Football: Leeds still unable to get out of the rut

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Leeds United . . . . .1

Charlton Athletic. . .1

HERE was a match that offered every possibility of an upset. Leeds, their season crumbling about them, knew that only too well and played on the edge of their nerves.

In the end, First Division Charlton owed the chance to host another emotional night at The Valley a week on Wednesday to an enormous slice of good fortune. As Leeds mounted their last attack, Tony Dorigo's goalbound shot struck the leg of defender Scott Minto, lying injured almost on the goal-line, and ballooned over the crossbar. It was bad luck on Leeds but perhaps only fair to Charlton, who had briefly been in front and were worthy of survival.

Leeds, 16th in the Premier League, had struggled throughout to break down a well-disciplined defence, despite vast territorial superiority. And all the time their uneasy defence, with Chris Whyte still left out, looked vulnerable. Had Charlton believed in themselves sooner, they might have frightened Leeds more. As it was they swooped on a blunder by Chris Fairclough to go ahead with 20 minutes left.

The goal showed just how nervous Leeds were. Fairclough, under pressure, made a weak attempt to pass back to John Lukic and Garry Nelson seized the ball. His first shot was well stopped but as the ball ran loose his strike partner, Carl Leaburn, got to it first and Nelson was presented with a second chance.

The home crowd, already giving vent to mounting frustration, seemed to sense things going from bad to worse at this but, in fact, their mood and Charlton's were changed almost instantly. Stung into redoubling their efforts, Leeds equalised a minute later when Gordon Strachan's low cross from almost on the right touchline was forced home in a crowded penalty area by Gary Speed.

'I thought that if we could have held on for a few minutes we might have had a chance,' lamented Alan Curbishley, Charlton's co-manager. But he also believed that the Londoners had been somewhat fortunate not to have lost the tie in the first half.

'We showed them too much respect and kept giving possession away. I thought it was only a matter of time before they would score.'

That Leeds did not, according to Howard Wilkinson, reflected their present level of confidence.

'We were always in command, always taking the game to them,' he said. 'Perhaps a year ago we would have converted that possession into goals but we are lacking the faith in our ability that confidence brings.

'It is a problem that will only be overcome by players accepting responsibility and showing leadership.'

There were chances, it was true, that Speed, Carl Shutt and Lee Chapman should have taken, but Charlton, for their part, defended admirably and had a veritable rock behind them in the aptly named Bob Boulder, who made several fine saves.

Leeds United: J Lukic; M Sterland (J Newsome, 85 min), T Dorigo, D Batty (Rod Wallace, 78 min), C Fairclough, D Wetherall, G Strachan, C Shutt, L Chapman, G McAllister, G Speed. Manager: H Wilkinson.

Charlton Athletic: B Boulder; D Pitcher, S Minto, J Bumstead (K Grant, 80 min), S Webster, S Balmer, J Robinson, C Leaburn, P Garland, G Nelson, C Walsh, Sub not used: S Gatting. Joint Managers: S Gritt, A Curbishley.

Referee: G Ashby (Worcester).

Goals: Nelson (0-1, 70 min); Speed (1-1, 71 min).