: Gordon Strachan has left his post at Southampton three months ahead of schedule. The former Leeds captain had announced that he would leave the club at the end of the season on health grounds, but after a meeting with chairman Rupert Lowe yesterday, there was a mutual agreement that he should go now. Strachan said: "This is a truly great club with a truly great squad of professionals and it is with regret that I am leaving for my own reasons. The chairman and I feel this to be the best course of action. I hope the media will now allow the club to fully concentrate on the remaining fixtures of this season while the chairman works to appoint my successor." Steve Wigley will fill in as caretaker until the end of the season, but Glenn Hoddle is widely tipped to take over, despite widespread antipathy from Saints fans. Lowe said: "Gordon has done a great job for us during his two-and-a-half years tenure and, unusually in football, leaves us on the very best of terms. He and his family will always be welcome at our club while I remain chairman."

February 12: Club captain Dominic Matteo says that Mark Viduka has returned from Australia with a great attitude and has been like a breath of fresh air in training. Matteo said: "Since he's come back from Australia he's been really good to have around the place. He really wants us to stay up and he's really working hard in training. He's also been getting everyone keyed up for the game and he's been very important to us over the last week." Which has certainly translated into his performances on the pitch: although it does rather beg a question or two over his performances prior to his departure to his sick father's bedside, he turned in a pretty decent performance at Villa Park and something like his old best against Wolves, and from what I've heard he's also taken a lead in driving the players harder and getting them to focus on the job in hand at Thorp Arch. Matteo added: "Fair play to him because he's had a lot on his plate recently but he deserves all the praise for Tuesday night."

February 12: On-loan defender Steve Caldwell has been called up into the Scotland squad for their friendly against Wales next week. Caldwell has two full caps already, and will be hoping to add to that total as Berti Vogts tries to figure out what his best squad will be for the WC2006 qualifying campaign. Caldwell is joined in the squad by his brother Gary, who moved from Newcastle to Hibs just before deadline day.

February 12: Former Leeds director Bill Fotherby has reiterated his desire to offer David Batty a home at Harrogate Town. Fotherby made a similar offer last year when Batty was being frozen out by Terry Venables, and now that Eddie Gray has said he can't see the Leeds legend appearing in the white shirt again, Fotherby said: "When he retired, the idea was he was going to come to Harrogate, according to both David and his agent Hayden Evans, and I am trying to put something together. I have been talking to his agent all season and I have stepped up those negotiations now. We will be doing everything we possibly can to get David, if not now then certainly at the end of the season. I am dying to get him here to Harrogate Town - he would win the championship for us."

February 12: So what's the situation with this Ugandan bid then? Or the rest of them for that matter? Well it seems that Mr Ezra is serious, solvent and not unafraid to spend his money - but he would probably want friends and family on the board to safeguard his interests (well, he's hardly likely to re-appoint Peter Ridsdale, is he?). Unlike the Sheikh - who seems unable to raise the cash - or Allan Leighton - who seems to have been waiting in the wings so long he's been offered the role of Pantomime Cow (Rear) at the City Varieties - Ezra would be willing to invest in the club now rather than waiting for relegation/administration to get the creditors over a barrel, but the Yorkshire consortium remains in pole position, with further talks ongoing this week and yet another extension to the standstill agreement probably forthcoming from the creditors tomorrow.

February 12: Eddie Gray has said that he doesn't have any intention of using the rest of the season to try to bring on younger players like Paul Keegan, Martin Woods and Aaron Lennon. On the official website, he says that the team is under too much pressure right now. He said: "It's alright when you're at the start of the season and you can change things around, but not now, it's too difficult for the kids to come in under circumstances like this. You don't want them to be destroyed so early in their careers, that's an important factor. We do have some good young players here but they are young players that have a lot to learn, you are just looking to the experienced players to help them along... You will never have a team of young kids all playing out there together and doing well."

February 11: Mark Viduka has been named in the Australian squad for next week's friendly in Caracas - although the player himself says he won't be travelling - it would leave him with an almost impossible task to get back in time for the ManU game. Frank Farina said: "As an international manager, and with what I've experienced in the last four years, I'm not confident of anything. I hope that everyone ends up happy at the end of the day." Paul Okon was left out of the squad but is hoping that regular first-team football in Belgium will win him his place back. Meanwhile James Milner has been named in the England U-19 squad for next week's friendly in Holland.

