George Graham said that Leeds United had a flattering November, and December has gone out of its way to prove him right. One win in five matches in the prelude to the New Year celebrations has quietened optimistic talk of titles to near silence.
Yesterday Aston Villa got a draw at Elland Road and no-one could accuse them of daylight robbery. Indeed, no-one could accuse the players of very much because the action was confined to the final 11 minutes. Until then, when Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Savo Milosevic scored, this game had been an entertainment desert.
We could not say we were not warned. "It is unrealistic to expect exciting football week in, week out," George Graham wrote in the programme. "Anyone who expects that is a fool." Perhaps if flu victim Stan Collymore had made it to the pitch things would have been different, but the players tried desperately hard to be sensible.
Milosevic had a header cleared off the line by Hasselbaink after 33 minutes but the main point of interest in the first half was the referee's extraordinary leniency. A brawl involving at least 10 players passed by without a booking, as did several rash tackles, so Mark Draper had every reason to feel persecuted when he was singled out for a fairly tame foul. The crowd seemed baffled, too, as Elland Road rang out to "You don't know what you're doing". Then again the chant could have applied equally to the players.
It had to get better in the second half and David Robertson certainly inspired hope when he almost slid the ball into his own net after a mishit by Ian Taylor. Mark Bosnich, too, had to race out of his goal to block a shot from Hasselbaink after 57 minutes.
The match regained its tedium, however, and the first goal, when it arrived, had the impact of an early morning alarm clock. Harry Kewell dragged the ball back from the right wing to Lee Bowyer, whose cross was met with the velocity of a train by Hasselbaink, heading in to the corner from 10 yards.
Leeds have made a habit of finishing strongly this season and with only 12 minutes to go a home win seemed likely. The Leeds defence seemed overly preoccupied with marking Darren Byfield when Steve Staunton's cross from the left approached them, allowing Milosevic to rise behind his team- mate to head past Nigel Martyn.
In the end the visitors might have even won it as Martyn raced off his line to make a brave save at Taylor's feet. "We're just happy to get a point," Brian Little, the Villa manager said. "I think two games in three days left all the players tired mentally and physically. We were a yard off the pace."
So are Leeds at the moment and if they are to get a European place they will need to recover it quickly.
Goals: Hasselbaink (79) 1-0; Milosevic (84) 1-1.
Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn; Maybury, Wetherall, Molenaar, Robertson; Bowyer, Radebe, Ribeiro (Lilley, 5), Kewell; Wallace, Hasselbaink. Substitutes not used: Beeney (gk), Halle, Jackson, McPhail.
Aston Villa (3-5-2): Bosnich; Ehiogu, Staunton, Scimeca; Nelson, Taylor, Draper, Grayson, Wright; Byfield (Walker, 90), Milosevic. Substitutes not used: Charles, Oakes (gk), Hendrie, Collins.
Bookings: Aston Villa: Draper, Staunton, Byfield.
Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury).
Man of the match: Hasselbaink.
Attendance: 36,287.Reuse content