Football: O'Leary bemoans `crazy' schedule

Coventry City 3 Leeds United 4
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The Independent Online
SOONER OR later, something has to give. Here was a Premiership match played - by one side, at least - not as the focal point of the week but as something for which they had a window in their schedule just wide enough to fit it in. Or that is how it must have felt to the 13 members of the Leeds squad touching base between last week's international matches and tomorrow's Uefa Cup excursion.

Amazingly, they still gave it everything. David Batty, inspired by the three lions only into committing a foolish act of violence in Warsaw, reawakened as the tiger of the Leeds midfield, much to the delight of his supporters, who countered the boos of the home crowd by loudly chanting his name. The game evolved at a typically fierce pace but Batty kept up all the way. The Premiership seems to know no other way of playing, which only compounds the problem.

"Too many mistakes," the Leeds manager, David O'Leary, groaned. "For a neutral, it must have been a great game but me, I'm greedy. I want us to excite people going forward but be mean at the back."

O'Leary needed little prompting to blame an increasingly crowded fixture list, reinforcing a view shared by many managers that international call- ups are now less a matter of prestige than a pain in the neck. "It is only right that there is a break before the international games but players needs time afterwards as well," he said.

"I had 13 players who weren't back with me until Thursday. Couldn't they have put today's programme back by 24 hours and played on Sunday instead?" Only by encroaching into the time the top clubs understandably require to ready themselves for Europe.

So something does have to give and sensibly it will be the size of the Premiership. Otherwise, do not count on the players bearing up under the strain. Here, the giving was largely on the part of defenders on both sides and in particular one goalkeeper, Magnus Hedman, who had kept his 15th clean sheet in 19 matches as Sweden's No 1 against Luxembourg last Wednesday only to suffer the kind of afternoon those in his trade dread.

It was Hedman's slow reaction that allowed Darren Huckerby, the former Coventry favourite, to open his Leeds account against his old club, bringing Leeds back to 2-2, and his challenge on Batty eight minutes later, when trying to redeem himself after fumbling a cross, that invited Leeds to take the lead through Ian Harte's penalty.

To cap it all, after Youssef Chippo's spectacular strike had squared it again, when Michael Bridges pounced to score the winning goal it was after Harry Kewell's shot had rebounded off the woodwork on to Hedman's back. England, their Euro 2000 hopes in Sweden's hands, will hope he has a better one against Poland in Stockholm next month.

Goals: McAllister pen (1) 1-0; Bowyer (7) 1-1; Aloisi (17) 2-1; Huckerby (25) 2-2; Harte (pen 33) 2-3; Chippo (54) 3-3; Bridges (60) 3-4.

Coventry City (4-4-2): Hedman; Quinn (Strachan, 75), Shaw, Williams, Edworthy; Hadji, McAllister, Chippo, Froggatt (McSheffrey, 75); Aloisi (Hall, 46), Keane. Substitutes not used: Konjic, Nuzzo (gk). Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn; Mills, Radebe, Duberry (Woodgate, 54), Harte (Kelly, 62); Hopkin, Bowyer, Batty, Kewell; Bridges, Huckerby. Substitutes not used: Haaland, Jones, Robinson (gk).

Referee: S Dunn (Bristol). Bookings: Coventry: Hadji, Quinn, McAllister; Leeds: Hopkin, Mills.

Man of the match: Batty.

Attendance: 21,532.