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Are we there yet? The end of the season can't come soon enough for a lot of fans, and after the appalling displays that have been passed off as Premiership football for the past two weeks, I think I'm one of them. At least we got some points out of this one.
I've had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Derby over the last couple of years. Love the beer in the Brunswick - one of the best brew-pubs in the country. Nice and central, so it's great chance to meet up with everybody, and nobody (apart from our absent friends from north of the border) has to travel too far. The stadium has decent sight lines - and we usually win. On the downside, the inevitable beer fight under the stands, the Miners' Strike chants, being kept in by PC Plod for an inordinate length of time - and then being marched slowly under a bridge where the locals can spit or drop stones on you has always taken the shine off a bit.
What to say about the game? Harry Kewell was back with a typical Kewell performance. Which is to say he beat loads of defenders, put in some great crosses and went missing without trace for 50% of the game. Batts was on the bench - I guess playing a defensive midfielder against a side that's already relegated would be a bit conservative, so I can't complain too much about that, even if I do think that he's been the player of the season.
In fairness to the team, the goal we scored was a great one: a ball out of defence reached Smithy on the halfway line. A quick flick over his shoulder and Bowyer was sprinting through on goal in that trademark way of his. Poom came off his line quickly - but Bowyer lifted the ball over him and we were a goal up. Surely more would come now..... Of course they didn't - and it was for reasons that were typical of the sort of performances we've seen elsewhere this season. We had a load of possession but never quite got the final ball right, and although Poom did well on his return from injury, he was rarely challenged enough to force a mistake.
Other incidents of note? Well the fact that Leeds got through a game without a booking was an amazing feat: Graham Poll didn't have much to rule on (apart from a long string of offsides that he had to take his assistants' word for), and the only time that either side got remotely emotionally involved was in a five minute spell in the middle of the second half. Boertien and Evatt were booked within two minutes of each other, and Gary Kelly earned the wrath of the crowd for throwing the ball at a rather unco-operative ballboy. The ref saw nothing, and we must give credit to John Gregory, who came out of his dugout, put his arm round Kelly and got the crowd and his team calmed down over the incident. Kelly was later apologetic - and the lad went home with Kelly's shirt at the end of the game. Eirik Bakke was also generous with his away shirt at the end - some lucky bloke in the front couple of rows might have had a poor view for most of the game, but he'll have copped the shirt.
The only things livening this game up were the presence of 20 or so Elvises in the stand (well done to the Maverick Whites) and the inflatable paddling pool that kept us amused, being thrown around the Leeds end for most of the second half. It was that sort of game.
Afterwards, the ever-organised Derbyshire Constabulary made a real hash of holding the Leeds fans back - allowing many Derby fans to mix in, then getting worried, then wondering what to do when a bunch of fans jumped over a hedge to make their "escape" back to the car park too soon, then letting the rest of us go back into town after holding us for 2 minutes and then frantically trying to re-martial the remaining fans. In a word - chaos. But I'm sad that we won't be back here next season - given the possible alternatives of the New Den or St Andrews, I'd take this sort of chaos any time ahead of the sort of reception we'll get at those venues.
Copy from Football Unlimited of 29/04/2002.
Last week it was reported that Sean "Puffy" Combs, hip-hop star, fashion designer and former consort of Jennifer "J-Lo" Lopez, was scared of clowns. Luckily Combs is not a football fan, for he and his fellow coulrophobics would have spent much of this game absolutely petrified.
Certainly Giorgi Kinkladze, Derby's Georgian winger, might as well have been patrolling the right touchline on a unicycle while juggling a fistful of flaming torches for all the good he did in the first half. At least then he would have made a few people happy.
Yes, this was a meaningless match between two sides whose fate for next season is already secured: for one, Milan; for the other, Millmoor. Yet the difference in attitude between the two teams was instructive.
Copy from The Independent of 27/04/2002.
With Derby already relegated to the Nationwide League and Leeds unable to improve on guaranteed qualification for the Uefa Cup, this was never likely to be a match pulsating with raw excitement, and a near full-house was probably fortunate to see the one goal it did produce.
