Football: High-riding Leeds keep rolling

Leeds United 2 Coventry City 0
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The Independent Online
IT WAS not pretty, it was not easy and David Batty was booked for an over-zealous challenge, but Leeds picked up three points that lifted them to third in the Premiership last night.

In short, it was exactly the sort of game Batty might have ordered for his second coming to Elland Road after his pounds 4.4m transfer from Newcastle United. Even the incessant rain contributed to the atmosphere of Yorkshire grit Batty has come to epitomise.

Far from match fit because of the enforced idleness that accompanied his long drawn-out transfer and having taken a knock in the ribs that slowed him down further, Batty was substituted with 17 minutes left and the game still far from won.

Coventry brought two other members of Leeds championship winning class of 92, their manager, Gordon Strachan, and their captain, Gary McAllister, with them to join Batty's party but they almost ended up spoiling it.

Coventry should have taken the lead early on when Stephen Froggatt and another Leeds old boy, Noel Whelan, twice hit the woodwork in as many seconds before an uncharacteristically hesitant Leeds defence scrambled the ball away.

Batty had already made his presence felt with a wild challenge on George Boateng which earned him a booking after only five minutes but he and his colleagues had made little other impression on an untidy game.

Surprisingly they took the lead when Ian Harte's low cross seriously exposed the Coventry defence for the first time in the 40 minutes that had elapsed. It was David Hopkin who found himself unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box with the simple task of turning the ball into an empty net for his second goal of the season.

Yet still Leeds could not find the rhythm and penetration with which they had destroyed West Ham in their last Elland Road outing and, far from letting the goal settle their nerves, they soon found themselves at panic stations again. Goalkeeper Nigel Martyn, whose interventions were the most important factor in Leeds' fourth victory in their last five Premiership matches, made the first of several vital saves, diving low to his right to block Whelan's drive.

He was soon in action again as Coventry continued to harry Leeds in the second half, turning away a fierce angled drive by Whelan, denying Boateng when he carved himself out some space in a crowded penalty box, and watching a Trond Egil Soltvedt header flash narrowly wide. It was perhaps fortunate for the home team that Coventry's leading marksman, Darren Huckerby, who scored a hat-trick the last time the Sky Blues paid Leeds a visit, was suspended.

Not until stoppage time were Leeds finally able to secure the buffer of a second goal they desperately needed, their midfield playmaker Lee Bowyer latching on to the rebound from Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink's deflected shot to score from close range and add to the two goals he had claimed against West Ham.

Hasselbaink pulled a good chance across the face of goal moments later but these were the striker's only real contributions to the game.

Batty was brought in to add muscle to the Leeds midfield, but on this evidence their manager, David O'Leary, must guard against sacrificing the adventure and creativity his young side have shown in recent matches.

Strachan said afterwards: "If we had shown more quality we would have won the game. We were positive and created some good chances. We were doing things right but we were unlucky."

That was the verdict with which the Leeds manager did not seek to disagree, but at least his side still have the momentum of their recent good run to sustain them when they face the even tougher challenge of a visit to O'Leary's former club, Arsenal, next Sunday.

"We didn't pass the ball well but we are a young side and we will learn," O'Leary said.

Leeds United (3-5-2): Martyn; Woodgate, Molenaar, Radebe (Halle, 61); Hopkin, Batty (McPhail, 72), Bowyer, Kewell, Harte; Smith, Hasselbaink. Substitutes not used: Wetherall, Wijnhard, Robinson (gk).

Coventry City (4-4-2): Hedman; Nilsson, Shaw, Williams, Edworthy; Boateng (Hall, 77), Clement (Jackson, 53), McAllister, Froggatt; Soltvedt, Whelan. Substitutes not used: Breen, Ogrizovic (gk), Shilton.

Referee: G Poll (Tring).