Leeds United 0 Liverpool 2
Steve McManaman, with his first goal of a troubled season, and Karlheinz Riedle, breaking his duck in English football, finally earned Liverpool victory start at the fourth attempt last night. For Leeds, who have taken a solitary point from three games at Elland Road, an improved display was scant consolation.
It was on just such a steamy evening, exactly two years ago, that Tony Yeboah memorably settled this fixture in Leeds' favour. In six League and cup meetings since then, Liverpool have scored 16 times without reply, though the much maligned David James had to be at his shot-stopping best to preserve that record.
Leeds failed, however, to probe James' weakness on crosses. In contrast, Liverpool exploited the defensive uncertainty that is proving a side-effect of Leeds' more positive approach, with Michael Owen again irrepressible. As early as the ninth minute, Paul Ince advanced unchallenged to within 20 yards of goal. Gunnar Halle scythed him down, rightly earning a yellow card. The Norwegian doubtless considered his cynical challenge vindicated when Liverpool wasted the free-kick.
On the quarter hour, Leeds' Lucas Radebe looked set to head clear Bjorn Tore Kvarme's clearance, but lost his footing to allow Owen to race clear. The 17-year-old beat Nigel Martyn, only for his shot to drift wide of the far upright.
Liverpool's ascendancy was duly rewarded midway through the first half. After a build-up on the right, Ince rolled the ball wide to McManaman just inside the angle of the penalty area. The white shirts backed off, allowing the England player to bury a low diagonal drive beyond Martyn and put the fiasco of his flirtation with Barcelona behind him.
Owen's ability to find space seemingly at will then created an opening for Ince, who fired over from six yards, while Martyn did well to block the teenager's shot on the turn following a corner. Leeds belatedly stirred themselves as half-time beckoned, Alfe-Inge Haland heading wide before James was forced into athletic saves to deny Bruno Ribeiro, David Hopkin and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.
Leeds' period of retaliation also brought cautions for Ince and Michael Thomas, which served to rouse the home crowd. Stig-Inge Bjornebye joined them in the book early in the second half, when George Graham's side enjoyed plentiful possession without ever looking dangerous.
A further booking, following Kvarme's foul on Rod Wallace, was symptomatic of the problems the diminutive striker was causing Liverpool. Carving a clear-cut chance was another matter, Hasselbaink's shot into James's midriff from 22 yards proving a typical outcome to their attacking play.
With Leeds pressure came the danger of Liverpool punishing them on the break. They were caught out by Owen - almost inevitably - on the hour, and Halle was fortunate not to concede a penalty as Leeds' tormentor tumbled under his challenge.
With 20 minutes remaining, Hasselbaink broke through the centre; James was equal to his drive. From the ensuing corner the Dutchman headed inches over the top.
But within five minutes, Riedle effectively killed off the contest with his first goal since the European Cup final. A fine effort it was, too: after shrugging off Robert Molenaar, the German chipped Martyn from 25 yards. At the last, James saved brilliantly from Hopkin, summing up Leeds' frustration.
Leeds United (3-5-2) Martyn; Molenaar, Halle, Radebe; Kelly, Hopkin, Haland, Ribeiro, Robertson; Hasselbaink, Wallace, Substitutes not used: Wetherall, Bowyer, Lilley, Kewell, Beeney (gk).
Liverpool (3-4-1-2) James; Kvarme, Wright, Harkness; Jones, Thomas, Ince, Bjornebye; McManaman; Riedle (Berger, 82), Owen. Substitutes not used: McAteer, Babb, Murphy, Warner (gk).
Referee: A Wilkie (Chester-le-Street).
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