Football: Leeds lacking a sure touch

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The Independent Online
Ipswich Town. .4

Leeds United. .2

ATTACK is supposed to be the best form of defence. In football it is rarely so, as Leeds made clear with an ambitious performance at Portman Road which was ruthlessly brushed aside by Ipswich.

All four Ipswich goals owed something to their opponents' defensive uncertainty. Though the Leeds manager, Howard Wilkinson, refused to offer it as an excuse, it may be that the champions were simply tired by the physical exertion of Wednesday's European Cup tie against VfB Stuttgart. The number of times they gave away possession from mistakes inside their own half would certainly suggest this.

Part of the problem, however, was the way Leeds committed their midfield players in support of their strikers, Eric Cantona and Lee Chapman. Under pressure from quick, precise counter-attacks, Leeds's defenders were too often isolated against Ipswich's intelligent forward runs and vulnerable to the ball delivered behind them. The centre of their defence looks unusually fallible and playing David Batty at right-back is not the happiest solution to the problem of Mel Sterland's absence.

Last season's Second Division champions had more than enough ideas to see off the First Division champions, another indication that the gap between the two divisions may no longer be as great as it once was. The other occasion when Leeds conceded four goals this season was also at a promoted club: 4-1 at Middlesbrough.

John Wark, the 35-year-old veteran who has been playing at centre-back or sweeper, was the architect of Leeds's downfall. Moved to the right of midfield, he made some telling advances into space, sustained a supply of precise crosses and scored two goals. After Chris Kiwomya had lost his marker to head Ipswich into the lead from Neil Thompson's corner, Wark drove in a swinging 20-yard free- kick and then scored from a penalty in the 44th minute, given away by Batty, after his beautifully timed volley had proved too difficult for John Lukic to hold.

Leeds's second-half fightback was memorable. Chapman turned in McAllister's cross off his thigh before Gary Speed further reduced the deficit from Gordon Strachan's corner. But Ipswich regained their momentum when Wark picked out Leeds's corridor of uncertainty with a cross that Jason Dozzell dispatched emphatically.

Even then, Cantona might have put Leeds back in touch, but after a mazy dribble in the penalty area he pulled his shot wide. This time it was not so much Ooh-Ah-Cantona as Ooh-Er-Cantona and his display, a courageous one in the face of some close marking by Phil Whelan, encapsulated Leeds's afternoon: dynamic and daring but ultimately doomed.

Goals: Kiwomya (25) 1-0; Wark (36) 2-0; Wark pen (43) 3-0; Chapman (55) 3-1; Speed (65) 3-2; Dozzell (71) 4-2.

Ipswich Town: Forrest; Whelan, Thompson, Stockwell, Wark, Linighan, Williams, Goddard, Johnson, Dozzell, Kiwomya. Substitutes not used: Youds, Pennyfather, Baker (gk).

Leeds United: Lukic; Sellars (Rocastle, 71), Dorigo, Batty, Fairclough, Whyte, Strachan, Cantona, Chapman, McAllister, Speed. Substitutes not used: Newsome, Day (gk).

Referee: D Elleray (Harrow-on-the-Hill).

Julian Dicks, the West Ham captain, was sent off for a foul on Steve Bull two minutes from the end of yesterday's 0-0 draw with Wolves at Molineux. The game started brightly but became a bitter physical confrontation between two of the First Division's promotion contenders. Dicks was playing only his second League game since serving a suspension for being dismissed earlier in the season.