In the event, the fans witnessed one of some quality from Lee Bowyer after 16 minutes, consigning Derby to a seventh consecutive defeat as their top-flight membership ends with their worst sequence of results since they were promoted in 1996. There was concern, however, after a first-half injury to Robbie Fowler threatened to create another headache for the England coach, Sven Goran Eriksson.
Fowler was hurt soon after Leeds had gone ahead, stubbing his foot into the turf as he tried to keep the ball in play on the left touchline. First indications suggest a jarred right hip, and although it will be tomorrow before the injury is investigated further the Leeds manager, David O'Leary, doubts that it is a serious problem.
The goal had been noteworthy for both its creation and execution, stemming from a superbly delivered overhead pass by Alan Smith into the path of Bowyer, who had sprinted into vacant space on the right to breach Derby's offside trap. Fowler offered the option of a pass inside as the home side struggled to regroup but the Leeds midfielder made the right choice in going for goal himself and finished with a perfectly judged chip over the advancing Mart Poom.
Derby should have been awarded a penalty barely a minute afterwards when Rio Ferdinand clearly impeded Branko Strupar as the Derby striker shaped to shoot, but Leeds deserved to be in front at half-time. Either Eirik Bakke or the substitute Robbie Keane should have converted an excellent low cross by Harry Kewell, who along with Bowyer brought saves from Poom before the interval, the Estonian goalkeeper looking sharp despite a three-month absence with a finger injury.
The home side's chosen script would have seen them mark their last Premiership fixture at Pride Park with a performance in keeping with their stadium's name but, try as they might, they found a goal beyond them.
Strupar and Malcolm Christie both had opportunities they could not quite take, and Adam Bolder the half-time replacement for the ineffective Georgi Kinkladze brought a full-stretch save from Nigel Martyn, but the closest to a second goal came at the other end as Smith cut a weaving path through the Derby rearguard, rounding Poom, only to send his shot thudding against an upright and out for a goal-kick.
With the rival supporters staging an impromptu contest for the most amusing chant "there's only one Graham Poll" was one joint entry the match was played in an end-of-term atmosphere. Although there was a less pleasant moment when the Leeds defender Gary Kelly threw the ball at a ball-boy while a teammate was receiving treatment, hitting the unfortunate youngster in the face.
Subsequent attempts by the Leeds man to offer a consoling pat on the head were met with a frosty stare. But Kelly clearly regretted the incident and redeemed himself on the final whistle by taking off his shirt and handing it to the boy, who went home delighted with his prize.
Copy from Football Unlimited of 28/04/2002.
Robbie Fowler became the latest member of the England World Cup squad to pick up an untimely injury, although early indications are that the Leeds striker's damaged hip will heal in time for him to be on next month's plane to Japan and South Korea.
Fowler's injury emerged as the major talking point from a game that Leeds won at a canter thanks to Lee Bowyer's 16th-minute goal. Relegated Derby, unable to offer much in the way of resistance, signed off for the season at Pride Park with their tenth home defeat and now must turn their attentions to doing battle with the likes of Reading and Brighton and Hove Albion next season.
The injury to Fowler came in the 19th minute and there was nobody else involved as the former Liverpool man went down. The striker appeared to be holding his hip as he was helped from the pitch and it was obvious that he could not continue.
Copy from Yorkshire Evening Post of 29/04/2002.
THE very name of the stadium where these teams played out this dire end- of-season encounter revealed just what they were playing for.
With Derby already doomed to the drop and Leeds assured of their UEFA Cup spot there was little more than honour on the agenda at the fine Pride Park home.
It was a shame, therefore, that neither team really pressed their claims for such an emotion as they played out what was at times reminiscent of a tiresome testimonial.
It was all too clear to see why John Gregory has been unable to save the Rams from the drop as they struggled against a Leeds side which rarely looked interested in reaching beyond second gear.
Their make-up of too many over-priced, over-paid has-beens is no doubt the reason for the fall from grace and only when the younger, hungrier generation came on after the break did they even cause a flutter to the Leeds defence.
