Football: Leeds United 0 Derby County 0 - Leeds' lack of firepower exposed
Monday 09 August 1999
His team had quite a dangerous one until Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink's grubby departure left them with only the lightweight, unproven Michael Bridges and Alan Smith, neither of whom, according to O'Leary, were fully fit.
Leeds missed Hasselbaink's niggly, muscular aggression terribly. Bridges, pounds 5 from Sunderland, but overshadowed last season by Niall Quinn, was a peripheral influence, despite O'Leary's praise for some "lovely touches", while Derby's Spencer Prior and Jacob Laursen had far too much strength and guile for Smith.
It had all began so well. An impressive statue of Billy Bremner was unveiled outside the ground, while inside, in a private ceremony, the old warhorse's ashes were scattered on the Elland Road pitch. Even the cloudy humidity which ensured there would be no traditional first-day- of-the-season sunshine, could not assuage the crowd's not entirely unjustified optimism that O'Leary's young team of great, white-shirted hopes might just be serious title contenders. Then, the match began.
At the end of this mean-spirited, hard-fought dour draw, where Nigel Martyn was simply an interested bystander, the optimism had all but evaporated. "Look," said O'Leary, "people are getting carried away. I don't think even Brian Clough could have won the title in his first year."
So bereft of striking firepower were Leeds that their only real chance was a gift from Derby's dozing Rory Delap, whose sloppy back-pass put Harry Kewell through on Mart Poom. Kewell froze and Poom collected with ease. Derby, often defending with eight men behind the ball, restricted Leeds to long-range drives from Lee Bowyer and the impressive Danny Mills, both of which Poom fumbled, and a crafty Ian Harte free-kick which whistled past the left-hand post.
The Derby manager, Jim Smith, rightly praised his team's "work-rate, endeavour and aggression", before explaining that Dean Sturridge had played with an injured hamstring and had been substituted at half-time for being "frightened". They stuck to their grim task with relish, especially Seth Johnson, a pounds 3m signing from Crewe, whose shocking lunge through Lee Bowyer was the only unquestionable caution in a staccato contest which somehow saw eight.
O'Leary can take heart from Mills's bright debut and a reasonably solid defence. "At least we didn't lose," he shrugged. True, but the lingering suspicion is that his team had lost two points and Derby County had proven one.
Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn, Mills, Radebe, Woodgate, Harte; Bowyer, Batty, Hopkin, Kewell; Bridges, Smith (McPhail, 52). Substitutes not used: Haaland, Robinson (gk), Hiden, Duberry.
Derby County (5-3-2): Poom; Carbonari, Laursen, Prior, Dorigo, Delap; Powell, Johnson, Eranio (Borbokis, 77); Baiano (Beck, 67), Sturridge (Burton, h-t). Substitutes not used: Schnoor, Hoult (gk).
Referee: G Barber (Tring). Bookings: Leeds: Batty, Kewell, Bowyer. Derby: Dorigo, Johnson, Powell, Delap, Eranio
Man of the match: Mills.
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