Football: Leeds shift out of neutral gear

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The Independent Online
Leeds United. .2

Wetherall 10, McAllister 87

Liverpool. . . 0

Attendance: 40,053

TIME was when the footballing world held its breath when this pair collided. It still had enough appeal for the faithful to fill Elland Road with its first 40,000-plus crowd since a visit by Liverpool 15 years ago.

On that occasion the visitors won; they did not yesterday, although no neutral would have quibbled at the thought of a draw. But this was not an occasion for neutrals as Leeds celebrated their first Premiership win of 1994, which may go some way to erasing some of the scars they still bear from Oxford's Cup-replay win.

Neil Ruddock's early attempts to impress himself on the occasion as an intimidatory presence almost backfired within six minutes. His second challenge on Leeds' skipper, Gary McAllister, was certainly illegal but the referee chose to play that almost forgotten advantage rule and Bruce Grobbelaar was pushed into a remarkable save to block Rod Wallace's shot.

Three minutes later, another spot of Liverpool misbehaviour, when Dominic Matteo fouled Gary Kelly wide on the right, did find Leeds exacting the full penalty. Grobbelaar flapped at McAllister's free-kick and the ball soared to David Wetherall on the edge of the box. The defender's shot found a way through the crowded penalty area into the Liverpool net.

As Ronnie Whelan began to adjust to the rhythms of the game, Liverpool became more threatening. A 40-yard dash by Steve McManaman took him past three defenders but he finished with a weak shot. Jamie Redknapp tried an audacious lob which lifted over the bar and Tony Dorigo had to rush across the Leeds' penalty area with a timely tackle to stop the winger after Whelan had once again shredded the Leeds right flank.

More splendid service from the Irishman almost brought a 52nd-minute equaliser but John Lukic somehow diverted John Barnes's close-range shot.

It could have been all over minutes later when Wallace's cross left Brian Deane with a more or less open goal. The burden of not having been on a Premiership scoresheet since 4 December was too much for the Leeds striker and he misdirected his header by 90 degrees.

As the balance of the game tilted hither and thither, Grobbelaar was relieved to see McAllister's fierce 30-yard shot bounce from the crossbar after it had slipped through the keeper's hands. But he needed no luck when his courage and positioning thwarted Gary Speed and David White, who had replaced Wallace after the striker had limped off after a Redknapp tackle which brought the Liverpool player a yellow card.

Three minutes from the end, Whelan virtually nullified his marvellously created contribution to the day when he allowed himself to be robbed just inside his own half by White. Leeds charged forward and McAllister drove the decisive second goal low past Grobbelaar's left hand, helped on its way by a deflection.

(Photograph omitted)