Football: Leeds discover there is life after Graham

Leeds United 4 Charlton Athletic 1
Click to follow
The Independent Online
SEVEN WEEKS ago, when George Graham was confirmed as the new manager of Tottenham, the view from Elland Road was grim as the greyest November day. Leeds had been dumped by the man they had entrusted with their future.

How attitudes change. Now everyone wonders why they made such a fuss. Not only are Leeds still on course for the European place Graham had targeted, but their football has an invigorating injection of verve and style. Suddenly, the future looks curiously brighter.

Midway through the second half on Saturday, with Leeds in control, David O'Leary heard the home crowd chant his name and acknowledged it with a wave. It was the sign of approval he had been waiting for.

"I was glad we had given them a performance," he said later. "Those who travelled had given us really great support at Liverpool and they deserved to see us win well at home"

Next Sunday, Leeds face their traditional enemy, Manchester United, at Old Trafford. Win there and O'Leary can expect to be hailed as a saint.

So far, the Irishman has succeeded by using attacking tactics and by backing youth. Having devoted much energy to the development of the younger players while he was Graham's deputy, he knows their capabilities well.

Jonathan Woodgate, the 18-year-old keeping David Wetherall out of the side, again cut a commanding figure at the back and, for the second match running, another 18-year-old, Leeds-born Alan Smith, joined the fray as substitute and scored.

He followed his debut goal in the 3-1 win at Liverpool with the 20-yard rapier that effectively clinched the Leeds victory. The goal ended a slick move involving the impressive Harry Kewell and an imaginative Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, who set up the youngster with a back-heeled pass.

Kewell, himself only 20, was comfortably the outstanding player, setting up 21-year-old Lee Bowyer for the second Leeds goal and rounding off the afternoon with one of his own, sprinting clear as Bowyer returned the compliment before dribbling confidently around goalkeeper Sasa Ilic.

"I don't like to blow my own trumpet," O'Leary said, "but I've worked with these players and I had no doubt they were the ones to go with.

"I always used to urge George to give them a chance but for one reason or another it did not happen. I encouraged him to play Kewell last season but I think this is his best position, playing behind the front two. He was outstanding today."

Leeds are now so close to the front-runners they might soon be title contenders - a feather in O'Leary's cap, but one he would rather did not come just yet. "This is a team for the future," he said, pointedly. "I'm trying to shape a young team here, based on homegrown talent, one that will grow like Manchester United."

It was good stuff from Leeds, particularly in the second half after Hasselbaink seized a chance created by Clive Wijnhard's miskick to provide a half- time cushion.

But the Charlton manager, Alan Curbishley, argued that his team were not as bad as all that. "We weren't so bad that we deserved to lose 4- 1," he declared. "We thought we should have had a penalty in the first half. It might have been a different story."

He had a point, but Leeds ultimately were irresistible. After Bowyer had wriggled through to score against his former club, Paul Mortimer, a Charlton substitute, replied with a cracking shot from an acute angle on the left. But Leeds always had more goals in them, as Smith and Kewell demonstrated.

Goals: Hasselbaink (34) 1-0; Bowyer (51) 2-0; Mortimer (65) 2-1; Smith (67) 3-1; Kewell (87) 4-1.

Leeds United (3-4-1-2): Martyn; Woodgate, Hiden, Molenaar; Harte, Bowyer, Hopkin, Halle; Kewell; Wijnhard (Smith 59), Hasselbaink. Substitutes not used: Haaland; Wetherall; Ribeiro; Robinson.

Charlton Athletic (3-5-2): Ilic; Rufus, Youds, Tiler; Mills (Mortimer, 58), Robinson, Kinsella (K. Jones 76), Redfearn, Powell; Mendonca, Hunt (S. Jones, 68). Substitutes not used: Barness; Royce.

Referee: R Harris (Oxford).

Bookings: Leeds: Hiden; Wijnhard; Bowyer; Charlton; Youds; Mills.

Man of the match: Kewell.

Attendance: 32,487.