Football: Francis exorcising the fear factor

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The Independent Online
Queen's Park Rangers. . . . . .2

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

FEAR affects footballers in a strange way. In challenging for the ball, apprehension is not an emotion encountered by professionals. Fear appears only in the caution- inducing oppression of many English matches when players rarely risk applying the skills and carefree approach of the practice ground. The joy of Rangers' splendid contest with Leeds sprang from the constant reminders that fear had been forgotten.

Everyone seemed eager to take opponents on and test keepers - even David Batty, doubtless touched that the programme had pictured him under a headline 'the playmaker'. For Leeds, who have not won away from home in the League for six months, Gordon Strachan gave David Bardsley, the Rangers right-back, a lesson in what he can expect from international attackers if he makes the England grade. The ageless Scot twice showed Bardsley the ball and then a vacated space.

For Rangers, who have not lost at home for six months, Andy Sinton showed that control and acceleration can unhinge any defence, at one point so mesmerising Batty on the left that you half expected a towel to come fluttering on from the dug-out.

Both teams are built to attack: Rangers probing and passing in the image of Ray Wilkins, Leeds non- stop and adroit in the style of Strachan. Fittingly, the tireless 35- year-old put the champions ahead after 57 minutes. Batty's long throw was re-directed back by Lee Chapman to Strachan, stationed 14 yards out, who tucked away a right- footed volley as precise and impressive as the man himself.

The game continued as a sporting version of opportunity knocks, with good chances at both ends before Rangers equalised in the 73rd minute. Leeds' most worrying weakness - poor concentration and positioning at the back - was patently apparent when all four defenders stood in a bunch gazing at Clive Wilson's long cross clearing them. Bardsley, watched by Lawrie McMenemy but no Leeds players, charged in to head past John Lukic.

Lee Chapman hit the bar but Rangers are used to coming from behind; six minutes from time Les Ferdinand muscled his way past Jon Newsome and rounded Lukic to lift the R's into third.

Rangers are a different proposition when Ferdinand leads the line. In his three-match absence they lost twice and Gerry Francis believes the tall striker is a natural for England. 'He has the aerial ability, as well as pace and strength,' the Rangers manager said. 'We can put balls in behind people and use his electrifying pace.'

The absence of fear is echoed all around Loftus Road. Francis has sorted out the club's financial side and the pressure to sell match-winners like Ferdinand is not so great. On the park, his creation of an attractive, successful side has encouraged potential transfer targets to stay put.

The banishment of fear even gripped Rangers' safety officer, who lifted the ban on umbrellas being brought into the ground. Long may the fearless factor reign.

Goals: Strachan (57) 1-0; Bardsley (73) 1-1; Ferdinand (84) 2-1.

Queen's Park Rangers: Stejskal; Bardsley, Wilson, Wilkins, Peacock, McDonald, Impey, Holloway, Ferdinand, Allen (Barker, 89), Sinton. Substitutes not used: Maddix, Roberts (gk).

Leeds United: Lukic; Newsome, Dorigo, Batty, Fairclough, Whyte, Strachan, Rod Wallace (Shutt, 80), Chapman, McAllister (Rocastle, 85), Speed. Substitute not used: Day (gk).

Referee: H King (Merthyr Tydfyll).

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