February 11: Ugandan businessman Michael Ezra says that his bid for Leeds is being held up over a dispute concerning the make-up for the board after his takeover. He said that he had held a meeting with Leeds at the start of the week, giving them until Wednesday to accept the offer - but Leeds demurred at the absence of any UK nationals on the board. He added: "They also feel that my board lacks the technical expertise to bolster the club," insisting that the board would be able to offer a large transfer budget as well as clear the existing debt - but there's some scepticism at the club over whether or not the proposed deal would be good for the club in the long run.

February 11: Dave Jones was not at all pleased by what his team had produced at Elland Road last night. "Once we got back into the game I thought we looked a better team, but in the second half we never turned up. When you are down at the bottom you'll get performances like this which is frustrating because we have put in a good run and have done well of late." And with the perception that this result could be fatal for his side, he said: "All we can do is stay positive and keep knocking on the door because we want to prove all the experts wrong." Meanwhile Eddie says that it's the front two who will make the difference in Leeds' remaining games. "I was especially delighted the two boys up front were on the scoresheet because they are big players for us. If they keep playing like that and providing we can keep supplying them then we can turn the corner." And Eddie was doubly happy that the Elland Road faithful had at last been rewarded with a win. "The fans have been great to the players and everybody connected to the club this season. I was just delighted that we gave them something in return this evening because they've had it hard as well, but they will have gone home feeling a little bit happier. Gray sounded a note of caution, pointing out that we're not out of the woods yet: "We're off the bottom but nothing has changed the fact that it is going to be a long difficult rest of the season ahead, I hope the players believe in themselves now. "

February 11: Despite having made a less than stellar start to his career at Siena (in his first game he was responsible for two of the four goals conceded and was voted worst player on the pitch), Roque Junior says he's made the right choice in switching to Siena. "I've had offers also from other clubs, so I had to choose between different opportunities and at the end I understood that the best choice was to come here... Now I'm living this new experience and I only think of achieving good things with Siena."

February 11: After all the hassle Leeds gave them in summer over the injury Eirik Bakke picked up in games he played for Norway against Leeds' doctor's advice, it's hardly surprising that Norwegian coach Age Hareide has decided to rest the midfielder for their upcoming friendly. Hareide said: "He needs to rest. It is important to get Eirik really fit now. Luckily, he gets this weekend off as it is the FA Cup, but I'm worried that a hard schedule will make his injury even worse." Let's hope that both Leeds and Norway get a long run over the next year.

February 11: The Sunday People has put an apology to Trevor Birch on its website following threats of legal action from the Leeds chief exec. The apology reads: IN the edition of The SP for January 25, 2004 we alleged that Leeds United Chief Executive, Trevor Birch, had met property developers Town & Country Developments Ltd with a view to selling Elland Road for redevelopment and ground share with Barnsley. We now accept that this meeting did not take place and that there are no current plans for Leeds to move away from Elland Road. We apologise to Mr Birch for any distress and embarrassment our report may have caused.

February 10: Our good friends from the PFA are on the offensive over the David Batty situation. After Eddie Gray told the player that he would not be involved for the remainder of the season - citing "footballing reasons" but with much speculation about the midfielder falling out with the fourth Leeds manager in succession - PFA chief Gordon Taylor weighed into the debate saying: "The way Eddie Gray has treated David Batty is absolutely disgraceful. Eddie is well within his rights to make a decision on David on merit ahead of each match. He can decide not to pick him for whatever reason, but this isn't what he's done. For whatever reason, he's made David an outcast and that's a disgraceful way to treat anybody - but especially someone who's given so much for Leeds United." Taylor goes on to have a dig at Gray's lack of formal qualifications for the job and then says that this decision is "appalling man management". Taylor continues: "You can't do that. You can't tell a senior player, who's fit to play, that he's not going to play for any of the teams at the football club." That's as maybe, but a senior player who's fit to play but told that he's not starting shouldn't take the decision as a personal insult - which is what appears to have happened on Saturday - and if he's asked by his manager to put in an extra training session and have some additional treatment then he should do it without complaint. The strange thing is that Gray has allowed Batty to continue training at Thorp Arch to keep himself in shape and able to take up any offers for his services that may come in during the summer, which would be a very strange decision by the manager if he viewed Batty as a disruptive influence as many seem to believe. Sounds like another story with plenty of legs.

