Football: Kewell keeps his cool as Leeds stay on the boil

Leeds United 2 Middlesbrough 0
Click to follow
The Independent Online
NEW HEIGHTS for Leeds United, the team most likely to plant the millennium bug in Manchester United's trophy-winning system.

Without producing anything resembling the best of their football yesterday, they hoisted themselves up into second place in the Premier League, their highest position since David O'Leary became their manager just under 12 months ago.

It was a mission accomplished through goals in either half from Michael Bridges and Harry Kewell, as well as Middlesbrough's failure to make a serious game of it earlier than they did.

Bryan Robson's all-or-nothing outfit - they have not drawn in the Premiership this season - must seriously regret the slowness with which they rose to the challenge. Had they not kept their ambitions under lock and key for so long they might well have succeeded in maintaining their impressive list of away successes.

The only concern, perhaps, for O'Leary, is that Lee Bowyer, the player who effectively makes his team tick, may well soon be missing. The midfielder continues to pick up yellow cards at a hugely alarming rate, and a blatant second-half trip on Paul Ince attracted his sixth of the season. That pushes him towards suspension territory. Not that the Elland Road faithful will choose to dwell on that. Much more appealing is that they are now in a prime position to strike against the old enemy.

Perhaps, like O'Leary, they had some questions answered, particularly over whether, like Manchester United and Chelsea, Leeds would suffer adversely following a bout of European action.

Yet as if they had taken umbrage at the thought Leeds, from the outset, attacked this contest with the zeal of a team that had been resting up rather than putting in spells of overtime. Hence the flow of traffic towards Mark Schwarzer's goal in the opening half.

Leeds created so many chances in that period that they could easily have claimed four of five goals. They scored only one, and even that required the helping hand of a defensive deflection. Nevertheless it was no more than Leeds deserved and little more than Boro feared in view of their impotence.

It involved good link up play featuring David Hopkin, Kewell and Alan Smith before Bridges scored with a volley which clipped the unfortunate Steve Vickers on its way in.

Leeds should have built quickly on that 14th-minute success and although Kewell proved an elusive attacking force in build-up play, his actual finishing was less than impressive.

So it was that Middlesbrough were spared further damage before half-time although Schwarzer did have to make saves from Bowyer and Bridges.

In contrast, it took Middlesbrough 25 minutes to get a shot on goal, and that an inadequate effort from Brian Deane, the former Leeds striker. Ince battled manfully to get them going, but to little avail.

Harsh words were clearly uttered by the Boro manager at half-time, the evidence of which was the extra zip which appeared in his team's play and it was that upgraded performance which saw Deane threaten an equaliser, cutting in from the right to strike a post with a fierce left-foot shot.

However the game was up for them the moment Colin Cooper's under-hit back-pass let in substitute Darren Huckerby, whose shot against the goalkeeper rebounded to Kewell a good 25 yards out.

For a player who has not scored for 18 matches, spread across six months, even an open goal is not necessarily open sesame. To his credit, though, Kewell kept his cool and stroked Leeds's second in expertly.

Goals: Bridges (14) 1-0; Kewell (64) 2-0.

Leeds United (4-3-1-2): Martyn; Mills, Radebe, Woodgate, Harte; Batty, Bowyer, Hopkin (Kelly, h-t), Kewell; Smith, Bridges (Huckerby, 50). Substitutes not used: Haaland, Robinson (gk), Bakke.

Middlesbrough (3-5-2): Schwarzer; Pallister, Cooper, Vickers; Festa, Mustoe, Ince, O'Neill, Ziege; Deane, Armstrong (Ricard, 72). Substitutes not used: Fleming, Beresford (gk), Maddison, Gavin.

Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury). Bookings: Leeds: Bowyer. Middlesbrough: Pallister, Festa, Ziege, Ince.

Man of the match: Bowyer.

Attendance: 34,122.