Football: FA Cup - History and Hasselbaink favour Graham once again

Leeds United 3 Birmingham City 2
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The Independent Online
TREVOR FRANCIS tried hard to strike the attitude of the aggrieved manager, but it was half-hearted. You suspected he believes something bigger than refereeing decisions dictates matters when he comes up against George Graham. He had seen it all before.

A lot of football has been played since Andy Linighan won the FA Cup for Graham's Arsenal against Francis' Sheffield Wednesday in the last minute of extra time five years ago, but both managers referred to it. It was difficult not to under the circumstances.

First Division Birmingham had recovered from 2-0 down and had Leeds desperate for the final whistle when Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink got the winner with four minutes remaining. The free-kick that led to the goal, Francis thought, might not have been awarded and Hasselbaink had definitely fouled Jon McCarthy to get his head to the ball. But what was the point - Birmingham were out.

"All credit to Hasselbaink," he said. "He used a little bit of Continental gamesmanship to first punch McCarthy in the face and then stamp on his toe to get the yard he needed. It's all part of the game, a lot goes on in a penalty box during the course of 90 minutes."

Francis recalled it had also been a dead-ball kick that had cost Wednesday the final in 1993. "It was a corner that undid us then. The difference was it was later, they gave us four minutes to come back at them today."

The wonder was why Leeds had to indulge in such brinkmanship. For the first hour they could not have been more comfortable if they had put on their favourite cardigans and nestled in by the fire. Rod Wallace put them ahead after four minutes and Hasselbaink made it 2-0 after 27.

Perhaps it was too easy and the home players were so busy thinking about who they fancied in the next round they forgot to win this one first. Even before the first goal Birmingham had threatened with a near-post corner and, as Leeds dropped off, McCarthy and Martin Grainger began lobbing in crosses that became increasingly dangerous. Eventually, one had to count and after 62 minutes Gary Ablett ensured it did and, although Alf Inge Haland stretched to stop it, his head merely propelled the ball against the bar and into the net.

Leeds began to fear, Birmingham began to hope and with 10 minutes remaining Peter Ndlovu struck a low shot from a full 30 yards that Nigel Martyn was too slow to stop.

The visitors piled forward and the best Leeds could hope for was a replay. At least that was what Elland Road thought. Graham knew better. No, he had not been surprised Leeds had turned the tables. "If you look at my record, all my teams have scored goals in the last minute. It just shows the mentality of the players. Although we were under a lot of pressure in the second half, they were up there trying to get the winner. You have to give credit to Birmingham. I love saying that to Trevor every time I beat him."

Leeds, who have made more comebacks recently than George Foreman, definitely have a certain resilience and Francis' assertion they and Manchester United are his favourites for the Cup will have a solid foundation as long as Wallace plays as well as he did in the first half.

Quick and tricky, he can win a match in a split second and it is going to cost Leeds a lot of money to replace him if they cannot persuade him to sign another contract. "I don't expect anything less from him," Graham, who seems resigned to losing him, said. "He's playing for his future employers, isn't he? If there's any time to play for your life, this is it."

Goals: Wallace (4) 1-0; Hasselbaink (27) 2-0; Ablett (62) 2-1; Ndlovu (80) 2-2; Hasselbaink (86) 3-2.

Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn; Maybury (Harte, 67), Wetherall, Kelly, Halle; Bowyer, Haland, Ribeiro, Kewell; Wallace, Hasselbaink. Substitutes not used: Shepherd, Matthews, McPhail, Beeney (gk).

Birmingham City (3-5-2): Bennett; Bass, Bruce, Ablett; McCarthy, O'Connor, Hughes, Grainger (Johnson, 87), Charlton; Ndlovu, Forster (Devlin, 72). Substitutes not used: Forinton, Holland, Poole (gk).

Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury).

Bookings: Leeds Haland, Wetherall, Hasselbaink. Birmingham Ndlovu, McCarthy, O'Connor.

Attendance: 35,463.

Man of the match: Wallace.