February 10: Mark Viduka today spoke of the strain he was facing, knowing that his father was still ill - but recuperating - thousands of miles away. Viduka said: "My father is getting better but because it is a brain injury, it is a very slow process. It is difficult, but I am in touch with back home all the time checking up on his progress. I'm not getting much sleep. I am a bit jet-lagged and I am waking up early in the morning to speak to the folks back home. There is no other option." But the striker is determined not to let that - or anything else - distract him from the important job of keeping the club up. He added: "We have all got to concentrate on the job in hand. The only other choice is to sit on our backsides and wait for relegation. It is a normal reaction when you are in this situation for heads to go down. People start feeling sorry for themselves. But the players know we're the only ones who can pull us out of this mess."

February 10: Eddie Gray says that it's the home games that will be vital in Leeds' struggle to stay up. Fortress Elland Road is long gone, and the team's home record is just as bad as the away form, but Gray wants to start turning that around from tonight. He said: "This is a massive game, and the players should be looking forward to it. You want to play in big games and this is a great one to play in. The key is trying to impress upon the players to forget the fear of playing at home and go out and perform. That's difficult in the situation we are in, especially at home with the expectation level and the desire from the fans to see the club stay up. They have to overcome that."

February 10: Amazing! For the first time this season we played like we believed we could win the game, and sure enough we did. The only downside is that we didn't take all eight or nine good chances to really hammer our goal difference down. Leeds had the better of the opening exchanges, but Wolves had a couple of attacks and Robbo was looking uncertain on crosses yet again. But with just over 10 minutes gone, Smithy got to the ball first in the six-yard box after Steve Caldwell had headed the ball down: the already noisy crowd cranked up the volume. The Whites tried to press home the advantage but less than 10 minutes later a scrappy defensive header fell to Wolves' recent Romanian signing Ganea, and he crashed the ball home from the edge of the box (how many times has Robboe been beaten from distance this season???). The crowd and players visibly sagged, Wolves grew in confidence and for a few minutes it looked like they'd repeat their come-from-behind win at Molineux. Just before half-time, blessed relief as Dom Matteo turned and cracked the ball goalwards as Wolves failed to clear from a corner: one slight deflection later and we're much relieved to find we're actually going in to the interval a goal up! Harte on for Domi at half-time - cue a whole bunch of not totally unironic cheers whenever the left-back passed to a Leeds player or came close to making a tackle. Leeds had started well and just past the hour Smithy broke into the box on the right, slid an inch-perfect ball across the face of goal for James Milner to slide in to score. "Mark Viduka" came the chant from the Kop - finally switching to "One James Milner" when the scoreboard showed his face. What were they looking at? Just how easy is it to mistake a slight young lad with "38" on his back with the considerably more solid number 9? Whatever - a two-goal cushion and the volume was back up right around the ground and the players suddenly remembered how they were supposed to earn all that money. Smithy had two decent chances but never quite worked the ball out of his feet, Viduka put a free header over the bar, hit the bar with another header and watched Jermaine Pennant blast the rebound high and wide, and Smith seemed to be brought down inside the box once (no free kick or penalty) and then again (free kick half a millimetre outside) - but it didn't matter because we were now 2nd bottom - on alphabetical order since points, goals for and goals against all matched. With injury time just starting, Viduka produced one of his "quick-feet-for-a-big-fella" party pieces from the left edge of the box, losing three defenders, making space and coping well with a nasty bobble of the ball to slam the ball in for 4-1. Mass hysteria in each stand - "Let's go f***ing mental". Now all we have to do is repeat the performance at least against Leicester and Pompey, plus a couple more besides and we might just scrape enough points together to survive!

February 09: Good news/bad news from the Academy sides this weekend. The U-17 side hammered Derby 4-0 with goals from Gavin Rothery, Sam Hird and a pair from Ian Morris. By contrast, the U-19 side were hammered 0-3 by Sunderland.

February 09: Harry Kewell has been named as Oceania Footballer of the Year for the third time in six years. Only one player has matched that achievement - New Zealander Wynton Rufer (nope, I'd not heard of him either) - and at 25, Kewell must be in with a chance of making the record his own. Mark Viduka was second in the poll. Kewell said: "I'm proud to equal Wynton's record and would like to thank the people who voted for me. I will also try my best to break it and hope to produce enough good football to keep them voting for me." In other news, the yellow card he picked up in the Reds' game against Bolton at the weekend takes him to five for the season, so he'll be missing from the Liverpool squad for the trip to Elland Road at the end of the month.

