LEEDS UNITED went out of the Uefa Cup last night when they were held to a limp draw at Elland Road. Some European failures are heroic, this was a simple taming of a team betrayed by lack of experience and cover.
Requiring to overturn a one-goal deficit from the first leg, the occasion demanded a bravura performance but not even the most one-eyed home supporter could describe this as that. A young Leeds team, five of whom were 21 or under and deprived of their injured captain, Lucas Radebe, ran out of ideas so soon they could not manage a shot on target in the final 45 minutes.
Instead the match was epitomised by the last seconds when it was Roma who were pressing for the winner, Cafu forcing an athletic save out of Nigel Martyn, rather than Leeds. This came even though the Italians endured the second half a man short after Pierre Wome was sent off for two bookable offences.
"Over the two games our cutting edge could have been much better," David O'Leary, the Leeds manager conceded. "We had chances and we didn't take them and you can't do that against a quality side."
Maybe O'Leary's pleas for caution were heeded too carefully because Leeds never properly threatened. The closest they came to breaking the deadlock arrived 15 minutes from time when Clyde Wijnhard slid the ball towards goal from Lee Bowyer's cross but Harry Kewell got in the way to stop the effort.
The night began with Elland Road ringing to Verdi and Puccini in an attempt to make the Roma supporters feel at home although the visiting team, currently third in Serie A, did a pretty good job of that themselves because they instantly grabbed the initiative.
Marco Delvecchio fired a shot across Leeds' bows after five minutes, Wome charged forward to let fly at Martyn's goal and it was eight minutes before the home team mounted their first threatening attack.
David Hopkin muscled through one tackle and, with a rebound breaking kindly, he had a 50-50 ball against the Roma goalkeeper, Antonio Chimenti. Again his challenge was the stronger, but the outcome was less favourable and he was forced too wide to profit from his work.
Lee Sharpe also had a chance, miscued horribly wide, but these were isolated attempts to turn the tide and three times in quick succession Martyn came to the rescue. A dive at the feet of Delvecchio halted one attack, a save low to his right thwarted Paulo Sergio but the goalkeeper's best save was a flying leap to tip Aldair's 20th-minute header over the bar.
So far there had been no evidence of his bruised ribs, but, after 29 minutes, there was the first sign that Martyn was not fully fit. He came for but flapped at Francesco Totti's corner and was fortunate Delvecchio's turn and flick ended on the roof of the net rather than in it.
Leeds had been fortunate to survive this incessant probing but they reached half-time rueing an opportunity that could have levelled the tie. An attempted clearance rebounded to Lee Bowyer whose quick feet took him past two Roma defenders. He had done the hard part and, free in the area, the least he should have done is force a save out of Chimenti. Instead he passed straight to him.
The final seconds of the first half had brought the home side some advantage, however, as Wome was sent off for his second bookable foul on Bowyer, the latter a trip.
Like Leeds in the Olympic Stadium, the visitors had to play the second half with 10 men, but you would not have known it from the play. The advantage was with home team but to make the most of it they needed to raise their tempo and this they failed to do and Roma were allowed to dictate the pace.
Nothing epitomised Leeds' lack of second-half thrust better than a 53rd minute piece of improvisation by Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink who pulled the ball back cutely from Bowyer's throw only to find his team-mates walking into position rather than running to maximise the opportunity.
"The kids are improving and they will be better for the experience," O'Leary said. "There is talent emerging that if it can be added to will provide a good future for this club."
Last night Elland Road was more concerned with the present and some sections of the 39,000 crowd expressed their disapproval at the end. A night that had begun with opera and rich promise ended in disappointment and isolated boos.
Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn; Hiden, Woodgate, Molenaar, Harte; Bowyer, Hopkin, McPhail, Sharpe (Wijnhard, 60); Hasselbaink, Kewell. Substitutes not used: Haaland, Wetherall, Granville, Lilley, Halle, Robinson (gk).
Roma (4-3-3): Chimenti; Aldair, Petruzzi, Zago, Wome; Tommasi, Tomic, Di Francesco; Paulo Sergio (Candela, h-t), Delvecchio, Totti (Cafu, 86). Substitutes not used: Alenichev, Bartelt, Gautieri, Frau, Campagnolo (gk).
Referee: B Heynemann (Ger).Reuse content