Football: Leeds undone by Solano strike

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The Independent Online
Leeds United 0

Newcastle United 1

Solano 63

Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 40,202

IF THE impressive run David O'Leary's young side has enjoyed since he took over at Elland Road from George Graham was beginner's luck for the novice manager, the luck of the Irish may finally be running out.

On the back of their heaviest defeat of the season at Southampton, Leeds suffered their first home setback of O'Leary's reign against a Newcastle side whose tactic of soaking up the pressure and hoping to score on the break paid off when the Peruvian Nolberto Solano tucked away the only goal of the match in the 62nd minute.

Hardly sexy football, but it was sweet revenge for the 3-0 drubbing Ruud Gullit's side endured at the hands of Leeds at St James' Park on Boxing Day.

With both sides missing key strikers one goal always looked like being enough in a game in which Leeds had most of the possession. But Newcastle in effect controlled things by swamping the midfield and preventing the home side settling into the flowing stride that had made them look so impressive before Christmas.

Their inability to string passes together and the absence of their suspended leading scorer, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, left Leeds relying on the occasional surging run by the midfielder Lee Bowyer. But the service Hasselbaink's replacement Clyde Wijnhard and his 18-year-old striking partner Alan Smith needed was rarely forthcoming and the match was in injury time before the well-organised Newcastle defence suffered their first moment of panic. Harry Kewell's 20-yard drive that struck the outside of the post balanced out a first-half effort by Solano that came back off the woodwork with the goalkeeper Nigel Martyn beaten. But chances were at a premium, though the one that produced the only goal came at the end of the game's best move.

Newcastle's stand-in strikers, the on-loan Frenchman Louis Saha and the Georgian Temuri Ketsbaia, had rarely looked adequate replacements for the injured Duncan Ferguson and the suspended Alan Shearer.

But it was Ketsbaia, with his back to goal, who played the ball back to Dietmar Hamann who flicked the return into the path of Solano, whose first time right-foot shot lodged in the bottom corner of Martyn's goal. "Our tactics worked well," said Gullit. "We stopped Leeds creating chances and we made plenty of our own."

But the goal apart, they also made a hash of them. When Leeds' other teenager, the defender Jonathon Woodgate, mishit a back-pass into Ketsbaia's path, he delayed long enough to allow Martyn to race off his line and smother.

Leeds did no better. They won a series of free-kicks in promising positions but Ian Harte wasted them all by driving them straight at Newcastle's defensive wall. Their best chance in open play saw Bowyer feed Smith, but the goalkeeper Shay Given got a hand to his low cross before it could reach Wijnhard and the full-back Andy Griffin hooked the ball away.

But O'Leary blamed injuries for his side's loss of form. "We are a small squad and at the moment the team picks itself. But although we didn't play well today this young squad have done wonderfully well for me," he said.