Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Times Online - Sport

Smith has the final word to break Leicester's resistance
BY DAVID MCVAY
Leeds United 3 Leicester City 2
COPING in adversity, on and off the field of play, is scarcely a new phenomenon to these clubs but on the evidence at Elland Road last night, it is Leeds United who are in marginally the better shape to preserve their top-flight status in the Barclaycard Premiership.
First-half goals by Michael Duberry and Mark Viduka should have given the home side an unassailable lead, but during a thrilling finale, Paul Dickov and Muzzy Izzet revived Leicester City’s own prospects of escaping relegation.
Incredibly, there was a final twist when Alan Smith, the local hero, scored the winner with only four minutes remaining. However, only time will tell how the dismissal of Viduka, for a silly second caution of the evening for kicking the ball away in injury time, will disrupt the Leeds cause. He will miss the equally vital game against Portsmouth.
There could not have been a more encouraging opening to the game, from a Leeds perspective, that is. The Leicester fans would have been dismayed, appalled even, at the defensive ineptitude of their team in giving away two goals in two minutes, which shifted the balance of power irrevocably towards Leeds.
A raft of corners on the right, executed with a vicious inswing by the left foot of Seth Johnson, was an indication of things to come, although Les Ferdinand, digging deep for his back four, headed each one clear.
In the eleventh minute, though, the loose ball fell to Gary Kelly, who found Johnson with a crisp pass wide. The midfield player returned a high cross into the penalty area, where Duberry easily eluded what passed for markers to power in a header that bounced high off the turf and beyond Ian Walker, the Leicester goalkeeper. It was the defender’s third goal this season and easily the most significant, and a fine way to celebrate his return after an absence of nine weeks with fractured ribs, suffered against Middlesbrough on January 31.
Worse was to follow for Leicester as Walker was beaten again in Leeds’s next attack. This time, the cross wafted in from the left and again Leicester paid dearly for failing to deal with it. First Jermaine Pennant’s header bounced off Ben Thatcher, then Smith snatched at the loose ball before being allowed to tee up Viduka. The Australia forward seldom chooses a routine finish and, with his back to goal, he fired an overhead kick into the bottom corner. Television replays confirmed that Leicester’s claims for offside were futile since Thatcher was playing Viduka on.
Even though Leicester did offer sporadic pockets of resistance, Leeds seemed capable of scoring at will. Viduka sliced a volley wide when Ricardo Scimeca fell conveniently at his feet and, shortly before half-time, Smith saw Thatcher clear his deflected cross wildly as Pennant prepared to pounce.
In between the surges by Leeds, Steve Guppy’s cross from the left had been perfectly weighted for James Scowcroft, but Paul Robinson saved without undue bother beneath his crossbar. Ferdinand also looped an effort on to the roof of the net but, in truth, Leicester were mostly timid in the face of a tigerish Leeds.
Leicester were unable to contain their opponents’ commitment and hunger and Walker kept his colleagues in the hunt with a reaction stop from Smith in the 53rd minute. The England goalkeeper may have his critics, but his handling, as Pennant once more ran unopposed into the danger area, was faultless.
More was required from Walker when Smith tested him with a low shot, then a close-range header. Walker was equal to both.
Yet just when Leeds thought it was safe to relax and dream of salvation, Leicester replied with two goals in as many minutes. A double substitution — Peter Canero on for Ferdinand and Lilian Nalis replacing Freund — inspired the transformation. First Dickov, a first-half substitute, took a pass from Canero, steadied himself and smashed his eleventh goal of the season in the 77th minute.
Whatever Leeds had achieved in the first half, so Leicester could now and sure enough, the equaliser came less than two minutes later. The white shirts back-pedalled as Izzet moved forward and from 20 yards out delivered a rising shot that fizzed beyond Robinson.
There was still time for one last throw of the dice and Leeds came up lucky. James Milner got away down the left and crossed for Viduka, who chested the ball down for Smith to deliver the winner with a rasping low drive.
LEEDS UNITED (4-4-2): P Robinson — G Kelly, M Duberry, S Caldwell, D Domi — J Pennant, D Matteo, Seth Johnson, J Milner — M Viduka, A Smith. Substitutes not used: S Carson, I Harte, L Radebe, A Lennon, Simon Johnson. Booked: Milner, Viduka. Sent off: Viduka.
LEICESTER CITY (4-4-2): I Walker — R Scimeca, N Dabizas, M Heath, B Thatcher — J Scowcroft, S Freund (sub: L Nalis, 75min), M Izzet, S Guppy (sub: P Dickov, 37) — L Ferdinand (sub: P Canero, 75), M Bent. Substitutes not used: D Coyne, W McKinlay. Booked: Heath, Dickov, Thatcher.
Referee: M Dean.
RELEGATION RUN-IN
Home matches in capitals
EVERTON: April: TOTTENHAM (Fri 9), Leeds (Tue 13), Chelsea (Sat 17), BLACKBURN (Sat 24). May: Wolves (Sat 1), BOLTON (Sat 8), Man City (Sat 15)
MANCHESTER CITY: April: WOLVES (Sat 10), Tottenham (Mon 12), SOUTHAMPTON (Sat 17), Leicester (Sat 24). May: NEWCASTLE (Sat 1), Middlesbrough (Sat 8), EVERTON (Sat 15)
BLACKBURN ROVERS: April: LEEDS (Sat 10), Fulham (Mon 12), LEICESTER (Sat 17), Everton (Sat 24). May: MAN UTD (Sat 1), Tottenham (Sat 8), BIRMINGHAM (Sat 15)
PORTSMOUTH: April: Charlton (Sat 10), BIRMINGHAM (Mon 12), MAN UTD (Sat 17), Leeds (Sun 25). May: FULHAM (Sat 1), Leicester (Sat 8), MIDDLESBROUGH (Sat 15). ARSENAL (tba)
LEICESTER CITY: April: FULHAM (Sat 10), Man Utd (Tues 13), Blackburn (Sat 17), MAN CITY (Sat 24). May: Charlton (Sat 1), PORTSMOUTH (Sat 8), Arsenal (Sat 15)
LEEDS UNITED: April: Blackburn (Sat 10), EVERTON (Tues 13), Arsenal (Fri 16), PORTSMOUTH (Sun 25). May: Bolton (Sat 1), CHARLTON (Sat 8), Chelsea (Sat 15)
WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS: April: Man City (Sat 10), BOLTON (Mon 12), MIDDLESBROUGH (Sat 17), Birmingham (Sun 25). May: EVERTON (Sat 1), Newcastle (Sat 8), TOTTENHAM (Sat 15)

