Football: Forest fire licks Leeds

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The Independent Online
Leeds United . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Nottingham Forest. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4

HOWARD WILKINSON dutifully attempted to analyse the events of the afternoon yet when he eventually turned away the expression on his face was unchanged. Leeds United's manager wore a look of total bewilderment.

How can you account for a match like this given the respective records of the two clubs? Could it be that the controversy surrounding the transfer of Eric Cantona affected the other players? Not a 'yes' or a 'no' to either, just 'don't knows'. Wilkinson, who has had spectacular success during his four years at Leeds, and indeed before, was at a loss for explanations.

The very fact that there are more questions than answers in the champions' lair is a measure of their plight, but maybe they could find some clues in Forest's beautifully smooth yet destructive performance - like a dagger in silk.

Neil Webb is not the first player to have left Forest for Old Trafford glimpsing new horizons only to become clouded with doubts. He has returned to do what he does best: to create; to guide; to play to others' strengths.

He self-effacingly talked about his lack of pace, but too often at Old Trafford he was expected to gallop up and down, chasing and harassing. Webb is an artist, not an artisan, and Brian Clough gives him free range of the canvas.

Also back in Forest's midfield is Roy Keane, perhaps the nearest in the Premier League to Bryan Robson: dynamic; all-action; producing goals. Keane spent much of Forest's miserable early season at the back, a role Clough believes he fills with considerable authority. The same applied to the young Robson but surely you do not stifle such rare talent and inspiration?

Keane twice profited from Webb's perception and should have done so a third time. Forest allowed two gifted players to operate to their maximum potential and the rest of the team responded. Nigel Clough and the substitute Kingsley Black were their other scorers, again after flowing, though essentially simple, moves which dissected a flimsy, reshaped Leeds defence suicidally persisting with the offside ploy.

Leeds had Gordon Strachan on the left and, although he has played well there before, he never looked at ease or capable of conjuring his familiar magic. As for Gary McAllister, who has replaced him as captain, he was an anonymous figure who popped up every now and then merely to clear the crossbar with hopeful free-kicks.

Observing McAllister these days, you cannot help feel that the armband is weighing too heavily on him and that both he and his club would be better served by returning the burden of responsibility to Strachan.

Gary Speed was as committed as ever - too committed at times - and earned personal reward with a late goal. Leeds, however, require more guile and subtlety as well as a more solid defence.

Goals: Clough (28) 0-1; Keane (53) 0-2; Black (54) 0-3; Keane (67) 0-4; Speed (87) 1-4.

Leeds United: Lukic; Newsome, Dorigo, Rocastle (Hodge, 66), Fairclough, Ray Wallace, Strachan, Rod Wallace (Shutt, 66), Chapman, McAllister, Speed. Substitute not used: Day (gk).

Nottingham Forest: Crossley; Laws, Pearce, Chettle, Tiler, Keane, Webb, Gemmill, Clough, Glover (Bannister, 77), Woan (Black, 15). Substitute not used: Marriott (gk).

Referee: A Buksh (London).