Football: Leeds on the edge in comic drama

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Oxford United. . .2

Leeds United. . . 2

CATCHING sight of Lawrie McMenemy easing into his stand seat five days after that documentary brought to mind unhappy images of outsize feet in outsize mouths, of ridiculous men adopting ridiculous poses beside a touchline of torture.

Which in some respects was the picture that emerged in a sensational first 35 minutes at the Manor Ground. Not so much a mystery in Inspector Morse territory, more a serious drama for Leeds United and a comedy of a kind for Oxford, who were 2-0 ahead and laughing.

It would not have been a true Cup script had it been anything else. What chance do the Premiership high-rollers have against the lower orders when every corner of a tight, unfamiliar, ground is filled, where the elements are unfriendly and where a slope provides an easy slide towards humiliation?

Downhill, Oxford wasted no time in impressing with the accuracy and freedom of their football. We knew about John Byrne, Jim Magilton and Joey Beauchamp but a position of 22nd in the First Division had not prepared us for the athletic excellence of Phil Whitehead and the skilful persistence of Mickey Lewis and Anton Rogan.

All three principals were involved in a move of striking quality that led to the first. Collecting Byrne's header, Beauchamp sent Magilton away and the Northern Ireland international cleverly delayed his delivery until Alex Dyer had taken up a goalscoring position.

The marking was poor, the organisation non-existent, and 20 minutes later Leeds, shaken but not yet stirring, contributed further to their apparent demise when they allowed Magilton's corner to reach Matt Elliott, Oxford's obligatory Leeds supporter, who struck the second off a post.

It was 'Goodnight Vienna', according to Howard Wilkinson, and Gary Speed's volley only slightly tempered the Leeds manager's half-time ranting. 'I got about them a bit, maybe a lot, and made one or two salient points,' he admitted.

With the pitch now slanted their way, Leeds became the stronger and, although they were immediately indebted to Mark Beeney for denying Nick Cusack, gradually Brian Deane began to make an impression. Whitehead kept out Gary McAllister's free-kick, one of three splendid second-half saves, but from Gordon Strachan's corner the newly arrived David Wetherall climbed highest to equalise.

Leeds have not been past the fourth round during Wilkinson's years in charge and if every Wembley winner has to step back from the precipice at least once, this time they could be up for the Cup.

Oxford have a more persuasive recent pedigree through the assistant manager Malcolm Crosby, who steered Sunderland to the 1992 final, and through Byrne, who scored in every round along the way. It is hard, though, to think that their chance has not already slipped away.

Goals: Dyer (15) 1-0; Elliott (35) 2-0; Speed (42) 2- 1; Wetherall (64) 2-2.

Oxford United (4-4-2): Whitehead; Robinson, Elliott, Ford, Rogan; Beauchamp (Penney, 73), Lewis, Magilton, Dyer (Allen, 73); Byrne, Cusack. Substitute not used: Reece (gk).

Leeds United (4-4-2): Beeney; Kelly, Fairclough, Newsome (Wetherall, 60), Dorigo; White, McAllister, Speed, Strachan; Wallace (Hodge, 16), Deane. Substitute not used: Lukic (gk).

Referee: D Elleray (Harrow).

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