Football: Kerslake fills Leeds void with assurance

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Leeds United . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Manchester City. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

ON AN afternoon of 'firsts' at Elland Road, when David Rocastle opened his goalscoring account for Leeds and Niall Quinn endured the novel experience of being substituted by City, David Kerslake's assured debut took on strong symbolic value for the fallen champions.

Howard Wilkinson's right-back problem, like his team's failure to win an away match in the Premier League, has become a festering wound. Kerslake, the 10th player to fill the role this season following his pounds 500,000 switch from Swindon, did enough to suggest that the healing process may have begun.

While not possessing the tank- like physique of Mel Sterland, the more mobile, composed Londoner showed a positional sense lacking in the central defenders and midfielders Wilkinson had tried there. Opportunities to assess Kerslake's tackling were scarce, but he certainly has the pace and crossing ability that are prerequisites for the position at this level.

The Leeds manager, praising the newcomer, remarked that the 'conditions' were not those a player would pick for his first appearance. By this he meant Leeds' frankly barmy predicament just above the relegation zone, rather than the balmy weather Richie Richardson would settle for at Headingley this summer. Although the heat is still on, Leeds should be capable of grinding out the victories that would make them safe.

And grind it out was what they did against City. 'It wasn't a match we'll remember, but we'll remember the three points,' Wilkinson said. 'That's six clean sheets out of eight now, whereas before Christmas we were lucky if it was one in two. If that sort of attitude had prevailed earlier in the season, we'd be in a different position now.'

City, in view of their excellent away record and the absence of any pressure, were disappointingly negative until the later stages. Using Mike Sheron (eight goals in 13 games) only as a late replacement for Quinn (eight all season) baffled many visiting fans; likewise the presence of a full-back, Ray Ranson, on the right of a midfield already full of grafters.

Peter Reid, City's player-manager, explained afterwards that Ranson was there as insurance against Tony Dorigo's foraging. So perhaps justice was served when the winner emanated from his flank, Steve Hodge's cross being headed weakly by Keith Curle to Rocastle, who volleyed thunderously home.

Remarkably, it was his first goal since a virtuoso effort for Arsenal at Old Trafford 13 months ago. Since then, for reasons best known to Wilkinson, Leeds' pounds 2m record buy has completed only a handful of matches. Not only did he finish this one, but Kerslake revealed that Rocastle's constant advice helped him conquer energy-sapping nerves.

Rocky's horror show may be over, at least temporarily. But Leeds, who now have the division's best home record, will not emerge from their collective nightmare until they notch up that most elusive 'first' - an away win. Next Sunday, intriguingly, they visit Nottingham Forest.

Goal: Rocastle (11) 1-0.

Leeds United: Lukic; Kerslake, Dorigo, Batty, Fairclough (Newsome, 71), Wetherall, Rocastle, Rod Wallace, Strandli (Chapman, 58), Hodge, Speed. Substitute not used: Day (gk).

Manchester City: Coton; Hill, Phelan, Simpson, Curle, Vonk, White, Ranson, Quinn (Sheron, 68), Flitcroft, Holden. Substitutes not used: Reid, Dibble (gk).

Referee: K Hackett (Sheffield).