Football: Cort holds off the flair of Leeds

Leeds United 2 Wimbledon 2
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The Independent Online
DAVID O'LEARY'S anxiety to burst the balloon of optimism is not working. The biggest crowd of the season, 39,816, was lured to Elland Road last night and they did not come in search of also-rans. The feeling is growing that promise is flowering into something substantial at Leeds.

Those eternal showers on anyone's parade, Wimbledon, denied them their fifth successive home win last night but even they could not entirely cloak the fact that Leeds are going to cause plenty of damage in the rest of the season. Certainly they are scoring enough to be regarded as potential FA Cup winners.

Bruno Ribeiro and David Hopkin took their side's tally to 21 in their last eight matches but Wimbledon, who had equalised earlier through Robbie Earle, did so again through substitute Carl Cort seven minutes from time.

"We gave away two bad goals," O'Leary said, "but Wimbledon are a very difficult side to play. It's the land of the giants when you take them on."

Another big man, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, was the game's outstanding player and it was he who first hinted that Leeds would continue to score freely with a curling shot from the left after six minutes that scraped the far post.

A feature of his play last night was his creativity rather than his strike power and he consistently beat his man on both flanks to cross. Such repetition breeds respect and Wimbledon paid for their exaggerated care after 25 minutes when Kenny Cunningham gave him too much licence on the left. Hasselbaink cut in and, as the defence advanced, slipped a pass through to Ribeiro, who swivelled and shot into the far corner.

Wimbledon, who were insistent that Ribeiro was offside, had been largely nullified but with 41 minutes gone they shook off their shackles in spectacular fashion. Earle won a tackle 25 yards out, held off a tackle from Lee Bowyer and then rifled a low shot past Nigel Martyn, scoring via the post.

Leeds did not deserve to be held at half-time and they needed only 11 minutes after it to make amends. Harry Kewell had wasted a glorious through ball from Ribeiro, slicing wide, but in a more difficult position, with Chris Perry breathing down his neck, he did far better.

The Australian turned the defender on the edge of the area and then hit a shot that skidded along the turf until Neil Sullivan stretched to stop it close by the post. It was a good save, but not good enough because Hopkin, charging in, side-footed in the rebound.

That appeared to have settled it, but by dint of necessity and experiment Wimbledon's manager, Joe Kinnear, introduced Cort and Mark Kennedy and his escapologists duly slipped out of the strait jacket.

Kennedy bewitched Gunnar Halle on the left and then arced a cross that was begging for Cort to volley it past Martyn. "Fantastic tactics by the manager," Kinnear said.

O'Leary was less happy but realistic. "Going into Christmas if I had been offered four points from two games I would have taken it," he said. "Maybe we're getting too greedy that I'm disappointed."

Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn; Halle, Wetherall, Woodgate, Harte; Haaland, Bowyer, Hopkin, Ribeiro (McPhail, 80); Hasselbaink, Kewell. Substitutes not used: Wijnhard, Granville, Smith, Robinson (gk).

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Cunningham, Perry, Thatcher, Kimble (Kennedy, 62); Hughes, Euell, Earle, Ardley; Gayle, Leaburn (Cort, 72). Substitutes not used: Ekoku, Roberts, Bakke (gk).

Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).