February 09: Press reports today say that Leeds will move to take on Paul Hart - but not until the summer when the club's financial future should be a bit more certain. Leeds have stated that there is no intention to change the current management set-up before the end of the season, although a takeover would open that decision to review.

February 09: The injury that Michael Duberry picked up in a training session on Friday that kept him out of the Villa game could mean he is forced to spend a further month on the sidelines. Eddie Gray said: "Michael's got a problem with his ribs and the physio said he could out for a few weeks." Lucas Radebe and David Batty are still borderline to be fit for tomorrow's game, and Eirik Bakke and Jermaine Pennant will both be hoping to shake off the after-effects of knocks that saw them subbed on Saturday.

February 09: David Batty has played his last game for Leeds, according to caretaker boss Eddie Gray. He played well enough earlier on this season but had started to look a bit lost for pace before picking up his latest injury (though he's still an order of magnitude more useful than Jody Morris). Gray said: "I have made a decision that I will not be using David again this season and I have done that purely from a footballing point of view." Batty's agent Hayden Evans said: "David was asked into a meeting and told of the decision. As you can understand, he is extremely disappointed."

February 09: Eddie Gray says that it's still possible that Paul Robinson could remain with the club rather than move to Spurs when the summer transfer window opens. Gray said: "I am not resigned to losing Robbo. We will have to wait and see what happens to our club. We will see where we are in the summer and assess who will be here and who won't. Obviously it will help us to hold on to players if we stay in the Premiership."

February 09: Less than a week has elapsed since David O'Leary said that he wanted people to stop talking about his time at Leeds and draw a line under that period. So he's in the press today saying once again that the club's current plight is not his responsibility. He said: "Let me tell you, the Leeds United manager at the time did not go in and tie up the chairman and demand that someone was signe. It didn't happen like that. They set the agenda. I have got the same agenda here at Aston Villa. I recommend, then it is up to the board. You would think that, with Allan Leighton overseeing Peter Ridsdale, we would have been all right. Did I negotiate a single contract? No. I nominated the players and they signed them." He points to the income from the record crowds, the UEFA Cup and Champions League runs and the sponsorship deals that the club attracted as a result. He said: "I am just amazed at where it has all gone." Of course, he doesn't say anything about the way the team collapsed in the league and missed out on Champions League football despite the record signings, nor does he explain why he signed a fifth striker and a defensive midfielder when anyone who saw the side on a regular basis knew we needed a left-back and a creative/attacking midfielder in the McAllister/Strachan mould. We look forward to his continuing silence on the subject.

February 09: Reports from Italy today indicated that John Charles could be back in England by the end of the week, despite his poor condition in hospital. His Italian doctor, Professor Piergiorgio Settembrini said that Charles' liver was the main cause of his current problems. The Professor said that an ambulance plane with a doctor in attendance would be the best way to move him, and it is understood that Juventus may offer to help send one of their greatest ever players back home to Yorkshire.

February 09: Jamie McMaster's increasingly successful loan spell is being extended after Chesterfield agreed terms with Leeds to take the 21-year-old on for a further month. He's scored twice in five appearances for Chesterfield so far, and Roy McFarland has been impressed with what he has seen. Could work out well for Leeds - he's probably not quite good enough for the Premiership but from what I've seen he's got enough about him to acquit himself well in Division 1, so a bit of match practice this season should stand him in good stead for a decent run in the Leeds side next year should the seemingly inevitable (but still avoidable really!) drop occur.

February 08: DOL says that he's confident Leeds will stay in the top flight despite their defeat at Villa Park. He said: "It was a tough three points for us against a side I can't really believe are where they are in the table. You look at their players and the way they played today - and if they repeat that and show the same attitude then they will win the games to take them away from relegation." He even admitted that the penalty was a dodgy call - a statement borne out by the TV replays which clearly show Domi making contact with the ball. Eddie Gray remained upbeat, despite yet another failure to register any points. He said: "We worked really hard and were doing well - and to concede that penalty just before half-time was a big blow. I thought it looked a little bit harsh. That gave them a lift and knocked our boys back a bit. But I've still got that belief we can survive. We've got a massive game this week with Wolves, and it's getting to that critical stage where we need to win games."

