Football: Enigmatic Leeds rivalling Tottenham for inconsistency

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The Independent Online
Leeds United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Tottenham Hotspur. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1 WITH its connotations of indolence and charisma, carelessness and style, the word 'enigmatic' might have been invented for Tottenham. Perplexingly for Howard Wilkinson, a manager not noted for his tolerance of such attributes, Leeds have emerged as rivals for this dubious epithet.

Both teams were at it again in a match which helped explain why their faces are already pressed against the windows of the championship race. Spurs, so feckless at home, showed resilience in a torrid final half-hour to take their tally of away points into double figures. Leeds, meanwhile, lurched from high-class to hopelessly crass and back like a crazed inebriate.

We expect Spurs to be consistently inconsistent. Spectators would have been consulting the Trades Descriptions Act if they had kept a clean sheet after Teddy Sheringham's opener. But in Leeds - who have beaten both Manchester clubs and Arsenal yet lost to Mansfield, Norwich and Coventry - the trait had Wilkinson admitting to 'anger and frustration' despite Brian Deane's equaliser.

Two seasons back, in the messy aftermath of a rigorously achieved title success, Leeds remained virtually unbeatable at home but could not win away.

Now there is no pattern to their form. Eleven days earlier they had resorted to up-and-unders against Third Division opposition. Here they were guilty of trying to play through Spurs too often.

Gary Speed, ''fresh' from Moldova, was out of sorts, Rod Wallace out of position, and a crowd which Ossie Ardiles became the latest to call 'intimidating' apparently out of passion. A more fluid and flexible Spurs gave Ilie Dumitrescu a roving role, and Romania's Wembley scorer showed selflessness and composure to set up a goal they deserved.

Sheringham, according to Ardiles, has lost confidence. The striker-captain begged to differ, maintaining Spurs were 'low on understanding' because of the need to bed in foreign players. 'You won't see the best of Tottenham until after Christmas,' he added. So much for football being a universal language.

Even his three missed penalties and lost international place cannot compare, however, with the misery Deane has endured at Elland Road. His lack of self-belief has been almost tangible. Curious, then, that the pounds 2.7m misfit outshone Jurgen Klinsmann as Leeds mounted a fightback from memory, volleyed them level and was unlucky not to score a hat-trick.

'Phew,' Ardiles exclaimed on arriving in the press-room. A sigh of relief?

'No, the bloody stairs. I'm not as fit as I was.' Asked why Dumitrescu was on the pitch four minutes ahead of his colleagues before the second half, he said the player thought the referee had called time. Had he missed the team talk? 'Ilie doesn't understand anyway,' the Argentinian laughed.

In his reputedly parlous position, gallows humour was a heartening sign. But from Wilkinson? Reminded that Leeds had won one in seven, he replied witheringly that his chairman and players had signed a petition calling for him to go. It was strange sarcasm - making one wonder how he speaks to his team - from an increasingly enigmatic figure.

Goals: Sheringham (27) 0-1; Deane (62) 1-1.

Leeds United (4-1-3-2): Lukic; Kelly (Pemberton, 76), Wetherall, Palmer, Dorigo; Worthington; Wallace, McAllister, Speed; Deane, Whelan. Substitutes not used: Tinkler, Beeney (gk).

Tottenham Hotspur (4-1-3-2): Walker; Kerslake, Scott, Campbell (Calderwood, 63), Edinburgh; Popescu; Dozzell, Barmby, Dumitrescu; Sheringham, Klinsmann.

Substitutes not used: Hazard, Thorstvedt (gk).

Referee: K Cooper (Pontypridd).

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