Football: Leeds forget their lines

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The Independent Online
Middlesbrough. .4

Leeds United. . 1

ALTHOUGH football managers' perceptions are often at variance with those from elsewhere, there was a disarming honesty about Howard Wilkinson, the Leeds manager, who talked like a man seeking answers. 'We were well turned over. I had a feeling this morning, and again before the match that something wasn't quite right. I'll look at the video tomorrow.'

Always the pragmatist, what he would see would not be to his liking. For, apart from Tony Dorigo, the rest of his defence was quite dreadful and in no way up to coping with promoted Middlesbrough, who clearly saw the game as a chance to have a tilt at the Premier League establishment.

More strangely, perhaps, was his team's uncharacteristic reluctance to make a fight of it after they went two goals down. For long periods as Andy Peake and Willy Falconer tore into them, Leeds (David Batty included) looked startled and offended by being played at their own game. It could not be, could it, that the plaudits that they received after their midweek display at Villa Park had gone to their heads and they had forgotten that what made them champions was their ability to scrap it out?

Paradoxically, it was Middlesbrough who went back to basics and did the simple things quickly and well. As Wilkinson admitted: 'They headed better, tackled better, ran better, passed better and finished better.'

In one of football's more eloquent ironies the man who spoilt Howard's day was Tommy Wright, sold by Leeds to Oldham six years ago when Billy Bremner feared his injuries had slowed his development. The 26-year-old Boro winger exploited Leeds's defensive frailties first by making two goals for Paul Wilkinson with precision crosses before scoring the third with a powerful header just after the break. If that was not enough, he then sent in another Elland Road old boy, John Hendrie, to score the last.

Lennie Lawrence's tactics of attacking in quick breaks down the flanks were as, he put it himself, 'spot on'. Years of relegation crises at Charlton have made the Boro manager an arch-realist, and when he said this was 'the most professional performance I have been associated with in 10 years of management' you knew he, too, was telling the truth.

Goals: Wilkinson (7) 1-0; Wilkinson (8) 2-0; Wright (47) 3-0; Hendrie (58) 4-0; Cantona (68) 4-1.

Middlesbrough: Ironside; Morris, Phillips, Kernaghan, Whyte, Peake, Slaven (Pollock, 76), Falconer, Wilkinson (Mustoe, h/t), Wright, Hendrie. Substitute not used: Roberts (gk).

Leeds United: Lukic; Newsome (Strachan, h/t), Dorigo, Batty (Hodge, 75), Fairclough, Whyte, Cantona, Rod Wallace, Chapman, McAllister, Speed. Substitute not used: Day (gk).

Referee: D Allison (Lancaster).