Football: Cantona hits hat-trick to crush Spurs

Leeds United. . . . . . 5

Tottenham Hotspur. . . .0

IF THE mark of true champions is their ability to put their bad days behind them, Leeds United may yet stamp as firm an impression on the new Premier League as they left on the old First Division.

After conceding four goals at Middlesbrough on Saturday, the champions bounced back with five last night, Eric Cantona scoring his first League hat-trick. All that detracted from an impressive performance was the abysmal standard of the opposition.

After this dismal display Spurs may be renewing their acquaintance with the First Division - the new one, that is - sooner than they anticipated.

Inept at the back and outfought in midfield, they failed to mount a single attack of any note. Leeds, in contrast, did little else, and Cantona's finishing in no way flattered them.

'In the last four seasons we have come back like this every time we have been beaten,' said their manager, Howard Wilkinson. 'There was not much wrong on Saturday and the same players deserved the chance to rectify matters.' They lost no time in repaying his confidence. Normal service was resumed as soon as possible.

Leeds swarmed forward from the start and Neil Ruddock was lucky not to divert Gary McAllister's lofted free-kick into his own net, David Howells blocked a Chris Whyte shot on the line, and Cantona's spectacular bicycle kick hinted at the shape of things to come.

By the half-hour, Leeds were three up, and each goal stemmed from an elementary defensive header. David Batty released Cantona through a static Spurs back four, and although Ruddock managed to whip the ball off his toe, Eric Thorstvedt's attempt to control the back-pass with his feet merely set up Rod Wallace to score from an acute angle.

Justin Edinburgh was the next to show his generosity. He intercepted Cantona's attempted cross only to head it back into the path of the Frenchman, whose right-footed angled drive from 18 yards had passed the goalkeeper before he could move. Four minutes later, Batty's chip forward found him unmarked in the six-yard box to head past the stranded Thorstvedt.

Young Dean Austin, making his Spurs debut at right-back in place of Terry Fenwick, had every right to look bemused. It was never like this at Southend.

Cantona might have completed his hat-trick when McAllister's cross found him unmarked again but he sliced the chance wide. It arrived a minute after half-time. Wallace found acres of space on the left, Lee Chapman knocked back the cross with his head, the striker hit it first time, and it was Ooh- trois-Cantona.

Having run the Spurs defence ragged, he was even to deny them the monopoly on generosity. When Batty found him in space again, he might have chipped the advancing Thorstvedt, but unselfishly passed to the better-placed Chapman who tapped home to complete the scoring.

This was Leeds restored to their all-action best, but Cantona - an inspired signing if ever there was one - would have stood out for his clever lay-offs, his delicate touch and his ability to find space even if he had not scored three goals to go with the hat-trick he scored in the Charity Shield.

The Spurs manager, Doug Livermore, said: 'Leeds taught us a lesson in everything they did. After their defeat on Saturday, we caught them on a bad night.'

Leeds United: Lukic; Newsome, Dorigo, Batty, Fairclough, Whyte, Cantona, Rod Wallace, Chapman, McAllister, Speed. Substitutes not used: Strachan, Hodge, M Day (gk).

Tottenham Hotspur: Thorstvedt; Austin, Edinburgh, Howells, Cundy, Ruddock, Sedgley, Durie, Samways, Anderton, Allen. Substitutes not used: Tuttle, Hendry, C Day (gk).

Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).

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