Football: Leeds' turn for early crisis

Aston Villa 1 Leeds United 0
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The Independent Online
How many defeats makes a crisis? If four were enough to induce fear and loathing around Villa Park before this result brought Brian Little's side their first points, then it is the turn of Leeds to feel the heat now.

An opening-day draw against Arsenal followed by an impressive away win over Sheffield Wednesday seemed to send out positive signals about George Graham's rebuilt side, only for Crystal Palace, Liverpool and now Villa to prick the balloon.

Graham spent close to pounds 8m on his summer refit at Elland Road and, though there was nothing in his demeanour on Saturday to betray concern, he could not have failed to notice the displeasure voiced by Leeds supporters as the players trudged towards the tunnel.

It was just a matter, Graham said, of getting the balance right between defence and "gung-ho" attack. There seems more to it than that, however. David Hopkin, outstanding with Crystal Palace in the First Division, does not yet look at home in his new surroundings, while Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, the Dutchman from Portugal, looks suspiciously like another Tony Yeboah.

Given that these two accounted for pounds 5.25m of Graham's spending, it is hardly surprising that recent results should lead to disquiet among his backers on the terraces, not to mention those investors who have seen the value of their Caspian shares fall.

Hasselbaink, rarely a threat, was substituted in the second half and, by Graham's admission, the most impressive player in a Leeds shirt did not a penny. The 18-year-old Australian-born Harry Kewell, a graduate of the Leeds team that won the FA Youth Cup in May, displayed conspicuous maturity on the left side of midfield.

The home side were by no means convincing winners. But their early-season problems are likely to prove superficial, owing something to the disruptive effect of Little's now-abandoned experiment with 4-3-3 and something to the low-key form of the pounds 7m striker Stan Collymore, whose selection in Glenn Hoddle's latest squad must have surprised even him.

Collymore, who missed an authentic sitter with his head just before half- time, has not yet developed an effective understanding with Dwight Yorke, but will in due course. Once that happens, once Villa's defence regains the solidity that was its hallmark last year, and once Little settles on the make-up of his midfield, the four results with which their season began may well be recalled only as a blip.

That midfield had a component removed when Andy Townsend was sold to Middlesbrough on Friday, leaving Little to decide whether to promote 20-year-old Lee Hendrie to first team duties or encourage the transfer- listed Yugoslav Sasa Curcic to rethink his future and stay.

In the meantime, the Townsend slot is being filled by Simon Grayson, the utility player Little signed from Leicester for pounds 1.35m and whose drive contributed largely to Saturday's result. Grayson was defied only by Nigel Martyn's splendid save after charging into the heart of the visiting defence in the first half, and provided the cross from which Collymore missed.

Graham's conclusion, made in the recollection of the way Yorke coolly put away the decisive goal, was that the difference between the sides lay in the quality of strikers, stressing his admiration for Yorke in particular.

Clearly uppermost in his mind, however, was the sudden porousness of his defence, which may prompt some re-entrenchment after his earlier stated aim of bringing more adventure to Leeds' play. "I don't want to lose my reputation for meanness," he said.

Goal: Yorke (67) 1-0.

Aston Villa (5-3-2): Bosnich; Charles (Nelson, h-t), Ehiogu, Staunton, Southgate, Wright; Taylor, Draper, Grayson; Yorke, Collymore. Substitutes not used: Milosevic, Curcic, Scimeca, Oakes (gk).

Leeds United (4-1-2-2-1): Martyn; Kelly, Radebe, Wetherall, Robertson; Haland; Hopkin (Halle, 78), Ribeiro; Wallace, Kewell; Hasselbaink (Lilley, 76). Substitutes not used: Bowyer, Molenaar, Beeney (gk).

Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).

Man of the match: Grayson.

Attendance: 39,027.