Football: Kelly to lead depleted Leeds' pitch retort

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The Independent Online
GARY KELLY, the Republic of Ireland international, will wear the Leeds United captain's armband tonight for his side's Uefa Cup third-round first-leg against the Russian champions, Spartak Moscow, following the loss of both Lucas Radebe and David Batty.

The centre-back Radebe is suspended, while the midfielder Batty is out with an Achilles injury sustained during Sunday's Premiership win over Southampton, so it has fallen on Kelly to lead by example on neutral territory in the Bulgarian capital.

Following the scathing comments from Spartak officials during the last eight days, Kelly is happy for them to talk themselves hoarse while his players get on with the real issues. David O'Leary, the Leeds manager, has been accused of almost every sly and underhand tactic in the book by the Russians.

O'Leary has born the brunt of the disparaging remarks which have deeply angered the Leeds chairman Peter Ridsdale, who is almost certain to urge Uefa to clamp down hard on the Russians when he files an official complaint after next week's second leg at Elland Road.

But, while the off-the-field battle continues to rage, it is on it that the real battle will be won and lost here. After the postponement of last week's original game in Moscow because of a frozen pitch at the Dinamo Stadium, the action now switches to the neutral venue of Levski's Georgi Asparoukhhov stadium.

Kelly said: "I'm just raging that after all the travelling last week we didn't get to play. But the stuff we've heard about hasn't affected us. Anything that has been said, we've just turned a blind eye to it. We're getting on with what we've got to do.

"Obviously, what's been said has been pretty detrimental towards Leeds. But we just want to play the game, and let those who want to talk get on with that. The players of both camps haven't said a word and they are the ones who are in the thick of the battle. It's a case of doing our talking on the pitch with our skills.

"Once we're on the pitch we will just go and do a professional job and hopefully we can nick a goal and keep a clean sheet. That would be the ideal result.

"But we know all about Spartak. We know they've certain individuals who are very good technically, but if we play right on the night then I'm sure we can give them problems."

Without the experience of both Radebe and Batty, Leeds' line-up will be one of the youngest on view under O'Leary, but Kelly sees no reason for United to worry or panic. "We still don't like to lose players like David Batty and Lucas Radebe," he conceded. "We always knew we would be without Lucas, but Batts is a real big blow. He is a good, tough-tackling midfielder, and in ties like this you really need players like that. But we've quality players who can come in and do a good job.

"The squad is a lot stronger than in recent seasons, and I'm sure the gaffer will already have worked on his game plan by now to help us see off Spartak." Michael Duberry is likely to be the preferred choice ahead of Danny Mills for Radebe's centre-back place, while the Norwegians Eirik Bakke and Alf-Inge Haaland will both play if O'Leary goes with just one up front - Michael Bridges - and five across the midfield.