Football: Leeds relieved by timely strike from Strachan

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The Independent Online
Leeds United. . . . 1

Oldham Athletic. . .0

GORDON STRACHAN, whose goal at Highbury last week was a minor classic, repeated the feat to lift the early season gloom at Elland Road last night. Oldham were unable to respond in kind in the ensuing 79 minutes, enabling Leeds to record only their second victory of the season.

While the points eased the pressure on Howard Wilkinson after three consecutive defeats, the Leeds manager would be unwise to imagine that his team have put a faltering start behind them. Their familiar inability to translate possession into goals was evident once more, while Oldham's belated attempt to secure an equaliser again exposed the vulnerability of Leeds' defence.

That the efforts of Joe Royle's side failed to bear fruit was ultimately due to Mark Beeney, Wilkinson's pounds 350,000 capture from Brighton last April, who was preferred in goal to John Lukic. Beeney, a burly figure who had weight problems on his arrival, showed unexpected agility to tip over Gunnar Halle's goalbound header 14 minutes from time.

If an Oldham equaliser would have been harsh on Beeney, Strachan might almost have had cause for litigation. Now in his 37th year and 21st season, the Scottish sorcerer looked a class above anyone else.

The decisive blow, which installed Strachan as Leeds' top scorer with a princely two goals, offered early but illusory promise. Gary Speed worked the ball across the penalty area to find Strachan lurking and the left side of Oldham's back four AWOL. One touch later, an angled right-footed drive from 12 yards ripped into the rigging, with Paul Gerrard getting a touch but unable to keep the ball out.

For the next hour, it was a struggle between Gerrard, the England Under-21 keeper, and the home forwards as Leeds all but overpowered their opponents. A sprawling catch from Brian Deane's deft flick denied Leeds' pounds 2.7m newcomer his second goal for the club, and Gerrard showed his improvisational ability by using legs and fists respectively to deny David Batty and Rod Wallace.

Leeds had reappeared after the interval nursing a grievance, Wallace having had a good-looking goal dubiously disallowed for offside against Strachan. The culprit gave the linesman a look worthy of the Merv Hughes school of scowling, but was soon concentrating on interfering with play in a more creative fashion.

Even Strachan could not carry the game alone, however, and the exchanges became increasingly ragged until Oldham suddenly realised a point was there for the taking. Darren Beckford headed what he fancied was the equaliser, though on this occasion no one considered the offside decision worth contesting.

Halle then tested Beeney's elasticity, and Paul Bernard his handling with a rising drive. To the audible relief of the crowd, Leeds held out. As for Oldham, another season of struggle and brinkmanship seems inevitable, yet Royle still found it in his heart to praise the match-winner.

'There's only one word for Strachan - quality,' the Oldham manager said. 'He still has great touch and a lust for the game. He wants to pass the ball too, which was almost unique in that match.'

Leeds United (4-4-2): Beeney; Kelly, Wetherall, Newsome, Dorigo; Strachan, Batty, McAllister, Speed; Rod Wallace, Deane. Substitutes not used: Hodge, Forrester, Lukic (gk).

Oldham Athletic (4-4-2): Gerrard; Fleming, Redmond, Jobson, Pointon (Barlow, 45); Halle, Milligan, Henry, Bernard (Ritchie, 70); Beckford, Olney. Substitute not used: Hallworth (gk).

Referee: G R Ashby (Worcester).

(Photograph omitted)