Football: Nine hungry men defy Chelsea

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The Independent Online
Chelsea 0

Leeds United 0

Attendance: 34,690

With 10 cards shown and two Leeds United players sent off in an astonishing, throwback first half, this was a fitting Billy Bremner Memorial Match between two teams whose meetings always seem to evoke the talented, tetchy, flame-haired midfield player's early-Seventies era. Unfortunately they rarely showed the high skill-levels Bremner also possessed, even if the wee man would have been proud of the resilience his old club showed in adversity.

These days the more rigorously enforced laws of the game usually preclude - thankfully, mostly - the sort of spiky confrontation that these teams produced, for example, in the 1970 FA Cup final replay, but clearly there remains considerable historical edge. It seemed not to matter that some of these players were not even born when Bremner was in his heyday nor that most of the overseas imports had probably not even heard of him until his untimely death last week.

The chaos began in the opening minutes when the Leeds wing-back Gary Kelly was booked for not retreating 10 yards at a corner and ended with him being sent off just before half-time for a tackle from behind on Franck Leboeuf. In between, Alf Inge Haland, for two spiteful retaliatory kicks, preceded him to test the heat of the water in the dressing-room showers and six other players were cautioned, three from each side.

"Some of my team showed a bit of indiscipline with the bookings and sendings- off," understated the Leeds manager George Graham. "I want passion and commitment from my team but I won't stand for indiscipline. Be assured, I will be dealing with the players concerned.

"But some of the diving should be looked at too," he added. "It is one of the things creeping into our game. Players were diving then getting straight up as soon as the booking was given. I didn't see the physios on the field very often."

"So you have to get injured?" wondered the Chelsea coach Ruud Gullit by way of response. "I think the referee handled it very well. All I know is the players of Leeds were angry with their own players in the tunnel because it was stupid what they did. They were screaming, especially after the second red card.''

Indeed it was difficult to find fault with the referee Graham Poll. Each of the cards seemed justified and there might even have been more Leeds dismissals. Lucas Radebe's early tackle from behind on the appallingly treated Gianfranco Zola bordered on red while Bruno Ribeiro, though later also booked, escaped unpunished for a bad tackle on Dennis Wise.

The afternoon began with a well-observed minute's silence in Bremner's memory, a reverence he would never have received here in his playing days but thereafter it was raucous and discordant as we witnessed more bookings than any Full Monty stripping troupe at Christmas can manage.

After Kelly and Radebe came Chelsea's Roberto Di Matteo for some pushing and shoving with Haland who in turn received his first yellow for kicking at the Italian's ankles in retaliation.

When Wise jumped in on Rodney Wallace - yellow card No 5; keep up - Haland rushed over to aim another kick at ankles. Red was the colour this time, but if the hope was that it might douse the ardour and some football follow, it was soon dashed. David Robertson and Ribeiro, for fouls on Chelsea's wing backs Dan Petrescu and Graeme Le Saux, took Leeds's tally of cards to six.

Mark Nicholls got one back for Chelsea after a spot of petulance with Kelly but it was Leeds who appropriately had the final word - Kelly not even waiting to see the second yellow and the red after cutting down Leboeuf. The first-half play? Wise's shot just wide from 25 yards was about the sum of it.

It was all such a shame that the teams could not concentrate on reproducing the splendid - and surprising - form they have both shown recently. Chelsea, after five successive home wins in the Premiership before yesterday, had managed to stay in touch with Manchester United despite four defeats while Leeds have re-emerged among the elite largely thanks to George Graham's organisational powers.

Fortunately minds were concentrated more in a card-less second half as Chelsea sought a breakthrough against a 4-3-1 Leeds formation bent inevitably on mere survival. Early on, a Chelsea goal seemed just a matter of time as Tore Andre Flo headed home Zola's corner but was unluckily adjudged to have pushed a Leeds defender. The Norwegian also glanced just wide Zola's swinging free-kick.

In a late onslaught, Frank Sinclair stabbed wide, Gianluca Vialli's overhead kick was just off target and Nigel Martyn saved brilliantly from Michael Duberry's header - but mostly Chelsea were restricted to long-range shots as Leeds retained shape and, finally, discipline. They even had half a chance to sneak a winner, Ribeiro's shot from 25 yards dipping just over the Chelsea bar. Of such spirit, ultimately, Bremner would have approved.