February 08: Today's Guardian suggests that Trevor Birch might move on from Leeds, with Villa a destination that might interest him. The article says that Birch will consider his future after he has done his bit to secure Leeds' future, and he has still not signed a formal contract at Elland Road. It would be a great shame to lose him - from what I've seen so far he is a very impressive operator who knows football and finance, and if he'd been in place 12 months ago we'd not be in the position we're in now (and if he'd been around to stop Peter Ridsdale's insane spending spree we'd probably still be in Europe and challenging for a top-four spot). Please stay Trev - we need you!

February 08: According to today's Sunday People, other managers are set to mount a concerted effort to have Eddie Gray removed as Leeds caretaker manager because he doesn't have the relevant coaching badge. Sam Allardyce is understood to be one of the ringleaders of this protest - as he was in the row over Trevor Brooking's appointment as the FA's technical chief without a similar qualification (though his achievements in his brief spells at the helm of West Ham would rather suggest that members of the LMA would be better off approaching him for advice rather than complaining about the absence of a piece of paper from his office wall). LMA chief John Barnwell said: "We are very disappointed at the board's decision. We understand that initially it was a measure of expediency but it's vital this situation should not be allowed to happen again. The LMA has been at the forefront of upgrading coaching qualifications and a leader in making them mandatory. This is vital to the interests of the game and we will continue to question anything that threatens these objectives." Hmmm... that would be the same coaching qualification as possessed by the 24 managers who have been sacked so far this season for failing to produce winning teams would it?

February 08: Salomon Olembe and Lamine Sakho should be heading back to Elland Road - maybe not in time for Tuesday night's game but they should certainly be back by the time we go to Old Trafford. Sakho started for Senegal in their quarter-final match against hosts Tunisia and came close with a couple of chances, but couldn't do enough to save his side in the face of some controversial refereeing decisions. Olembe didn't play in Cameroun's 2-1 defeat by Nigeria - so let's hope he's fresh and ready to come back in at left back on his return (assuming we've made all the necessary payments by then!).

February 08: Time for the Sunday night Euro round-up, and starting in Spain we see the parallels with the Premier League with the race for the title now down to two and a half runners. Real Madrid remain top after Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos struck for them in Saturday's 2-1 win over Malaga, while Valencia trail them by two points after a relatively straightforward 3-0 win over Atletico Madrid in the Mestalla with two goals from Mista and one from Vicente. Deportivo La Coruna are the "half" - ahead of the pack but trailing the top two by four points: they won 0-2 at Albacete with two quick second half goals from Scaloni and Luque.

Milan continue to enjoy a comfortable lead at the top of Serie A - although they nearly stumbled at home to Perugia. It took them 74 minutes before Rui Costa broke the deadlock, and although a Pirlo penalty had appeared to make them safe, Pancaro saw red with 6 minutes to go and Fresi scored from the resulting penalty to make for a tense finale. Roma had a convincing 4-0 win over third-place Juve in tonight's televised game. Olivier Dacourt opened the scoring with a 20-yard shot in the first half, and a Totti penalty looked to have set them on the road to victory early in the second half. Juve then proceeded to lose it totally, exhausting the patience of ref Collina when Montero scythed down Cassano and saw red (if you saw De La Cruz on Milner yesterday, Montero was marginally less late and less violent). The rest of the game was a bit of a stroll for Roma, with two goals from Cassano sealing the victory. In fourth spot, Vieri must wonder why he has bothered to stay at Inter: twice he put them in front and twice they let Sampdoria equalise: another two points dropped and now in serious danger of missing out on the fourth Champions League spot.

Werder Bremen's progress at the top of the Bundesliga continues - although they had to come from behind and produce a last-minute winner with ten men to triumph over Borussia Moenchengladbach this weekend. Bayern keep up the chase in second spot, although they too were a man down for the last 15 minutes when Michael Ballack got his marching orders after opening the scoring for Bayern; Ze Roberto and Roy Makaay were the other scorers in their 3-1 win over Hannover 96. Stuttgart blew it this weekend, conceding an 87th-minute goal from Bobic at Hertha Berlin and now trail Bayern in third spot.

There are still three leagues in Belgium: Anderlecht top the table effectively unchallenged - although they were 2-0 down at Beveren before three goals in 17 minutes gave them the points; 16 points back there is Standard Liege slipping further back this weekend after allowing Lierse to equalise in the last minute, then there's everyone else.

