Football: O'Leary manages to release the brake

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The Independent Online
Leeds United 4 West Ham United 0

HAVE YOU heard the one about the Englishman, the Irishman and the Scotsman? It is certainly putting a smile back on people's faces in Leeds.

Englishman Howard Wilkinson created great expectations at Elland Road by winning the championship six years ago with Leeds' most entertaining side since the Revie era. But he could not maintain the momentum and in came George Graham to halt the slide by applying some Scottish meanness at the back.

He failed to generate much excitement, though, and what Leeds needed when he departed for Tottenham was someone who knew how to throw a party. David O'Leary was not Leeds' first-choice Irishman, but he has released the Graham handbrake. Leeds are running at full throttle again, and poor old West Ham scarcely knew what hit them.

O'Leary's new-look Leeds is a well balanced machine, tight at the back and adventurous going forward, a satisfying blend of youth and experience, of imports and home-grown talent.

It was Leeds' foreign legion (which in Yorkshire includes anyone south of Sheffield) who did the damage. Lee Bowyer, a West Ham fan as a schoolboy, scored with two sweetly struck shots from the edge of the penalty area, and Dutchmen Robert Molenaar and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink took advantage of defensive errors to complete the rout, although by then it had all become double Dutch to West Ham anyway.

Bowyer has yet to assume Gordon Strachan's commanding midfield presence, but most Leeds efforts flowed through him. The promise that made Wilkinson buy him from Charlton has finally started to flower and it may not be long before he attracts the attention of Glenn Hoddle.

It was an assured, all-round Leeds performance that will have made other Premiership sides take notice, although O'Leary's line is that we ain't seen nothin' yet. "We are a team for the future", he said. "I want us to play good, positive football, but not the so-called sexy football that puts 50 passes together and gets nowhere."

The Hammers would have been happy just to string a couple of passes together in the face of the constant Leeds onslaught. They were missing three key players in Rio Ferdinand, Paul Kitson and Eyal Berkovic and a fourth - Neil Ruddock - will now be absent for three games over Christmas after being sent off for a rash challenge on Harry Kewell.

But that does not explain why the side lying third in the Premiership on the back of a long unbeaten run could manage only one shot on target, a Frank Lampard drive in the dying moments that Leeds' teenage goalkeeper Paul Robinson punched away.

That was left to their manager, Harry Redknapp. "We were strangers to each other at the back," he said. "But Leeds were great - the best team we have played all season. They bossed us in every department."

Goals: Bowyer (8) 1-0; Bowyer (61) 2-0; Molenaar (68) 3-0; Hasselbaink (79) 4-0.

Leeds United (3-1-4-2): Robinson; Woodgate, Molenaar, Radebe; Hopkin; Haaland, Bowyer, Kewell (Wijnhard, 80), Harte; Hasselbaink, Smith (McPhail 84). Substitutes not used: Wetherall, Halle, Nuno Santos (gk).

West Ham United (3-5-2): Hislop; Pearce, Margas, Ruddock; Sinclair, Lampard, Lomas, Lazaridis (Moncur 56), Keller; Wright, Hartson. Substitutes not used: Breaker, Potts, Boylan, Forrest (gk).

Referee: J Winter (Stockton-on-Tees)

Sending-off: West Ham: Ruddock: Bookings: Leeds Haaland, Hopkin, Hasselbaink.

Man of the match: Bowyer.

Attendance: 36,320.

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