Monday, April 05, 2004

Sport

Smith's winner fires Leeds survival fight
Leeds United 3 Leicester City 2
By Phil Shaw
06 April 2004
Leeds certainly know how to put their followers through the emotional mangle. Two goals in three minutes early on should have been the basis for a handsome win for the Premiership's second-bottom club last night, yet Leicester scored twice within the same timescale late in the game and looked certain to leave Elland Road with at least a point.
They reckoned without the indomitable Alan Smith. With four minutes left, the England striker scored to take the home team level on points with 18th-placed Leicester. Leeds being Leeds, however, almost inevitably there was a dark side to their success. Mark Viduka, who had earlier struck a stunning goal, was sent off in stoppage time and now misses the relegation six-pointer against Portsmouth a fortnight on Saturday.
Indeed, when Leeds go in search of their first back-to-back victories this season away to Blackburn next weekend, they will do so in the knowledge that a caution for Smith would also put him out of Pompey's visit. If their acting manager, Eddie Gray, is to steer his beloved club away from relegation, he will clearly have to do it the hard way.
This game at least showed that the players, many of whom are unlikely to feature on a drastically reduced wage bill next season, have not given up the fight. As in a number of Leeds' modest tally of wins, notably at home to Fulham and Manchester City, they prevailed in the closing stages just when they appeared to have squandered a promising position.
"We had to win, but then we need to win them all at home and try to pick up something on our travels," Gray admitted. "Viduka was silly but we have to live with it."
Micky Adams, the former Leeds player who now manages Leicester, conceded that Leeds initially "wanted it more", but added defiantly: "There's no talk of going down in our dressing-room."
Three years ago to the day, Gray was David O'Leary's No 2 as Leeds basked in the glory of a 3-0 drubbing of Deportivo La Coruña in the Champions' League quarter-finals. On that occasion, Rio Ferdinand claimed the final goal. This time, with nerves jangling for altogether different reasons, another central defender set Leeds on their way.
Michael Duberry had been recalled when Gray decided to switch Dominic Matteo into midfield, where he was hugely influential. In the 11th minute, Duberry announced his return by converting a sharp downward header from Gary Kelly's cross after Leicester had cleared a near-post corner only as far as Seth Johnson.
Leicester waited in vain for an offside flag, and were soon looking forlornly to Mike Dean's assistant again as Leeds doubled their lead. This time Didier Domi's centre was helped on by the head of Jermaine Pennant and by Smith's chip. The ball broke to Viduka and the Australian's overhead kick tore past the goalkeeper, Ian Walker.
Sensing that Leeds were still far from comfortable defensively they have now failed to keep a clean sheet for 14 matches Adams sent on a third striker, Paul Dickov, as early as the 37th minute.
The ploy belatedly began to reap dividends in the 77th minute, when the unmarked substitute took Marcus Bent's pass and angled his shot beyond Paul Robinson. Leeds were suddenly in disarray and 90 seconds later they stood off as Muzzy Izzet bludgeoned the equaliser from 25 yards.
Smith's timely intervention, following James Milner's cross and a chested lay-off by Viduka, lifted Leeds again and ended Leicester's unbeaten run of six games. Viduka, who had been cautioned for fouling Matt Heath, then tarnished a fine display by kicking the ball away, a moment of churlishness that may yet come back to haunt Gray.
Leeds United (4-4-2): Robinson 7; Kelly 6, Caldwell 6, Duberry 6, Domi 5; Pennant 7, Seth Johnson 6, Matteo 8, Milner 7 (Harte, 88); Smith 7, Viduka 7. Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Radebe, Lennon, Simon Johnson.
Leicester City (4-4-2): Walker 7; Scimeca 5, Dabizas 5, Heath 4, Thatcher 4; Scowcroft 6, Izzet 6, Freund 6 (Nalis, 76), Guppy 5 (Dickov 7, 38); Ferdinand 6 (Canero, 76), Bent 7. Substitutes not used: Coyne (gk), McKinlay.
Referee: M Dean (Wirral) 7