They think it's all over in Holland - and when Ajax scored twice in ten minutes through Sneijder and Mitea to overturn Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink's opener just before half-time, they more or less wrapped up the title with four months to go: it's so hard to see them dropping enough points to allow PSV to come back. Speaking of dropped points, Feyenoord could only manage a goalless draw against third-bottom Vitesse.

Finally in France Monaco continue to enjoy a commanding lead - their 0-2 win at fourth-bottom Metz this weekend keeping the gap at seven points. Auxerre also enjoyed a 0-2 win at Rennes, overtaking Lyon for second spot as they conceded a last-minute winner to lose 0-1 at home to Guingamp. Scoreline of the weekend was fourth-placed PSG's 6-1 hammering of Montpellier, with four of PSG's goals plus Montpellier's consolation strike coming in the first half-hour of the second half. After the Pompey game I know what that feels like, so deep sympathy goes out to any Montpellier fans out there!

February 07: David O'Leary wants people to stop bringing up his time at Leeds and start looking at what he can do with Villa. He's still attached to the club - he said: "I want Leeds to stay up because they are a big club and I have great memories of my time there. I still get a fantastic amount of mail from the Leeds fans. They were brilliant towards me from day one and are so behind the team. It was great for me to go back with Villa around Christmas time and everyone was applauding. That meant a lot to me. It is a fantastic place to play and manage and I was proud to get them into Europe." He says that he has no idea why a team with the players we've got should be bottom of the table, and still thinks that we have a chance to make it safe. But he said: "You have to move on. I'll never forget my time at Leeds but it's 20 months since I left and there have been two managers since I left. Now I have my teeth into this job. Somebody has got to build this club and I want to be the one who does it. If I can do at Villa what I did at Leeds - fourth, third, fourth and fifth in the Premiership and into Europe every year - I'll be delighted."

February 07: After the best half of football that Leeds had produced for a couple of months, the game was more or less decided by Uriah Rennie just before the break. First up, he failed to caution Olof Mellberg for a scything challenge on James Milner - which would have made it a red card after an earlier booking for abusing the linesman - and then he decided that Didier Domi's sliding challenge had taken Vassell out rather than connecting with the ball. Unlike Graham Poll last week, he bottled the big decision, just awarding a penalty and a yellow card rather than the red that must have been merited if he really thought it was a foul. We were lucky not to have a further handicap for the second half: Mark Viduka's rather strenuous "pass" of the ball to Rennie when he blew the half-time whistle would probably have resulted in a red card and a request for a lifetime ban if it had been Neale Barry, but Rennie took no action. We were still in it for the early part of the second half, but then another dubious free kick from Rennie was well-taken by Villa from their left, Johnsen was more or less given a free header and Robbo was stood on his line uncertain as to whether to come for it or to stay at home. 2-0 and that was it. We still made some decent chances - Smithy coming close with a shot near the death - and outplayed Villa for much of the game, and we even needed Sorensen to make a couple of good saves - but that doesn't win any points and on a weekend when our main rivals for the drop all lost, we missed a big chance to close the gap to safety. Positive stuff from today: Mark Viduka worked very hard up front, and linked up well with Smithy for the knock-downs and lay-offs. Milner made some decent chances and worried their defence (he was on the receiving end of the sort of late tackle that would have had any Leeds player heading straight for the dressing room without even bothering to look at the ref, but De La Cruz just got a yellow). Steve Caldwell had a decent enough debut, and alongside Dom Matteo at centreback gave us a much more stable platform. Didier Domi wasn't perfect at left back, but his defence was more solid than Ian Harte (even if he rarely seemed to be on the same wavelength as Milner in front of him) and Harte's absence had the advantage of allowing Seth Johnson to take some excellent corners. But it's still 0 points - Tuesday night is vital for survival.

February 07: It was reported on Radio 5 tonight that John Charles has had to have part of his right foot amputated as a result of complications arising from the emergency surgery he underwent in Italy last month. There were problems with his circulation as he recovered, and not enough blood was reaching the foot, and so removal was apparently necessary in order to avoid a much more serious problem with gangrene. Here's hoping there are no more complications and he makes a full recovery.

