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It seems churlish to complain after winning 3-0 to go top of the Premiership, but this was, apart from a ten minute display at the start of the first half and a ten minute passage half way through the second, another display of disjointed football. For most of ther match, sideways and backwards passing was of the order of the day. Batts and Kelly must've been having a personal dual for supremacy on that score, with Smith not far behind. Bowyer was the only midfielder that seemed to want to take the ball forwards, and he was hardly ever in possession of the ball. Ian Harte was about the most attack minded player for much of the match.
Fortunately, Leeds were fast starting and in a whirlwind first few minutes smashed two goals past the hapless David James. Mills threaded a pass through to Smith, who on a night he played one of his poorest games I've seen him play, flashed across a cross which Viduka leapt cat like at and somehow, in mid air, steered the ball into the goal.
One David Gower, there's only one David Gower, taunted the Kop at David James, who is sporting a curly blonde barnet.
Minutes later, Mills went on a rare foray into opposition territory and crossed an accurate, pacey ball to Viduka's head. The ball crashed into the back of the net.
Gower, what's the score? Asked the Kop.
And that was pretty much it as far as Leeds' contribution to decent football for the first half went. Back to s**t passing, no movement, unaware of what to do with the ball when they had it. Despite this, Gower still produced cracking saves from a Viduka overhead and a Smith mid air volley.
Second half and Leeds were three up within five minutes. Bowyer wriggling through the Wham defence and the ball popping up behind him as he lost control. The ball fell for Fowler, who cool as you like, chipped the ball over Gower. The bloke's a class finisher and a snip at eleven million.
Are you watching Liverpool? the Kop enquired.
Still, s**t football from Leeds. Far, far too much passing sideways, no-one apart from Harte seeming to want to take the ball forwards until a passage of play that saw Gower pull off a string of brilliant saves from Fowler, Viduka and Smith.
Ten years ago, Leeds beat Wham on New Year's Day and were top of the table; they then went on to win the league. The midfield needs to get a whole lot more coherent and attack minded if it's going to happen in 2001-2.
Copy from Football Unlimited of 02/01/2002.
Sooner or later, it is safe to assume, the congestion towards the top of the Premiership is going to clear. Newcastle will admit they risk being afflicted by altitude sickness. Chelsea are scholars one week, dunces the next. There is little doubt the numbers will be whittled down but, when the inevitable happens, Leeds United are justified in feeling they will not fall by the wayside.
By overcoming West Ham last night, courtesy of a quick one-two from Mark Viduka and a piece of sublime individualism by Robbie Fowler, David O'Leary's hugely efficient side reached the league's summit for the first time in eight weeks, cherishing a two-point advantage over Arsenal and Newcastle.
It has blossomed into the most intriguing title race for many years, but not for the first time in recent weeks, it was easy to picture Sir Alex Ferguson relaxing at home in Wilmslow yesterday afternoon, oozing with schadenfreude and smirking with wicked appreciation as he learned of Chelsea's latest faux pas and the growing sense of anxiety at Anfield.
Copy from The Independent of 02/01/2002.
Although it is likely to be remembered for events off the field, Leeds enjoyed 2001, losing fewer games in the calendar year than any other top-flight side. The first day of 2002 saw them become the latest club to lead the Premiership after one of their most complete and compelling performances of the season.
But for some inspired goalkeeping from David James, Elland Road would have joined Goodison and Ewood Park in the list of grounds where this season West Ham have been buried by an avalanche of goals. Having conceded two to Mark Viduka in the opening seven minutes, they never remotely looked as if they were capable of staging a recovery. Leeds, who had slipped to 13th on New Year's Day last year, by contrast suggested they were more than capable of remaining at the summit until the season reaches its climax.
"We need some luck; we seem to be putting fires out all the time," said David O'Leary, assessing his own title chances. "We want to get to March in the shake-up with 10 games to go. We know what to expect; we have been down this road before but we have the bottle and we won't be afraid."
The presence of young Harpal Singh on the bench demonstrated the continuing thinness of O'Leary's resources compared to his other championship rivals. The Leeds manager, who had nine players unavailable, would not, for instance, have chosen to field Gary Kelly as a central midfielder or Alan Smith as a right-winger but the quality of the cross driven in for Viduka to open the scoring would have had the casual observer putting Smith down as a specialist. It was met first time by the in-rushing and entirely unmarked Viduka, whose shot gave James no chance.
Leeds' second of the night and Viduka's 11th goal of the season also came from the right wing some three minutes later as Nigel Winterburn made a present of the ball to Danny Mills. The Australian anticipated the cross better than his marker, Tomas Repka, who was sporting the bizarre combination of gloves and a short-sleeved shirt. The diving header from some eight yards was a classic of its kind. In the away dug-out, Glenn Roeder, who admitted that the seven-goal mauling at Blackburn in October is "ingrained in me for life", feared the worst.
That West Ham were not massacred was almost entirely down to James, whom Roeder confessed "did not get the protection he deserved". He made seven saves in all, ranging from a Viduka bicycle kick, to a Fowler volley and a free header from Smith, who, six yards out, aimed straight at the keeper's gloves. Mostly they were the product of beautiful moves, the kind that West Ham, for all their efforts to regain control of midfield, failed entirely to replicate.
