Yorkshire Evening Post 9/12/06
More bitter home truths
On the next occasion Leeds United and Derby County meet, the curtain will come down on the Championship season.How much will be at stake for either club at Pride Park on May 6 remains to be seen, but there was little in United's performance yesterday to suggest their situation will be any less bleak in six months' time than it is this morning.Dennis Wise's early efforts at Elland Road have offered encouragement to United's following but, after nine games at the helm, the job of rescuing Leeds from the Championship's relegation zone is refusing to get easier.County will outclass better sides than Wise's this season, and Billy Davies players arrived in Yorkshire on the back of six wins from seven games.But the first-half performance delivered by United will stand among their most shambolic this season, and their improvement during the second half failed to force a result.Leeds were behind after less than 10 minutes, stung by a header from Giles Barnes, and their lack of productivity up front meant the early effort was enough to seal Derby's win. PossessionThe visitors were a yard ahead of Wise's players and first to every ball, leaving United to feed on a small amount of possession in midfield.The three-man combination of Shaun Derry, Jonathan Douglas and Eddie Lewis was swamped by County's midfield, who hinged on the passing and ball-winning qualities of former Elland Road midfielder Seth Johnson.Their defence seemed unbalanced by Hayden Foxe's inclusion out of position at right back.The Australian had looked uncertain during previous appearances in the same role, and the organisation that Wise craves among his defenders was sorely missing. At the other end, United's strikers were simply left to watch the game pass them by until deep into the second half.Leeds' vulnerability during the early stages of their league fixtures has been glaringly apparent throughout the first 22 games of the season, and a costly trait reared its head again as Derby broke the deadlock after only nine minutes at Elland Road.Former Huddersfield striker Jon Stead was given space on the left wing to whip a curling cross to the back post where Barnes squeezed a low header past Graham Stack.The early strike was a repeat of last weekend's clash with Barnsley, when the Oakwell club snatched the lead after three minutes.StruggledBut, unlike the 2-2 draw at Elland Road eight days ago, United struggled to muster an immediate response to Barnes' finish.Leeds had created the first clear chance of the game on seven minutes when David Healy – recalled to the starting line-up in place of Ian Moore – met Foxe's cross with a volley which swung wide of the post, and Foxe was an unlikely threat again in the 18th minute when his low shot brought a comfortable save from Stephen Bywater.But the gaps in United's defence were expertly picked out by County's attack, and Leeds were spared a second Derby goal by a woeful strike from Matt Oakley shortly after.The visiting captain was given the simple task of finishing off another dangerous delivery from Stead, but his shot from eight yards sailed over the crossbar with only Stack to beat.Stead's creative instinct was a crucial difference between the teams and his raking crossfield ball cut Leeds open again on the half-hour.Although Steve Howard's weak header brought an end to a prom-ising attack, Derby always looked capable of striking for a second time.ImprovementBut the interval gave Leeds a chance to regroup, and the second half brought signs of improvement from Wise's players, without producing a goal.Eddie Lewis pulled a shot wide of Bywater post after a quick break involving Derry and Robbie Blake left the American free inside the box.The home crowd thought Blake had produced an equaliser on the hour when his free-kick flicked the side netting.But their best opportunity fell to Healy in the 66th minute, his final act before making way for substitute Moore.The Northern Ireland forward laid a pass off to Blake after finding space inside Derby's area, but when the ball returned to his feet, Healy lashed a hurried finish high into the stands.County were then unlucky to see David Jones' fierce strike in the 89th minute hammer against the underside of the bar before bouncing to safety.Bywater preserved the visitors' lead at the death when he threw himself to his left to parry a goalbound header from Matt Heath.

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