Football: O'Leary grasps history

FA Premiership: Leeds do their level best to match record winning run of legendary Seventies side
Click to follow
Leeds United 3 Nottingham Forest 1

Hasselbaink 43, Harte 60, Rogers 53

Smith 84

Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 39,645

DAVID O'LEARY has come a long way in his short time in the football management game. After six months in charge of Leeds United, the Dubliner has joined Don Revie in the club record books. In cutting Nottingham Forest down to size at Elland Road yesterday - though not without a struggle - O'Leary's sharp young team equalled the seven-match winning sequence with which Revie's 1973-74 side launched their runaway title-winning campaign in the old First Division.

If Liverpool fail to blunt their progress at Elland Road a week tomorrow, the emerging class of 98-99 will go one better than the Leeds greats who came within a dodgy refereeing decision or two of winning the European Cup in Paris in 1975.

The latter-day Leeds may yet get the chance to lift the continent's top prize next season, though O'Leary was still publicly playing down his team's prospects of Champions' League qualification last night. "I don't think there's much chance of us finishing higher than fourth," he said, "because the three clubs above us have such strength in depth. But next season could be different. I'm hoping to bring in at least four quality new players in the summer."

That reinforcements, despite the record-equalling run, are still required was evident as O'Leary's lads laboured under the weight of expectation yesterday. They started in tentative mood, falling into the frustrating trap Forest laid for them. Deploying five men at the back and three midfielders directly in front of them, Ron Atkinson succeeded in stifling his hosts for much of a less than enthralling contest. They almost succeeded in opening the scoring too, Stale Stensaas shooting across the face of Nigel Martyn's goal in the 10th minute.

It took Leeds 28 minutes seriously to threaten the Forest goal, Alan Smith eluding Christian Edwards and Steve Chettle on the left edge of the penalty area and rattling a right-foot shot against the base of Mark Crossley's right-hand post.

But they were in front at the interval, courtesy of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink's 17th goal of the season. Drifting past Chettle and Andy Johnson, the Dutchman beat Crossley with a thumping right-foot shot from the fringe of the Forest box.

Alan Rogers was equally ruthless with his left-footed finish seven minutes into the second-half. Found on the left by Dougie Freedman's deft flick, the Merseysider did not break stride before smacking an unstoppable drive past Martyn. The frustration continued for Leeds until just before the hour mark. Richard Gough - who captained Rangers to victory in the last European Cup tie played at Elland Road - upended Hasselbaink 20 yards from goal and Ian Harte stepped forward to curl the free-kick into the top left corner of the Forest net.

Not until the 83rd minute, though, did the Leeds nerves finally disappear. Harte hoisted a corner from the left, David Wetherall headed down at the far post and Smith hooked in the eighth goal of his embryonic career.

It was not the final word, however. That came from Paul Alcock in the 93rd minute: a dismissal order to Carlton Palmer after a rash challenge on Lee Bowyer, the Elland Road old boy's second bookable offence.

O'Leary's lads had their place in the club annals, though pedants may argue that they still need one more victory to equal Leeds' longest-winning run in the top flight. Revie's side won their final league fixture of the 1972-73 season - a 6-1 thrashing of Arsenal in between an FA Cup final defeat against Sunderland and a European Cup-Winners' Cup final defeat to Milan - before opening the next campaign with seven victories.

Either way, one man on the home bench yesterday was assured of a claim on the record. Eddie Gray, O'Leary's assistant, wore the No 11 shirt in Revie's team of standard-bearers.