Football: Hasselbaink halts Arsenal

Leeds United 1 Arsenal 0
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The Independent Online
WITH THEIR team being ritually abused, as is the local custom at Leeds United, Manchester United fans may have preferred to watch the action from Elland Road last night with the sound turned down. Not that it mattered: the pictures alone were eloquent enough.

To Alex Ferguson and company they said "champions, champions" as Leeds did their greatest rivals a massive favour. Their win, secured by a Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink header from Harry Kewell's cross in the 86th minute, means Manchester United need four points from tonight's match at Blackburn Rovers and Sunday's home game with Tottenham to regain the title. A big win tonight and the title is effectively theirs.

It was close. Though Leeds missed one penalty and had another turned down, either side could have won a bruising encounter in which the biggest surprise was that both finished with 11 men. The defending champions' contribution to the studwork meant that the crowd, who had come to the game with mixed feelings given their antipathy to Arsenal's title rivals, ended the match delighting in a home win.

They then stayed behind to cheer a lap of honour by David O'Leary's side and David Batty's two young children. Some of Batty's team-mates are not much older but, next season, this team could play a more significant part in the title finish than just playing the contenders: they may well be among them.

For now they are denting others' dreams and took two points off Manchester United here two weeks ago. Arsenal could not afford even that, but they could not have expected such a traumatic night after being greeted, by the Kop, with applause.

From the beginning the Leeds players seemed more competitively minded than their supporters, with Batty volleying just wide in the second minute.

Once the tackles began to fly, with Arsenal being the more culpable, their commitment was absolute.

Arsenal's intentions were soon clear, to absorb Leeds' early pressure before using Dennis Bergkamp's vision and Nicolas Anelka's pace to strike on the counter-attack.

It had worked against Tottenham last week, but Leeds' defence were more organised and fleet-footed, with Jonathon Woodgate foiling Anelka's first assault then Lucas Radebe halting his second.

With Anelka shackled, Bergkamp's involvement became even more crucial and, after 15 minutes, he almost put Arsenal ahead with a curling shot which Nigel Martyn did well to parry.

This was an isolated incursion as the Leeds midfield had taken control but, while they attracted plenty of free-kicks, they were unable to deliver the final ball.

Eventually Arsenal stirred, with Lee Dixon leading the charge after half an hour. He rescued the ball from an impossible position on the byline and crossed to Anelka but his flick, a la Kanu, was well read by Martyn. Within the next eight minutes Ray Parlour, Bergkamp and Marc Overmars shot wide, while Martyn tipped an Anelka drive over and then produced a sharp reaction save to block Tony Adams' shot.

Leeds' response was led by the teenager Alan Smith. A 25-yard shot brought a flying save from Seaman, then he was brought down by a reckless tackle from Martin Keown. A nervous-looking Ian Harte drove the resulting penalty against the bar and Seaman pounced on Hasselbaink's volleyed rebound.

The rising tempo was matched by increased friction, with Petit risking a red card by tangling with Batty; Hasselbaink, already cautioned for a foolish retaliatory foul on Keown, appearing to stamp on Keown's foot; and Smith and Adams having a brace of spats.

Smith had every right to feel aggrieved. After 56 minutes Adams had brought him down in the box as he ran on to a Kewell flick. Having given one penalty, Gary Willard seemed in no mood to give another. Similarly, one yellow card seemed to suffice whatever the offender's subsequent behaviour.

But back to the football. As Arsenal pressed for the goal they craved, Arsene Wenger introduced Kaba Diawara and Kanu. With 15 minutes to go it almost worked as the pair combined to set up Anelka. Martyn denied him but, when the ball popped up to Diawara to volley, a goal seemed inevitable. Defiant on the line stood Woodgate who, twisting his neck, headed away. The roar that greeted his save made it clear that, now, the Kop wanted Leeds to win and never mind the favour it did for that other United.

Smith, with 10 minutes left, almost enabled them to do so but he headed over.

In a frantic finish Diawara twice went close again. Martyn smothered one effort, while another, from a Nelson Vivas corner, clipped the bar. At the other end Batty almost punished a Seaman error from 30 yards.

Then came Hasselbaink's application for the freedom of Manchester, a diving header from Kewell's cross as his marker, Vivas, dallied. As Hasselbaink hit the deck so did Arsenal's championship dream.

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

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Keown, Adams, Winterburn (Vivas, 81); Parlour (Diawara, 71), Vieira, Petit, Overmars (Kanu, 65); Bergkamp, Anelka. Substitutes not used: Bould, Lukic (gk).

Referee: G Willard (Worthing).

Kidd keeps calm after storm, page 23