Football: Gullit defends absent habit

Newcastle United 0 Leeds United 3
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IF RUUD GULLIT wore a haunted expression beneath those dreaded locks on Boxing Day evening, it was hardly surprising. The ghost of his Christmas past had, after all, reared its bearded head.

Twelve months ago a Chelsea shareholder was questioning the value of employing "an absentee landlord" as the manager at Stamford Bridge. Not long afterwards, Ken Bates decided that Gullit should become a permanent absentee.

On Saturday, the day he introduced a pounds 23m striking partnership to the Premiership, Gullit found himself on the defensive, justifying what one shareholder described at Newcastle United's annual general meeting last Monday as his "semi-detached" style of management. At the time Newcastle's Dutch manager was in a flat rather than a semi: in the Amsterdam appartment he shares with his girlfriend, Estelle Cruyff.

In the cramped but cosy press room at St James' Park, Gullit did not deny that he was semi-detached or even a Dutch bungalow of a boss. He simply pointed to the less-than-ideally placed homes of others on the football management map.

"Kevin Keegan lives up here and works in London," he said, "and Bryan Robson works in Middlesbrough and lives in Manchester. Nobody mentions this. I ask myself: `Why is there a difference'?"

"Brian Kidd always prepared the team at Manchester United. Alex Ferguson never took the training, as far as I know. I prepare the team here and I do the training. I have to ask the question: `Why have a go at me?' I think it is out of order. But I have big shoulders. I will go forward."

Gullit goes on to Anfield today, and with hope rather than conviction in his heart. Fortunate to beat a below-par Leicester City the previous week, his Newcastle team took another backward step on Saturday.

Even with Duncan Ferguson ranged alongside Alan Shearer in attack for the first time, they failed to inflict any damage on a Leeds defence missing Lucas Radebe, Robert Molenaar and Martin Hiden. It was an indictment of a team boasting such a high priced front two that Gullit was left lamenting: "If we had played another hour we would not have scored."

That was not entirely fair. In the last ten minutes Nikos Dabizas was denied by the brilliance of Nigel Martyn and a Ferguson header was nodded off the goal-line by David Hopkin. But Newcastle were guilty of failing to open a supply line to their two target men.

Stephen Glass was well shackled by Alf-Inge Haaland on the left and George Georgiadis was like a Greek in a china-plate shop on the right. Gullit had, of course, hoped to unveil Ibrahim Ba on Saturday but he has now turned his attention closer to home (to Newcastle United's home, that is) in search of someone who can help the Magpies spread their wings. Steve Stone, born and bred in Gateshead, tops his revised list of wanted wide-boys.

Defensive assistance would have been useful, however, on Saturday as Harry Kewell, Lee Bowyer and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink took advantage of some ponderous play at the back to pinch three points for a Leeds team better organised but never truly dominant.

"The sexy football hasn't come yet," David O'Leary acknowledged, "but we're a young side that can go places over the next few years." With that, the Leeds manager went off to the place he happily calls home: his fully- detached residence in Harrogate.

Goals: Kewell (37) 0-1; Bowyer (61) 0-2; Hasselbaink (90) 0-3.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Charvet, Dabizas, Howey, Barton (Hughes, 51); Georgiadis (Ketsbaia, 62), Lee, Speed, Glass; Ferguson, Shearer. Substitutes not used: Solano, Hamann, Harper (gk).

Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn; Halle, Wetherall, Woodgate, Harte; Haaland, Bowyer, Hopkin, Ribeiro (McPhail, 57); Kewell, Hasselbaink. Substitutes not used: Wijnhard, Granville, Smith, Robinson (gk).

Referee: G Willard (Worthing). Bookings: None.

Man of the match: Martyn.

Attendance: 36,783.