Football: Leeds run around old bangers

By Guy Hodgson Leeds United 2 Middlesbrough 0
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The Independent Online
WHEN LEE TREVINO reached his forties he was asked how he felt. "I'm like a '67 Cadillac," was his reply. "I've changed the engine twice, rolled back the mileometer and replaced the transmission. But now all the tyres are going flat. It's time to put it in the junkyard."

For 40 for a golfer, read 30 for a footballer, and there were a few players in the Middlesbrough dressing-room on Saturday night who were seriously contemplating an 100,000-mile service even if they were not entirely ready to park permanently.

This was not just a triumph for Leeds but for youth over experience. Middlesbrough had eight players who will either reach 30 this year or have long since waved it goodbye while Leeds had six aged 23 or under. Sometimes experience and quick brains can counter faster legs, on this occasion you could almost hear the arthritic joints groaning.

"Leeds passed the ball well," Bryan Robson, the Middlesbrough manager, lamented, "but we let them. I could have played for Leeds today."

A damn sight better job he would made of it, too, because at least Robbo had a keen sense of his defensive duties as a midfielder. His players performed like over-polite bouncers, freely allowing people to sail past them without a challenge never mind a body search.

Part of it was due to Leeds' intelligent movement but even more was down to Boro's attitude. The body was straining but the mind could not cope with players willing to interchange positions and if Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink's choice of options was as accurate as his shooting we would have witnessed a massacre of Anfield proportions.

"How can you outplay Aston Villa one week and next week go away and be all over the place?" Robson asked. "We were fortunate to be only two goals down at half-time, not five. You just can't start games like that."

David O'Leary, his Leeds counterpart, was as diplomatic as Robson was frustrated when he was asked about the disparity in the respective ages of the teams. "Let's just say I wanted to play a high tempo game," he said. "I thought it was appropriate."

Any side which contains Paul Gascoigne is going to have a pace problem at its core and Leeds exploited it ruthlessly. There have been claims that he should be included in England's plans but anyone who was at Elland Road would realise how hollow they are.

There was an international-class performance in midfield on Saturday and it did not come from Gascoigne, who was lost in a sea of speed and endeavour, but from Lee Bowyer. Glenn Hoddle should seriously re-examine his England credentials and quietly store Gazza's in the archives.

Bowyer had a marvellous match and he needed it to surpass Alan Smith whose precocity is a delight for Hoddle and anyone with England's future at heart. At 18 he would be the most exciting young striker in the country if Michael Owen had followed Trevino into golf instead of his father into football.

Even before he scored he showed staggering aplomb and quick feet to flick Hasselbaink's pass with his heel beyond Steve Vickers' challenge and was halted only by a poor shot. After 21 minutes when he drove the ball past Mark Schwarzer after Hasselbaink's greediness had worked in Leeds' favour for once.

Smith turned provider with a chest-down, turn and 40-yard pass to Bowyer six minutes later and spent the rest of the game tormenting his elders in the red shirts. So much so that when he was substituted after 81 minutes every one of his team-mates made a point of applauding him.

"He has a chance," O'Leary said with the twinkle in the eye of a man who knows he has far more than that. "How far can he go? I'm no expert. You had better ask someone who is."

You do not need to be an expert to estimate Smith's destination. His vehicle is only just on the road and he will have a lot of defenders contemplating the scrapyard.

Goals: Smith (21) 1-0; Bowyer (27) 2-0.

Leeds United (4-3-1-2): Martyn; Harte, Wetherall, Radebe, Granville; Bowyer, Hopkin, McPhail (Haaland, 76); Kewell; Smith (Korsten, 81), Hasselbaink. Substitutes not used: Ribeiro, Halle, Robinson (gk).

Middlesbrough (3-5-2): Schwarzer; Vickers, Festa, Pallister; Fleming, Mustoe, Gascoigne (Beck, 62), Maddison (Cooper, 62), Gordon; Deane, Ricard. Substitutes not used: Stamp, Summerbell, Beresford (gk).

Bookings: Leeds: Harte. Middlesbrough: Fleming, Ricard, Pallister.

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).

Man of the match: Bowyer.

Attendance: 37,473.