Football: Graham has more surgery to perform

Coventry City 0 Leeds United 0
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The Independent Online
Coventry City 0 Leeds United 0

The verdicts seemed to be contradictory. Gary McAllister sensed that Leeds still have some way to go to reach the standards Elland Road expects, whereas George Graham detected a great improvement on their demise at Coventry in his first match in charge.

In fact, the Scots both had a point, which was as much as could be said for either side after a barren stalemate. On one of those rare Premiership days when the managers and captains were all from north of the border, Coventry and Leeds failed to set the heather alight at Highfield Road.

That was always going to be as difficult in figurative terms as it would have been literally; the surface was so slippery from a pre-match watering that the players often resembled clog dancers on ice. But while Gordon Strachan felt a draw reflected credit on his makeshift Coventry team, Graham saw Leeds' failure to maintain the pressure on the 40-year-old Steve Ogrizovic as an opportunity missed.

Hard as the Sky Blues' manager may strive to change the culture of settling for survival, he knows that all connected with Coventry would regard a 32nd consecutive season among the elite as an achievement. Graham, in contrast, is under no illusions that a Leeds public spoiled by the championship to which McAllister and Strachan contributed so stylishly demand more.

Although patience is a virtue they acknowledge grudgingly, Graham claims his inheritance (from Howard Wilkinson) necessitated more protracted rebuilding than he anticipated. "A lot of surgery had to be done," the Leeds manager said pointedly. "But we've got a wonderful team spirit now. That was a big improvement on the same game a year ago."

McAllister agreed that Leeds were a different proposition from the side Coventry beat twice last season, but questioned whether they were ready to challenge again. "It's going to take time - they've made massive changes. You can see the George Graham influence and they'll be very difficult to beat. But they don't throw men forward like, say, Chelsea would have."

Graham's need to recruit half a team for what it cost to buy Gianfranco Zola - allied, one suspects, to a Lanarkshire man's innate reluctance to throw money around like Ruud Gullit - led him to gamble pounds 2m on Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. The Surinam-born striker sent a free header against the bar early on, beating Ogrizovic for the only time in his club record- breaking 488th match, and has not scored since the season's opening day.

Without a midfielder of McAllister's cunning to exploit his eager running and clever touches, Hasselbaink's frustration is likely to continue. He looked forlorn by the time he trudged off at the bench's behest for, while David Hopkin is growing in authority, his passing lacks the range and precision of his national captain.

McAllister, who was moronically boed by many of his former fans, and Hopkin, setting aside their date with World Cup destiny when Scotland face Latvia, tangled several times. Once, when the Coventry man crumpled faster than Tony Banks' credibility after his compatriot accidentally caught him in the face, he leapt up like Lazarus on speed. "I didn't want my fellow Scot sent off," he reasoned with a grin. "If it'd been someone else I might've stayed down."

Coventry City (3-5-2): Ogrizovic; Shaw, Breen, Burrows; Boland, Soltvedt, McAllister, O'Neill (Ducros, 25; Haworth, 84), Nilsson; Dublin, Salako. Substitutes not used: Johansen, Gavin Strachan, Hedman (gk).

Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn; Halle, Radebe, Wetherall, Robertson; Kelly, Haland, Hopkin, Ribeiro; Hasselbaink (Lilley, 84), Wallace. Substitutes not used: Harte, Gray, Bowyer, Beeney (gk).

Referee: A Wilkie (Chester-le-Street).

Bookings: Coventry Breen. Leeds Wallace, Radebe, Hasselbaink.

Man of the match: Ogrizovic.

Attendance: 17,770.