Football: Limp Leeds fail to cash in

Everton 0 Leeds United 0 Attendance: 36,687
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The Independent Online
THE IMPEACHABLE Everton attack meets the almost impregnable Leeds defence. No prizes were awarded for guessing the outcome, though Everton emerged from this investigation with their reputation the more intact.

Leeds had conceded just one goal entering this fixture while Everton had scored in just one of their first four games. Yet Leeds failed to test a home side reduced to 10 men for much of the second half following the dismissal of French midfielder Olivier Dacourt.

A late flurry of chances did not disguise an unadventurous display, as the visiting manager George Graham was prepared to admit. "That was a poor match. Everton are going through a transitional period and they do not want to lose games. We really cancelled each other out and it must have been sad to watch for the fans. We should have come out a little bit more on the full-backs," concluded Graham.

The full-back area is just one that has been strengthened by new Everton manager Walter Smith, with Alex Cleland and David Unsworth, together with Italian centre-half Marco Materazzi, all contributing to a more sturdy central back four.

Add to this the midfield steel of Dacourt and the ball-playing options granted by John Collins, and Everton have a new shape. So often bullied into submission last season, when the club's youthful promise was stretched to breaking point, Everton matched Leeds for commitment in a shapeless and physical encounter.

Dacourt's dismissal was not, however, indicative of a tetchy game. Both his bookings, for pulling at Jimmy Hasselbaink and a late challenge on Lee Bowyer, deserved booking, but as is so often the case, Everton appeared to benefit more from their own depletion. With Danny Cadamarteri introduced to maintain the four-man midfield but also retain an element of counter- attacking threat, the home side still managed to create more chances.

Collins forced Nigel Martyn to back-pedal furiously with a long-range lob that matched Cleland's similar first-half effort. Don Hutchison smashed a half-volley at Martyn and Duncan Ferguson was a constant prowler. But Smith still believes his skipper needs fresh support for his side to cook up more chances, rather than feeding off set-piece scraps.

"I think it is obvious we need another front player. We have been trying for a couple of weeks to get some added striking power. But we are pleased that we managed to take something from the game. We started well but allowed it to die a little bit towards the end of the first half," said Smith.

His side were, however, lucky to escape a frantic final few minutes sparked by the introduction of Derek Lilley, whose header was tipped on to the bar by Thomas Myhre. Then close attempts by David Hopkin and Hasselbaink could have kept Leeds at the top of the table with a scarcely deserved win.

Meaningful first-half action had been scarce, Dave Watson wasting an unchallenged header from a corner and set pieces always being the likeliest avenue for breaking the deadlock.