Nottingham Forest. . .4
LEEDS UNITED'S manager Howard Wilkinson had a carefully planned strategy to exorcise the ghost of Eric Cantona, but Forest ruined all that and an unbeaten run of 31 League matches at Elland Road yesterday.
Forest's first away win of the season was fashioned by the gentle touch of Neil Webb, who ironically left Manchester United days before Cantona arrived, and the bludgeoning finishing of his midfield partner Roy Keane.
The splendid Keane followed up his goal in the mid-week Coca-Cola Cup success with his first two in the league this hitherto exasperating campaign. He ought to have had a hat-trick, such was the majesty of Webb's orchestration and the frailty of a Leeds defence accommodating, for the first time at this level, Ray Wallace.
Wilkinson used his programme notes and the public address system in an attempt to defuse the controversy surrounding Cantona's transfer. He told an attentive crowd the split 'was of his making, not mine, and in everybody's interests.' He appealed: 'You've trusted me to do the job, trust me now. We will be back.' The faithful duly applauded.
Wilkinson stated in his column that Cantona faxed him requesting a move to another club in England. He said developments did not surprise him and gave a thinly veiled warning of potential problems confronting Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford.
Wilkinson wrote: 'Look at the facts. During his career he has stayed only a short time at any of his previous seven clubs. By his own mouth, he is the sort of person who, in order to survive, needs change.'
Wilkinson's PR appeared to have done the trick. The familiar chorus of 'Ooh aah, Cantona' was given a more vulgar rendition, suggesting the Frenchman was no longer welcome.
Leeds' football, however, scarcely helped the manager's cause. Their play was disjointed and too often they were made to resort to hopeful, long-range shots. Forest, by contrast, produced inventive moves which were not flattered by the scoreline.
Leeds' reliance on the offside tactic repeatedly threatened to be their undoing and, after 28 minutes, Forest predictably capitalised. Stuart Pearce sprinted through the barricade and, although Nigel Clough looked suspiciously offside from a forward pass, his simple, tap-in goal, was allowed to stand.
The setback extracted greater urgency from Leeds and Forest were forced to resort to some desperate, saving tackles. Fortune at last seemed to go their way as they survived the perils of Gordon Strachan's shot across goal and Gary Speed's close range effort from the subsequent corner.
Through the midfield and in attack, Forest remained unruffled and they almost had a second goal just after the break. The final, penetrating flick came from Webb and Keane wasted the opportunity, firing wide.
He made amends after 53 minutes. Again Webb was the provider, his diagonal ball releasing the Republic of Ireland international on the left and this time comprehensively beat goalkeeper John Lukic.
A minute later, Forest's creativity and execution were equally effective. Scot Gemmill dragged the ball inside his would-be marker, rolled the ball across the penalty area and substitute Kingsley Black despatched it with enormous relish. Another magnificent ball from Webb presented Keane with another opportunity after 67 minutes and the destruction was complete. Speed salvaged a consolation goal for Leeds three minutes from the end.
Wilkinson said: 'The one good thing to come out of today is that we were so bad people will be talking about that for the next week instead of Cantona. Sometimes you are beaten, today we lost. I wouldn't be churlish and dismissive of Forest, but they were allowed to do what they can do very easily.
'We had no spark, no electricity. We've got to shake ourselves and get out of it. Today was as far removed from what's been going on here as I can remember. Forest have told me they know how it feels because they've been going through the same sort of thing. The trouble is, the sense of disappointent is taking too long to go. It's hard to find any redeeming factors, we were so poor.'
Leeds United: J Lukic; J Newsome, T Dorigo, D Rocastle (S Hodge 66 min), C Fairclough, Ray Wallace, G Strachan, Rod Wallace (C Shutt 66 min), L Chapman, G McAllister, G Speed. Sub not used: M Day (gk). Manager: H Wilkinson.
Nottingham Forest: M Crossley; B Laws, S Pearce, S Chettle, C Tiler, R Keane, N Webb, S Gemmill, N Clough, L Glover (G Bannister 77 min), I Woan (K Black 15 min). Sub not used: A Marriott (gk). Manager: B Clough.
Referee: A Buksh (London).
Goals: Clough 0-1 28 mins, Keane 0-2 53 mins, Black 0-3 54 mins, Keane 0-4 67 mins, Speed 1-4 87 mins.
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