Football: Leeds lose the thread

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Leeds United. .2

Liverpool. . . 2

WHEN Howard Wilkinson is excessively polite and measured with his replies it is almost always a sign that he is exceedingly vexed. The press kept nibbling away, trying to make him say something about the referee and Wilkinson would pause, silently take in breath, and then spell it out, once, twice, thrice: 'The referee has to make the decisions.'

Even when a tabloid reporter drew him aside in the hope of getting him to say it another way he remained adamant, the tension showing only in the use of a few expletives in a private conversation.

Wilkinson admitted that this match turned on a Leeds loss of purpose and refereeing decisions: 'In the first half we relaxed increasingly as the game went on. I don't know why. I'll think of something by Monday morning.'

Leeds' complacency was understandable. They had an early lead, they should have scored twice more and for the first 40 minutes Liverpool, not for the first time this season, looked likely to be overrun. Not till the 30th minute did John Lukic have to do more than kick back-passes upfield.

A minute from the interval Paul Stewart was waved onside and his break enabled Ronnie Whelan, following up, to equalise from a long cross-shot; it was a stunning and almost entirely undeserved riposte.

The critical moment came in the 66th minute when Liverpool decided that Dean Saunders, who has become a substitute Ray Houghton, should be replaced by Mark Walters, a left-sided, rather than right-sided, attacker.

Four minutes later Jon Newsome was judged to have fouled Walters in the penalty area and Jan Molby made it 2-1; much acrimony. Newsome almost certainly did not intend a foul and Walters was going for goal, but the defender left a leg behind; no argument.

From then on Leeds were paranoid about Walters and their right side, two or three men funnelling back to pick up the winger. Four minutes from time David James half-heartedly came out for a corner kick and missed, Leeds were level. The camera behind the goal made clear James's miscalculation but as he has taken 90 per cent of everything in the air in the penalty area since he arrived, he was entitled to one error.

The return of Nicol, McManaman, Thomas and Barnes will do much for Liverpool, but the priority has to be another central defender, for at present they are staying alive only because James and Mark Wright are carrying twice the normal work-load.

Leeds seem to have picked up Manchesteruniteditis, a growing inability to score easy goals. Eric Cantona, their best player, was booked, in a series of confrontations with David Burrows, Elland Road's first glimpse of that famous Gallic temperament. L'Enfant Sauvage was provoked; he also has a gashed knee.

Goals: McAllister (7) 1-0; Whelan (44) 1-1; Molby (pen 70) 1-2; Chapman (86) 2-2.

Leeds United: Lukic; Newsome, Dorigo, Batty (Hodge, 77), Fairclough (Strachan, 77), Whyte, Cantona, Wallace, Chapman, McAllister, Speed. Substitute not used: Day (gk).

Liverpool: James; Jones, Burrows, Harkness, Whelan, Wright, Saunders (Walters, 66), Stewart (Marsh, 70), Rush, Molby, Redknapp. Substitute not used: Hooper (gk).

Referee: R Dilkes (Mossley).