"I can only give my opinion," the Leeds manager said. "But I thought we played some really good football in the first half. Our movement was good, we just had to be a bit more composed in the last third of the field." More composure perhaps, more power definitely.
Deep down, O'Leary will know that on afternoons like these, against teams who have come to thwart rather than create, there is no substitute for the battering ram. Smith and the mercurial Michael Bridges too often found themselves outmuscled by David Wetherall, one of three Leeds old boys on station at the heart of a rugged Bradford defence. "Look at teams like Manchester United," countered O'Leary. "They keep playing and keep playing until the game opens up." But even with David Batty and Lee Bowyer in midfield, Leeds do not have the collective physical presence of United. Not yet at least.
Admittedly, Bradford made it very difficult for their West Yorkshire neighbours. They ran, harried and did all the mundane chores they were asked to do without ever quite dispelling the unspoken belief that a mere visit to Elland Road, their first in the league for nine years, was enough of a memory for a couple more decades. Bradford have never won there. Back from a week's furlough, wasting too much effort on Bradford City, residents of football's outback for most of the century, seemed a bit beneath Leeds' dignity. Perhaps they had another midweek trip to Moscow in the Uefa Cup in the back of their minds.
With five stretched across the midfield and Lee Mills a lone striker, Bradford made their intentions abundantly clear. Sneaking a point back up the motorway was the limit of their ambitions and for almost an hour, their industry proved more than a match for Leeds. Had Nigel Martyn - England's No 1, according to the man on the PA - not palmed over a point- blank header by Peter Beagrie midway through the first half, Bradford might even have sneaked a lead they scarcely deserved. At the other end, with Gunnar Halle and Lee Sharpe joining Wetherall in an Elland Road reunion, the action resembled an old Leeds training session.
By half-time, Leeds had precious little to show for all their possession. A long-range shot by the quietly impressive Eirik Bakke, a Norwegian Under- 21 international, was acrobatically saved by Clarke, who also parried Lucas Radebe's far-post header just before half-time. Smith, in particular, seemed out of sorts and once Sharpe had dropped back to reinforce the back line and cut out Michael Bridges' intelligent forays down the right, Leeds looked woefully short of imagination.
Smith was replaced by Darren Huckerby 15 minutes from time, but not before he had deflected Bridges' shot over the advancing Clarke and into the City net in the 55th minute. Whether Smith or the unfortunate Andrew O'Brien had got the final touch was hard to judge, but neither Smith nor the crowd was about to question the source of what would surely prove a decisive goal. "Typical Smithy," O'Leary said. Typical of the striker's self-confidence not just to bag the goal, but to claim the neat lob was intentional.
Bradford responded with some spirit, a ferocious drive from Beagrie forcing Martyn into a fine save and, not before time, a little local passion began to surface. Stuart McCall, already booked by Paul Durkin, was lucky to stay on after a late challenge on Bowyer. The arrival of Huckerby injected some pace into the Leeds attack, but there was a touch of good fortune about their second and conclusive goal, scored from the penalty spot by Ian Harte after Clarke had brought down Batty. The referee's assistant gave the decision, but Clarke's protests had some validity.
That, it seemed, would be that, except that Bradford refused to bow to the inevitable. Left with only the goalkeeper to beat after a mistake by Harte, Jamie Lawrence blasted his shot well over, burying his bottle- blond head in his hands. The significance of the miss only hit home moments from the final whistle when Dean Windass, looking offside, sneaked in behind Lucas Radebe and Jonathan Woodgate, rounded Martyn and snatched a smattering of pride from an otherwise forgettable afternoon.
If they maintain the same sense of commitment and organisation for the rest of the season, who knows, Bradford might even be back for another tilt at the lords of the manor next season.Reuse content