Football: Leeds punished by Hirst's goal

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Leeds United . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

AFTER seeing their title pass to Manchester United, it looked as though Leeds United would finally salvage something from their anticlimactic season, albeit something as mundane as their first Premier League victory away from Elland Road.

The Hillsborough scoreboard had ticked up the 91st minute and a Leeds side without six first-team regulars seemed to have hustled their way to a scrappy win epitomised by the manner of their goal, Wednesday's full- back Phil King helping Lee Chapman's header into his own net.

Then Wednesday won a corner, substitute Paul Warhurst crossed, John Lukic went up for it and the Wednesday striker David Hirst stabbed it into the net after the Leeds goalkeeper had unaccountably let it slip through his hands.

Wednesday's manager, Trevor Francis, said he was delighted with the performance of Hirst, whose season has been marred through injury. 'I can see the signs that he's started to play better and from a confidence point of view it was important he got a goal tonight.'

And so that elusive victory had slipped through Leeds' fingers too, and another unwanted statistic went into the book. It is now a year since Leeds picked up three away points.

The last occasion was the penultimate match of last season, also in Sheffield. They won at Bramall Lane that day, and returned up the M1 as champions. What a difference a year makes.

Howard Wilkinson's only consolation is that last night's point makes Leeds safe from relegation, but with all their main playmakers - Strachan, McAllister and Speed - injured, they played like relegation strugglers for much of this match, content to harry Wednesday and thump the ball towards their lone front-runner, Chapman.

He claimed the goal as his 19th of the season, and his powerful header after Chris Whyte had nodded on Rod Wallace's cross was probably goal- bound before King's unfortunate intervention. It was one of the few clear chances, although Wednesday keeper Chris Woods had to make a one- handed diving save to deny Wallace early in the second half.

Wednesday, also missing their main creative forces, John Sheridan and Chris Waddle, were well below par, although Chris Bart-Williams would have won it if Lukic had not blocked his drive in the dying seconds. But that would have rubbed salt into Leeds' wounds.

'If Leeds had played with that sort of determination all season they might have won a few away matches,' Francis said.

Sheffield Wednesday: Woods; Nilsson, King (Warhurst, 75), Palmer, Shirtliff, Jones, Wilson (Harkes, 35), Hyde, Hirst, Bart-Williams, Worthington. Substitutes not used: Pressman (gk).

Leeds United: Lukic; Ray Wallace, Sharp (Kerr, 77), Batty, Newsome, Whyte, Whelan, Rod Wallace, Chapman, Hodge, Tinkler. Substitutes not used: Wetherall, Day (gk).

Referee: R Milford (Bristol).