February 07: Paul Hart has been sacked by Forest as they sit third bottom in Division 1, without a league win since October and having failed to score a goal in open play in nearly 10 matches. Opinion on this from Forest fans appears to be split, with the majority unhappy to see him go given what he's done for the club and the perception that the board had forced one sale too many on him, although a significant minority do seem to think he'd made some poor buying decisions, got into a bit of a rut with the side and couldn't do anything more with them. Expect him to turn up at Elland Road by the middle of next week.

February 07: Leeds have refused to say anything more about the possible takeover of the club by a Ugandan businessman. Apparently papers in Uganda report that Michael Ezra - who has been active in sponsoring various athletics and boxing events and teams over in Uganda - is keen to take a stake in LUFC. "We are still trying to find out a few things about Ezra and there are a few things we want to tell him but unfortunately he has not come back to us," said Leeds FD Neil Robson.

February 07: David Batty was said to be very unhappy at being left out of the squad for today's game at Villa - although it's also said that this is related to the fact that Leeds have yet to offer him a new contract. When Eddie Gray told him he was not involved, he is said to have expressed his opinions in a somewhat robust manner. However Eddie Gray defended his decision to leave Batty out, saying that he felt he needed a bit more time on the training ground to recover from his ankle injury before getting a first team game.

February 07: Gary Speed made Premiership history today when he started for Newcastle: he became the first player ever to make 400 appearances in the FA Premier League and was given a small trophy to mark the occasion. Michael Bridges came on as a late sub for Alan Shearer as the Magpies beat Leicester 3-1. Alan Maybury made the early headlines, but for all the wrong reasons as he picked up a red card for a horror tackle on Neil Lennon as Celtic strolled to a 3-0 win over Hearts in the Scottish Cup. Robbie Keane scored twice for Spurs as they led three times against Pompey before finally sealing the points with a Poyet striker in the last minute to win 4-3. Darren Huckerby scored the only goal of the game - a cracker by all accounts - as Norwich extended their lead at the top of Division 1 with a 0-1 win at Wimbledon. Nigel Worthington's side now lead West Brom by 5 points, and more importantly are 9 points clear of leading play-off side Wigan. I ran into a few Norwich fans on the way back from Villa Park today, and they tell me that the Milton Keynes stadium is ridiculously pricey (thirty quid for a ticket), and there were no programmes, food, beer or atmosphere: good job we don't have to go there next year then (but only cos the Dons are going down!). Mark Tinkler put the Monkey-Hangers in front at Barnsley, but Ridsdale's mob equalised to share the points in a 2-2 draw. Finally Jamie McMaster was on target yet again for Chesterfield, scoring the second of their two unanswered goals at Peterborough in a win that takes them clear of the drop zone.

February 06: It's looking increasingly likely that veterans David Batty and Lucas Radebe will both be released at the end of the season. With both players on decent wages and at the end of their contracts - and somewhat injury-prone - there's no way the cash-strapped club will be able to renew them on anything like their current terms, even if Leeds manage to stay up. Batty has previously said he wanted to retire once he got to 35, but after some time on the sidelines it seems that the chances he's had to play this season have boosted his enthusiasm to continue. Hayden Evans - Batty's agent - said: "There hasn't been an offer of a new deal and no negotiations have been mentioned. Everyone knows the financial problems at Leeds. Lucas will be due a testimonial after 10 years with the club, but if he is granted a benefit, it looks like it will be as a former Leeds player rather than a current one.

February 06: Eddie Gray will be faced with a big selection poser for the Villa game tomorrow. New signing Steve Caldwell is clearly available as a defensive option, Lucas Radebe is back in training and could be available for selection, and Michael Duberry also came back from an injury lay-off last week. But Matt Kilgallon has done pretty well and doesn't deserve demotion, and in recent games it's been clear that Dom Matteo's qualities in midfield are purely defensive - and he's our best centreback anyway. But the one thing Eddie Gray can't afford to do is overload the defence: we must go all out for the three points if we're to stand any chance of turning the season around. So with Mark Viduka and David Batty available again, that leaves us with: Robinson - Kelly, Radebe, Matteo, Harte - Batty - Milner, Bakke, Pennant - Viduka, Smith as probably the optimal starting line-up, although Ian Harte's well-documented defensive weaknesses remain a cause for concern. On the bench: Carson, Richardson, Kilgallon, Lennon and Simon Johnson - again, we need to be attack-minded and chal