Football: O'Leary torments his mentor

Tottenham Hotspur 1 Leeds Utd 2 Sherwood 36 Smith 53, Harte 83 Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 36,012
Click to follow
The Independent Online
DAVID O'LEARY, once his assistant at Leeds, tormented his mentor George Graham at White Hart Lane yesterday when his youthful United side spiritedly overcame the reviving Spurs that Graham had rightly warned not to believe that one day at the top was a sign of certain triumphs to come.

After a 2-1 home defeat by Liverpool on Monday, O'Leary had begun to sound a little like his predecessor, who was forever playing down talk of Leeds challenging for the title.

O'Leary had said it was about time some of his players stopped believing in the hype and got on with performing the basics basically well. He added yesterday that people should also stop talking about a feud between himself and his former boss. "Everything I have I owe to him - I was honoured to work with him."

Graham is now doing as he did at Elland Road, reining in optimism about his Spurs side by saying they are a long way from being strong enough in depth to make a season-long pursuit of the title. However he was right in saying that yesterday they did well considering three centre-halves were missing. While Tottenham are reclaiming some of their attractiveness, there is a lot of the old tenacity in this Leeds side. Their counter-attacking sparkles, and playing three in central defence away from home makes them difficult to break down. Even David Ginola's elusiveness and Les Ferdinand's power failed to get the better of them over prolonged first-half foraging.

Having lived through that pressure, Leeds exerted their own with Michael Bridges and Harry Kewell slithering past defenders, and Lee Bowyer and Alan Smith quickly moving up in support. But none of that would have counted for much if it had not been for a wonderfully elegant diving save by Nigel Martyn from Steffen Iversen. His effort delayed Tottenham's lead until the 36th minute when from Steffen Freund's long throw and Iversen's back header, Tim Sherwood shot in from inside a crowded penalty area.

O'Leary's substitutions for the second half had David Hopkin replacing Jonathon Woodgate and Darren Huckerby taking the place of Bridges, which meant having a flat back four defence and wide pace.

Spurs had to withdraw the concussed Ferdinand and brought on little Jose Dominguez. The change almost immediately favoured Leeds. A shrewd reverse pass by David Batty on the edge of the Tottenham penalty area allowed Smith to aim carefully for a gap inside the far post and he almost stroked his shot exactly where he intended for the equaliser.

Lacking Darren Anderton, whose ankle injury Graham says needs a fortnight's rest, had already cost Spurs a lot of speed, width and above all variety of passing. Ginola had his moments but Anderton's directness from midfield was missed. Even so one of those Ginola moments was a high point. He lost Bowyer with a shrug, twisted past two more tackles and bent a shot that would have gone inside the far post had not Martyn again performed superbly well, this time diving and touching the ball away for nothing worse than a corner.

In a tense final 20 minutes Dominguez blasted a shot, only for it to strike Michael Duberry's head. But that marked a turning point. Leeds increased their work rate in midfield.In all they deserved to take the lead after 82 minutes, albeit after a doubtful free-kick. Bowyer seemed to fall after Chris Perry tackled him and Ian Harte avoided the wall with his fierce free-kick. "It was a bad decision, in line with the referee's game," Graham said.

Even though Leeds damaged themselves when Smith was sent off for a second offence, they clung to the lead to make Spurs realise that Graham's caution about Tottenham's progress is not misplaced.