Football: Fleck rewards recall

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Chelsea . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Spencer 63

Leeds United. . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Speed 37

Attendance: 18,544

WITH 27 minutes left at Stamford Bridge yesterday and Chelsea trailing Leeds 1-0, a big No 16 was brought out of the home dug-out to signal the substitution of Robert Fleck. It looked like another disappointing day for the Scotsman who cost Chelsea pounds 2m when he joined them from Norwich in 1992, and whose two goals in 37 games since had marked him out as one of the game's worst- value transfers.

At that moment, a hopeful ball looped over the halfway line and Fleck rose to head it on. It then bounced nicely for John Spencer who sent a crisp shot beyond John Lukic for the equaliser.

Fleck, in his first appearance since October, had found life a struggle until then and seeing how tired he was, Glenn Hoddle, the Chelsea manager, decided it was time to bring him off. In an instant it all changed. 'I thought for just being involved in that goal, it was right to keep him on and keep his confidence high,' Hoddle said.

With the Cup final three weeks away, Hoddle is in the business of trying to keep everybody happy, and injuries to Tony Cascarino and Mark Stein gave him the chance to show Fleck that he is not forgotten.

Whether Fleck's one intervention will give him any chance of making the Cup final team must be doubtful, although Chelsea played enough indifferent football to suggest that one or two of the club stewards, unhappy not to be receiving Wembley tickets, could even get a game.

It was a match Chelsea should have lost, and might easily have won, Spencer's goal inspiring them to play with much more energy for the remainder of the match, and only a fine, low save by Lukic after a one- two between Spencer and Gavin Peacock prevented them from adding a second.

With Gary McAllister a class apart, Leeds controlled almost everything for the first hour, going ahead after 37 minutes when Rod Wallace produced some trademark trickery on the left and crossed for Gary Speed to thump the ball in.

The only danger to Leeds was coming from their own left- back, Kevin Sharp, brought in for the injured Tony Dorigo. One of a number of clumsy challenges by him gave Dennis Wise the chance to float a free- kick towards the far post, where Jakob Kjeldberg headed against the post with Lukic all flailing arms and legs.

Wallace then came close to repeating the brilliant goal he scored against Tottenham last Sunday as Leeds tightened their grip on the game.

It was time for Hoddle to make some changes. Maybe take Fleck off . . .