In truth the United back four, marshalled superbly by Rio Ferdinand the man who must surely be every fans player of the season, always looked comfortable and it would have been a travesty had the home side found a way back into the match.
The very fact that the out-classed hosts even had a chance of earning a point was, in a nut-shell, the story of Leeds United's season.
On eight occasions throughout the campaign David O'Leary's side have taken the lead in a game and looked comfortable for victory only to then throw it all away.
Games against Liverpool, Manchester United, Aston Villa, Leicester, Arsenal and Middlesbrough were all drawn when it seemed Leeds had earned the upper hand while the two defeats against Newcastle were even more galling to accept after being ahead in both matches.
Totted up, those matches have cost O'Leary's side a massive 18 points. With those in the bag today it would put United on top of the Premiership with 81 points and with Arsenal chasing them hard in second.
Of course, the best they can now hope for is fifth place as they prepare for one last hurrah against Middlesbrough on May 11. Leeds fans need no reminding that this has been the season of so many what might have beens.
After such a storming start and the exciting acquisition of the brilliant Robbie Fowler nobody could have ever imagined they would turn up at Derby on Saturday with little to shout or indeed play for.
It should have been a tense, tight affair with every kick and tackle counting in the chase for the Premiership title. Instead it was more like a pre-season kick-about where only a few of those playing felt it necessary to put in the effort.
Lee Bowyer, Alan Smith, Dominic Matteo, Rio Ferdinand and returning hero Seth Johnson all came out of the match with credit while the others really struggled to make any impact.
It was no surprise that two of those who shone on a dreary day were responsible for the all-important goal which separated the two sides.
Smith's vision spotted Bowyer's run from deep and as he hooked an overhead kick into the midfielder's path there was little doubt he would score. The finish was as impeccable as the build-up as Bowyer drew Poom before clipping a delightful chip up and over into the net.
A quality moment from two quality players. Unfortunately, Smith and Bowyer sounding much like a gun-toting duo from the Wild West, seem destined not to play in this summer's World Cup.
Their past misdemeanours have come back to haunt them with Sheriff Sven Goran Eriksson determined to punish them.
It will be a great loss as England can ill-afford to turn its back on two young players who, while admittedly having chequered pasts, give their all for the cause and who have the undoubted skill to match their heart-on-the-sleeve effort.
Once again this season it seems their behaviour has gone before talent. And in a campaign when so many headlines have already been written for the wrong reasons there was yet another flashpoint on Saturday which threatened to boil into a serious incident.
The unlikely villain this time was Gary Kelly. The man who has committed the entire earnings from his testimonial year to charity lost his rag with a ball-boy and hurled the ball at him.
Referee Graham Poll, who consulted with one of his assistants, took no action because the incident was missed by both officials but the Derby crowd hurled abuse at the Leeds player and a local policeman went over to speak with the young lad to see if he was all right.
This incident however, unlike so many before it, ended on a light-hearted note as six minutes later Kelly went to take another throw and was this time handed the ball directly by Derby manager John Gregory, with a few words and smiles exchanged between the pair.
Kelly proved he does have a heart of gold for at the final whistle he apologised to the ballboy and handed him his Leeds shirt as a memento. The beaming smile and the punch in the air from the young lad proved he was more than happy with the outcome.
Manager David O'Leary was also a pleased man, even if he knew that his side could and should have found the net more than just the once.
After a first half onslaught from United in which they should have added further goals from Robbie Keane, a substitute for the injured Robbie Fowler, Ian Harte, Harry Kewell and Bowyer again Derby came back after the break and caused the odd flutter through Malcolm Christie and Marvin Robinson.
However, Leeds too had their chances in the second period. Smith struck a post after rounding Poom and Bowyer flashed an effort high and wide when he could have done better.
But there was a sense already around the ground that such misses did not really matter. Both sets of fans already knew their fate.
Unlike Gregory, O'Leary says he is no longer willing to "rip his team apart'' and instead believes a touch of tinkering is in order. There is no doubt that many of the fringe players will find themselves sacrificed to fund such a tinkering after all at this level even a little tinker can cost millions.
So maybe playing Derby at such a late stage in the season could prove timely for those on their way out.