Football: Leeds still leaders as Bowyer lifts spirits

Leeds United 2 Leicester City 1
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The Independent Online
LEEDS UNITED retained the leadership of the Premiership yesterday with a victory that would have been much greater but for their youthful impetuosity in front of goal. David O'Leary's young guns dominated all but the opening period of the game, but their failure to convert a stream of chances meant that the final whistle was greeted with relief by the 40,105 crowd.

It was another impressive performance that augurs well for Leeds' future, but the pretenders to the throne will have to show more maturity in front of goal if they are to see out the century in pole position. That will almost certainly require victory against Arsenal at Highbury tomorrow, a task which will be more difficult than yesterday's stroll over a poor Leicester side who faded badly after an initial flurry.

Grudges were still being harboured in the Leeds camp over their controversial Worthington Cup defeat at Filbert Street 11 days earlier with their captain, Lucas Radebe, warning the referee not to be "conned" by Emile Heskey, whom he blamed for his dismissal in that game.

Despite the season, goodwill was predictably in short supply for Heskey, whose every touch was booed, but the striker, who was linked with Elland Road following the departure of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, responded by unsettling his accusers. The Leicester target man dominated the early exchanges in the air and lashed the first shot of the match across the face of Nigel Martyn's goal.

Once Leeds forgot their quarrel and settled down to the game in hand, however, they began knocking the ball about with the confidence expected of league leaders and should have taken the lead when Harry Kewell's header came back off the crossbar and Lee Bowyer's follow-up shot was scrambled off the line by Muzzy Izzet.

But they were made to pay for a moment of over-confidence by their right- back, Gary Kelly. His lazy back-pass put Martyn in trouble, and when Kelly belatedly went to his rescue it was to give the ball away to the Leicester winger Stefan Oakes, whose cross allowed the unmarked Tony Cottee to stoop to head in a simple goal.

Kelly almost compounded his error by putting in Darren Eadie, and Martyn had to dash out off his area to retrieve the situation. Leeds, however, settled into the incisive attacking form that has taken them to the top of the Premiership, and on the half-hour Kewell, who had made a number of dangerous forward runs from just behind his two strikers, crossed low from the right. Bowyer dummied cleverly and Michael Bridges scored his 13th goal of the season with a side-foot shot which flew in off a post.

It was also the Australian who set up the goal on the stroke of half- time which was to prove the winner. He picked out Bridges on the angle of the box, and the resulting cross, a little too high for comfort, was controlled by Bowyer, who cut inside Frank Sinclair before curling his shot into the far corner.

From that moment the game became something of an exhibition for the Leeds youngsters, who were queuing up to beat opponents and test the Leicester goalkeeper, Pegguy Arphexad. The effervescent Bowyer stung his hands with a rasping 20-yard shot and put a header on the roof of the net, the goalkeeper made a reflex save from Ian Harte's point-blank header and denied Bridges with his body after Kewell's through ball split the Leicester defence.

Then it was Kewell's turn to be foiled when Harte's cross gave him a free header and Arphexad turned over Bridges' rising free-kick from 20 yards to make sure that Leeds sweated to the whistle to secure their victory.

Goals: Cottee (10) 0-1; Bridges (29) 1-1; Bowyer (45) 2-1.

Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn; Kelly, Woodgate, Radebe, Harte; Bowyer, Bakke, McPhail, Kewell; Huckerby (Wilcox, 77), Bridges. Substitutes not used: Robinson (gk), Mills, Jones, Duberry.

Leicester City (4-4-2): Arphexad; Sinclair, Elliott, Taggart, Gilchrist (Zagorakis, 65); Savage, Izzet, Oakes, Eadie; Cottee, Heskey. Substitutes not used: Hodges (gk), Gunnlaugsson, Campbell, Thomas.

Referee: M Halsey (Welwyn Garden City).

Bookings: Leeds: Martyn, Bridges, Wilcox. Leicester: Zagorakis.

Man of the match: Bowyer.

Attendance: 40,105.