Football: Fairclough supplies late relief for Leeds

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Leeds United. . . . . . .1

Newcastle United. . .1

JUST when you thought Leeds United could go the rest of the season and never get a goal they struck last night. Chris Fairclough scored their equaliser a minute from the end to preserve an unbeaten home record in the Premiership that has been intact since 21 August.

The centre-back who has been converted to a midfield player headed in from eight yards after the Newcastle goalkeeper, Pavel Srnicek, had been stranded by Jon Newsome's flick-on from Gordon Strachan's corner. You suspect the Leeds manager, Howard Wilkinson, was rubbing his eyes in disbelief when he saw the ball nestling in the Newcastle net.

Leeds had enough chances last night to win three matches but squandered them with incompetence laced with bad luck. 'If we'd got nine draws on Littlewoods we'd have forgotten to post the coupon,' Wilkinson said. 'We had at least eight good scoring chances but missed them all. We could and should have done better.'

Kevin Keegan, the Newcastle manager, also conceded that Leeds deserved a draw but having led for 86 minutes they will be disappointed they failed to get their seventh successive League win that would have pushed them to within four points of second-placed Blackburn.

Almost inevitably, the visitors' goal came from Andy Cole, who seems to set another landmark with virtually every match. This was his 38th of the season and means he has reached his half-century of goals in 50 matches since his transfer from Bristol City early last year.

It came within four minutes with a move that swept the home defence aside as if they were leaves on the pitch. Ruel Fox released Robert Lee on the right and his cross was hit first time by Scott Sellars. John Lukic saved but the rebound fell to Cole. From six yards out and the goalkeeper on the floor he does not miss.

Cole is prolific, which is hardly the word for Brian Deane, who has managed nine goals in 40 appearances since his pounds 2.7m transfer from Sheffield United, but the Leeds striker went close three times.

After five minutes he turned and shot from 25 yards, forcing Srnicek into a flying save, and he had the Newcastle goalkeeper stretched again to tip over a header on the hour.

The closest he came to success arrived after 14 minutes, however. Deane beat Darren Peacock and then slipped the ball under Srnicek's body and would have scored but for a goal-line clearance from Alan Neilson. Leeds claimed the shot crossed the line but TV evidence suggested otherwise.

At least Deane was on target. Rod Wallace and Newsome both wasted opportunities when they committed the cardinal sin of failing to force the goalkeeper into a save.

The disease was catching and the prize exhibit in the collection of errors belonged to Peter Beardsley, who would have put the match beyond doubt with 13 minutes remaining. But, all alone on the edge of the area, he blazed high and wide.

It summed up the evening and underlined Cole's striking qualities. 'I've never seen anyone like him,' Keegan said. 'I've heard of people like Dixie Dean but never anyone in the flesh like him. He's phenomenal.'

Leeds United (4-4-2): Lukic; Kelly, Newsome, Wetherall (White, 72), Dorigo; Strachan, Fairclough, McAllister, Speed; Deane, Wallace. Substitutes not used: Tinkler, Beeney (gk).

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Srnicek; Robinson, Neilson, Peacock, Beresford; Fox, Bracewell, Lee (Venison, 57), Sellars; Beardsley, Cole. Substitutes not used: Mathie, Hooper (gk).

Referee: K Cooper (Pontypridd).