Charlton Athletic. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1
IT FALLS to Leeds to be the the first big club to play at the reopened Valley, a distinction forced upon them by failing to eliminate Charlton at the first opportunity. 'We wanted West Ham,' said Alan Curbishley, one of the south Londoners' joint- managers, entirely unconscious of the frisson such a remark would give West Yorkshire, 'but we're not complaining about Leeds.'
He was a little self-conscious about actually being asked to sit in Elland Road's sumptuous (by English standards) press room but, like his team, was soon into his stride: perky, confident, articulate, able. 'We showed them too much respect' was his key sentence, adding that once the half- time instruction to use the ball, and not just keep it away from Leeds, had filtered through, Charlton looked possible winners. 'If we could have held on to our lead for just a few more minutes we had a chance.'
In fact the gap between the two goals was just 45 seconds and once Leeds had equalised Garry Nelson's strike, through Speed, their assurance was sufficient for them to dominate the last 10 minutes, only a freak clearance by the prostrate Scott Minto at the foot of the far post denying Tony Dorigo the winner in the last minute.
Charlton furthered their cause on this afternoon of freezing fog. Some were wearing black bicycle shorts under their black football shorts, which gave the side something of an elegant, old-fashioned look of the 1940s, of the days of Sam Bartram and Sailor Brown. Their football, too, was in the tradition of a team faced with a visit to the home of the champions: they clamped down on Gary McAllister, got 10 men behind the ball and waited for the break.
Howard Wilkinson insisted that his team was always in command and that all he really needs is a return of confidence, although we all know Leeds need more than that - they need new players. What the departure of Eric Cantona has done is to enable Leeds to revert to a more balanced attack, with Gordon Strachan and Gary Speed - the latter having an excellent game - playing down the flanks. Leeds, going forward, were much more like their old promotion selves.
Gary Lineker believes that Leeds will win the FA Cup, which suggests he has more confidence in this defence than most of us. David Wetherall has given the centre a little more mobility, but Chris Whyte's heading ability is missing, especially in the penalty box, and the back four, under very much less pressure, looked only marginally more stable than it had at Blackburn on Boxing Day.
If Leeds do win the replay, they could kick-start the rest of their season. If Saturday's heroes - Bob Bolder, Simon Webster, John Robinson, Peter Garland, Colin Walsh and Nelson - play as well again at The Valley, before their own 8,200, Leeds will do well to reach extra time.
Goals: Nelson (70) 0-1; Speed (71) 1-1.
Leeds United: Lukic; Sterland (Newsome, 85), Dorigo, Batty (Rod Wallace, 78), Fairclough, Wetherall, Strachan, Shutt, Chapman, McAllister, Speed.
Charlton Athletic: Bolder; Pitcher, Minto, Bumstead (Grant, 80), Webster, Balmer, Robinson, Leaburn, Garland, Nelson, Walsh. Substitute not used: Gatting.
Referee: G Ashby (Worcester).