Football: O'Leary delivers icy blast

Uefa Cup Third Round
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The Independent Online
DAVID O'LEARY, the Leeds manager, was yesterday scathing in his criticism of the condition of the pitch at the Dynamo Stadium, Moscow, prior to this afternoon's Uefa Cup third-round first-leg against Spartak. It was not difficult to see why - the playing surface was frozen solid in the sub-zero temperatures.

"It's an absolute disgrace," O'Leary fumed, after an abortive attempt to train with his team. "The pitch is frozen like a rock and the conditions are very dangerous for the players."

With temperatures dropping to -15C in the Russian capital yesterday, Leeds managed about 10 minutes of limbering up before heading back to the warmth of the dressing room.

O'Leary said that team doctors advised the players against kicking the ball in such weather for fear of long-term injury.

The Leeds goalkeeper, Nigel Martyn, the last player to leave the pitch, offered a more restrained view than his manager. "This is not Wembley, exactly," he said. "It's more or less OK at the corners but the six-yard box looks rock-solid and it's almost impossible to have any movement without risking an injury."

A Spartak official said the undersoil heating was switched on yesterday morning, but claims they were "caught out by a cold snap" in the afternoon. The heating was then only switched on again after the players had finished their shortened training stint, and the Leeds chaiman, Peter Ridsdale, will attend a Uefa meeting this morning in order to seek assurances that the pitch will be safe.

Nikolai Tolstykh, the president of the company running the stadium, said the heating had been on for more than a week, but had done little to soften the pitch. "You can have all the heating you want, but when the temperature drops to -20C, there is nothing you can do to make the pitch any better," he said.

Leeds played at the Dynamo Stadium in the previous round, albeit in considerably milder conditions, when they beat Lokomotiv Moscow 3-0 on the way to a 7-1 aggregate victory.

One consolation for the Yorkshire side is that Harry Kewell is again available for selection, having missed Saturday's victory over Bradford City.