Football: Chapman preserves champions' image

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Leeds United. .2

Wimbledon. . . 1

THE OLD champions kicked off the new league with a victory, but more will have to alter than the name of the competition if Leeds United are to end this season with another piece of silverware - domestic or European - to place alongside the Championship Trophy to which they gave a lap of honour at the start of this match.

We may have entered soccer's brave new world, but not much has changed at Elland Road. Despite his summer spending spree, Howard Wilkinson kept face with the players who sounded the last hooray of soccer as we knew it, and they responded by showing that they are as adept as ever at dominating a game and then tamely letting the opposition back into the party.

Admittedly, the goal with which Warren Barton dragged Wimbledon on to the scoresheet would have looked impressive as a basketball shot, and some of Wimbledon's defending would not have been out of place on a volleyball court, but that was not what they meant when they talked about a whole new ball game.

Barton's freak goal came 15 minutes from the end after Leeds, as they did so often, even when lifting the title last season, failed to convert their superiority into goals. Wimbledon had not put a shot on target when Chris Whyte's half-clearance fell to Barton 35 yards out on the right. His back was to goal but his speculative lob soared over John Lukic, who had come off his line, and dropped under the bar.

Leeds had led for most of the match with a goal which owed as much to the rule change preventing backpasses to the goalkeeper as to Lee Chapman's opportunism. Rod Wallace headed on Gary McAllister's cross, and it fell to Roger Joseph, who was no longer allowed to touch it back to Hans Segers. His hesitation allowed Chapman to rob him, dribble round Segers and score.

The goal inspired Leeds to play as though they could not wait to confound those who believe they finished on top of the heap last season only by default. Eric Cantona's cross from the right set up that impromptu game of volleyball in the Wimbledon goalmouth in which Segers blocked Chapman's initial header and follow-up shot with his body, and a third attempt spun off a defender to McAllister, who drove the final shot narrowly wide. Chapman headed Gary Speed's cross over with the goalkeeper beaten, and Wallace's flick gave Cantona an opportunity from six yards, which he volleyed wide.

Leeds' dominance was founded on their familiar strengths - David Batty's ball-winning and prompting from midfield, Cantona's delicate lay-offs and Chapman's continuing ability, despite speculation about his future with Leeds, to drift away from his markers. Wimbledon, too, pinned their hopes on well-used if rather more basic tools - the long ball, the spirited chase, the hopeful shot from distance, with which John Scales and new signing Dean Holdsworth went closest.

Yet they might have equalised immediately after half-time when Whyte was penalised for dangerous play in his own 18-yard box. Substitute Steve Hodge failed to move back 10 yards, and referee Gerald Ashby demonstrated the new determination to enforce the old rules by booking him, before Barton blasted the kick against a Leeds wall built under the crossbar.

Hodge's misfortunes continued as Cantona turned his cross into the net only to be ruled offside, and his own conversion of McAllister's corner was disallowed for the same reason. The game then drifted lazily out of Leeds' control until Barton's goal slapped them awake again. But they left it late.

There were just four minutes left when Cantona headed down for Chapman to volley home superbly from 20 yards.

Their manager, Howard Wilkinson, said: 'Chapman scored two great goals. He worked hard for the first and the second was a lovely strike. He could have had a hat- trick, but Segers played wonderfully well. In the second half Wimbledon were as awkward as I expected. The first goal, points and victory of the season represent a difficult hurdle and it is good to achieve all three on the same day.'

Leeds United: J Lukic; J Newsome (G Strachan, 79 min), T Dorigo, D Batty (S Hodge, h/t), C Fairclough, C Whyte, E Cantona, Rod Wallace, L Chapman, G McAllister, G Speed. Sub not used: M Day. Manager: H Wilkinson.

Wimbledon: H Segers; R Joseph, G Elkins, W Barton, J Scales (D Blackwell, 71 min), S Fitzgerald, P Miller, R Earle, D Holdsworth, L Sanchez, A Clarke (G Dobbs, 70 min). Sub not used: N Sullivan. Manager: J Kinnear.

Referee: G Ashby (Worcester).

Goals: Chapman (1-0, 14 min); Barton (1-1, 76 min); Chapman (2-1, 86 min).