Football: Graham's Leeds ascending the scale of great and good

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The Independent Online
Leeds United 4 Derby County 3

When George Graham came out of the wilderness to fill the manager's chair at Elland Road, the last thing Leeds fans expected was a diet of seven-goal thrillers.

Keep it tight at the back and pinch one on the break was the reputation that preceded Graham from Arsenal. Sloppy defending, rampant recoveries and last-gasp winners were not on George's CV.

So what's happened? Three nil down after half an hour to a side whose leading scorer Paulo Wanchope was absent on World Cup duty, and Leeds storm back for a reprise of the best-of-seven victory they achieved at Blackburn Rovers two months ago.

Graham put it down to "the wonderful team spirit we have here," although the Dunkirk spirit might have been more accurate given the scale of Leeds' early retreat.

Nigel Martyn got most of the blame, though the goalkeeper's fellow defenders contributed generously to a nightmare start. Derby's Dean Sturridge, on the other hand, thought he was in dreamland.

David Roberton's header was destined for his own net when Martyn palmed it down for Sturridge to tap in his first. Then Robertson and Lucas Radebe allowed Sturridge to nip between them to chip the stranded Martyn for the second. So when Robertson brought the lively striker down in the box, Aljosa Asanovic converted the penalty and it looked all over.

Derby thought so, too, according to their manager Jim Smith, who had never before lost a match from three up. "We stopped keeping possession and passing it, and allowed Leeds too much ball," he said.

There was an element of luck about the goal that kick-started the Leeds recovery, however. Rod Wallace looked offside when he deflected Bruno Ribeiro's shot past Mart Poom. But there was nothing fortuitous abut young Harry Kewell's angled volley after a cleared corner fell into his path, and suddenly Derby had their backs to the wall. Chris Powell cleared Alf- Inge Haland's shot off the line and David Wetherall twice missed the target with the goal at his mercy.

Yet Derby seemed to have recovered their defensive poise when Christian Dailly's hand rather than his head made contact with the ball as he challenged Wetherall for a corner and substitute Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink put away the penalty to become the third Leeds striker on the score-sheet.

So team spirit demanded that the fourth of Graham's quartet of strikers should get the winner, and Lee Bowyer duly obliged from Hasselbaink's cross with just 20 seconds left.

"The clubs I have been at have always had that spirit," Graham said. "You don't get good sides without that. I'm not saying we're a great side yet, but we're getting better week by week."

Goals: Sturridge (4) 0-1; Sturridge (10) 0-2; Asanovic pen (32) 0-3; Wallace (37) 1-3, Kewell (40) 2-3; Hasselbaink pen (81) 3-3; Bowyer (90) 4-3.

Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn; Maybury (Bowyer h-t), Wetherall, Radebe, Robertson; Kelly, Ribeiro, Haland, Hopkin (Hasselbaink, 78); Wallace, Kewell. Substitutes not used: Harte, Molenaar, Beeney (gk).

Derby County (3-4-3): Poom; Laursen, Carbon (Kozluk, 52), Dailly; Rowett, Carsley, D Powell (Hunt, 84), C Powell; Sturridge, Baiano, Asanovic (Trollope, 83). Substitutes not used: Willems; Hoult (gk).

Referee: N Barry (Scunthorpe).

Bookings: Leeds: Robertson, Haland. Derby: Carbon, C Powell, Laursen.

Man of the match: Sturridge.

Attendance: 33,572.