Within five minutes of the restart, Fowler demonstrated the full range of his abilities. His goal was created by a little fortune - a tackle on Lee Bowyer sent the ball straight to his feet - and a deal of skill. Noticing James had committed himself beyond his six-yard box, Fowler chipped him delightfully. Then came a run which beat two men and a wonderful crossfield pass to Smith that had Elland Road chanting: "Are you watching, Liverpool?" Smith promptly unleashed a first-time shot which James did extremely well to turn away. Moments later he had to deal with a shot from a more unexpected source: from Mills' boot, but was again equal to it.
His defence's inability to deal with a rampant Leeds attack was further demonstrated when Fowler was allowed a clear volley from eight yards which James, so often maligned for rare idiosyncratic errors, turned away.
It is not often a goalkeeper in a team so comprehensively beaten would have increased his international chances but this was a display the watching Sven Goran Eriksson, seeing a team with eight Englishmen rise to the top of the Premiership, would have appreciated.
Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn 6; Mills 7, Ferdinand 6, Woodgate 6, Harte 5; Smith 6, Kelly 6, Batty 7, Bowyer 7 (Wilcox, 87); Viduka 8, Fowler 8. Substitutes not used: Duberry, McPhail, Singh, Robinson (gk).
West Ham United (4-4-2): James 8; Schemmel 4, Repka 5, Dailly 4, Winterburn 5; Hutchison 5, Cole 5, Moncur 5, Sinclair 7; Defoe 4 (Todorov 4, 75), Kanouté 4 (Garcia, 83). Substitutes not used: Foxe, Minto, Hislop (gk).
Referee: S Dunn (Bristol) 7.
Copy from Yorkshire Evening Post of 02/01/2002.
IT doesn't matter how many times David O'Leary denies it, he simply cannot continue to pull the wool over everyone's eyes.
The facts are staring United fans squarely in the face that their team are most definitely on the right course to win the Premiership title.
Whether they can sail safely through to the end of the season unhindered or whether an ill-wind blows their campaign wayward obviously remains to be seen.
Yes, there is a long way to go; yes, Arsenal are a very good side; and no, Manchester United are not yet finished. But it surely cannot be denied either that all of the required ingredients are now there for the Leeds to complete their journey from mid-table also-rans to title conquerors.
Leeds boss O'Leary was giving it all the usual managers' speak once again last night after watching his side ease past West Ham with a 3-0 victory.
Desperate not to put his team up there for the rest to shoot down, he is rightly refusing to shout his mouth off about United's title ambitions.
However, you can bet your last mince pie that the canny Irishman knows only too well that his young side are not only good enough but also hungry enough to make a serious push for the crown.
The doubters are being made to eat their words with every passing victory. And while it may not be scintillating, sparkling football every week, the fact remains that valuable points are being collected.
Last night's cruise past the Hammers was a third win over the festive season and the third clean sheet in as many games.
It was far from spectacular, and at times it was more than a little ragged. However, when you are chasing the title dream the most important factor is that you have won the match - and that part Leeds did with ease.
The United machine seems now to be easing into a higher gear at just the right time, with the arrival of new striker Robbie Fowler and the returns of both Lee Bowyer and Jon Woodgate seemingly the catalyst.
Once again last night they all did their part as United kicked off the new year with the victory required to see them regain the lead in the Premiership. Whether they can now hold on to that position is a matter for debate.
The key point to their challenge will be their luck with injuries. This current run has been accomplished without the likes of first-team regulars Harry Kewell, Olivier Dacourt, Eirik Bakke, Dominic Matteo and Robbie Keane. While it has been a fantastic effort to cope in their absence, any more casualties could have a serious affect.
The lack of options open to the manager left him with no alternative but to pick the same side that grabbed a last-gasp winner at Southampton on Saturday. They had to wait until the final minute for a goal on the south coast, but within 183 seconds of last night's game kicking off Aussie goal-getter Mark Viduka had given the fans something to cheer about.
In near freezing temperatures the big man launched himself forward to volley an Alan Smith cross into the roof of the net. It was the perfect start to a game which was only made playable due to the underground heating installed at Elland Road.
Any thoughts that it was perhaps too cold to watch football were then buried deep down in the mind within a matter minutes as United made it 2-0.
Viduka again was the hero as a misplaced ball from Nigel Winterburn was picked up by Danny Mills and the aggressive right-back burst down the vacant wing before playing over a delightful cross that invited the Socceroo to this time fling himself forward and direct an unstoppable diving header past David James.
The jitters which saw Leeds concede eight goals in three games before Christmas almost returned as West Ham made a short but stirring comeback. Joe Cole saw two long-range efforts miss the target and Trevor Sinclair also tried his luck but fired straight at Leeds stopper Nigel Martyn.
Viduka almost completed a hat-trick when his deft overhead kick had James scrambling across to fingertip the ball around the post. James then also denied Smith with another full-stretch dive.
James, very much in the thoughts of England coach Sven Goran Eriksson for this summer's World Cup, was in quite brilliant form. Indeed, the visiting keeper was the sole reason for Leeds not scoring a hatful as he made a series of quality saves.
But within five minutes of the restart he could do nothing as former Liverpool team-mate Fowler put the game well and truly out of West Ham's reach.
Viduka flicked the ball on for Bowyer but as he stumbled on the frosty pitch, £11m man Fowler picked up the pieces and cleverly lifted the ball up and over James. It was pure quality from a player who has the individual ability to really lift United's season. He was showing his true class with some quite scintillating touches.
As West Ham wilted James found himself ever busier, pulling off a fine double save in the 68th minute to first deny a typical Fowler volley and then hold a header from Smith as Mills flung the ball back into the area.
Martyn tipped over a Repka header and Moncur flashed an effort across goal, but it was never going to be West Ham's night.