Football: Leeds happy to recall Revie days

Leeds United 1 West Ham United 0; O'Leary insists Champions' League qualification rather than title is target
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The Independent Online
FROM THE dark recesses of the stands and the memories of their longer-serving inhabitants, shouts of "Ole!" pierced the air as the ball was switched at speed from one white-shirted player to another. Even at a club so determinedly geared to looking to the future as Leeds are, the past retains a powerful presence.

When such bull-ring bravado was most famously heard at Elland Road, Don Revie's team were 7-0 up and toying sadistically with Southampton. On this occasion Ian Harte had finally rewarded nearly an hour of unproductive pressure. And, while Leeds briefly had West Ham chasing shadows, summoning that nostalgic echo from more than a quarter of a century ago, David O'Leary's class of '99 were hardly running through a repertoire of training-ground tricks in the manner of Bremner, Giles et al.

On Saturday, in fact, the gloating owed as much to relief as to revelry. West Ham were so resolutely unadventurous until the final 10 minutes that one goal always looked likely to be sufficient to maintain Leeds' position on top of the Premiership. It was just that the breakthrough was, by the leaders' own standards, a long time in coming.

Some of their followers were becoming restive before Harte, the left- back, buried a right-footed shot after an injudicious defensive header by Steve Lomas gifted them the opening. On a day when they demonstrated that there is more to their armoury than the skill and precocity epitomised by Harry Kewell and Michael Bridges, Leeds deserved their good fortune.

Patience has not always been one of the virtues of an impetuous young side. However, with West Ham lying deep and pulling nine men behind the ball, it was a day for dragging defenders out of position and waiting for the opportunity which eventually fell their way. Leeds' refusal to become frustrated into hit-and-hope football hinted at a growing maturity, with the influence of David Batty all-important.

For all his waspish temperament and reluctance to assert the full range of his passing, Batty has the priceless quality of seldom conceding possession. Ironically, since he is suspended for England's play-off against Scotland, his metronomic contribution was more telling than the box-to-box endeavour of Lee Bowyer, for whose inclusion there is a case.

That said, Bowyer made a more positive impression than Frank Lampard, who has already been capped by Kevin Keegan but did not come to life until the mysteriously delayed introduction of Joe Cole. Then, having made negligible impact for 80 minutes, Lampard might have scored more than once against a less agile goalkeeper than Nigel Martyn, whose safe handling on a slippery surface was the other major plus factor for Leeds and the kind all would- be champions need.

Reassuring as Martyn's form must have been for Keegan's spy, Peter Beardsley, the Leeds manager may have been disconcerted by the way they defended during West Ham's belated revival. The energy their attacking players had put into closing down opponents seemed prematurely exhausted; a blot on the "nice professional job" claimed by O'Leary afterwards.

The Irishman continues to insist that a Champions' League place is a more realistic target than the title. But he could not disguise the fact that there is enough confidence coursing through the club to fill the Millennium Dome. "Everyone knows we'll be around the top three come the crunch," he added, matter-of-factly.

With the likes of Huckerby, Mills, Haaland, Hopkin, Bakke and Duberry ready to plug any gaps, O'Leary's optimism could well be justified. Nevertheless, the rawness of Alan Smith, manifested in two wasted heading chances, was a reminder that Leeds have still to replace the physical presence up front which Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink provided.

With a war chest of pounds 25m reputedly available, they are well placed to buy when the right man becomes available. Moreover, a fixture list which pits them against Wimbledon, Bradford, Southampton and Derby in their next four games offers Leeds the chance to consolidate their position before the big matches kick in around the turn of the year.

In contrast, Harry Redknapp admitted he does not even have the funds to pursue his interest in recruiting Colin Hendry from Rangers. Still, he could take consolation from Cole's bubbly cameo and from the knowledge that, with seven first-choices unfit, West Ham at least avoided the sort of hammering that inspired the definitive example of the Elland Road "Ole!"

Goal: Harte (57) 1-0.

Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn; Kelly, Woodgate, Radebe, Harte; Bowyer, Batty, McPhail, Kewell; Bridges, Smith (Huckerby, 58). Substitutes not used: Hopkin, Mills, Bakke, Robinson (gk).

West Ham United (3-5-2): Hislop; Ferdinand, Ruddock, Margas; Lomas, Moncur, Lampard, Foe (Cole, 70), Keller; Wanchope, Kitson. Substitutes not used: Potts, Carrick, Newton, Forrest (gk).

Referee: G Poll (Tring).

Bookings: Leeds: Bowyer, Bridges. West Ham: Moncur, Foe, Lomas.

Man of the match: Batty.

Attendance: 40,190.