Football: O'Neill feeds the rumours

Leeds United 0 Leicester City 1 Cottee 76 Attendance: 32,606
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The Independent Online
IT WAS business as usual at Betty's yesterday. Harrogate might not have been George Graham's cup of Earl Grey but in the celebrated tea rooms there the departure of the former spa town's temporarily resident celebrity caused less of a stir than the changing of the seasonal menu. At pounds 5.80 for an autumnal wood-smoked salmon sandwich and pounds 2.15 for a pot of Zulu-blend tea, you need to have the note-filled pockets of a Premiership manager to digest the prices at Harrogate's upper-crust eatery, not that any candidates for Graham's old job could be spotted in the lunchtime queue which snaked down Montpellier Parade.

Maybe Martin O'Neill dined instead at the Cracked Egg, 17 miles down the A61 outside Elland Road. At pounds 1.35, the Yorkshire pudding with gravy appealed to both palate and pocket. Whether Leicester City's manager would have the appetite for a Saturday afternoon scrap with the club that has his name on a short-list of two for Graham's old job was more debatable. As it happened, O'Neill sprang from the visitors' dug-out and punched the air in celebration at the final whistle, his team having devoured the managerless and hitherto unbeaten Leeds United.

They did so, deservedly, with one telling swoop. With 15 minutes left, Emile Heskey outstripped three members of the home guard on the right and crossed low into the goalmouth for the veteran poacher Tony Cottee to sidefoot the only goal.

"There has been no approach from Leeds United," O'Neill said when the obvious question was asked in the press room afterwards. "It's just pure speculation."

Whether the Northern Irishman will be back to fill the seat that was left vacant in the home dug-out yesterday remains to be seen - and, it would appear, dependent upon Gordon Strachan's willingness to return to Elland Road as much as O'Neill's desire to uproot from Filbert Street. The Leeds board, it seems, want to send to Coventry for their new manager. Not that their old manager has not been sent there in the metaphorical sense.

The match programme yesterday included the novelty of a departed manager's column. Under the headline, "Why I left Elland Road", Graham began his printed goodbye with the following statement of the obvious: "By now I am sure you probably don't feel too kindly disposed towards me." It did not need a detective to work out that one, though there was a Taggart on the pitch yesterday. Gerry did not take long to make his presence felt either, the Northern Ireland defender stepping forward to blast wide an intricately-worked free-kick from the left edge of the Leeds penalty area in the first minute.

O'Neill did not have much more to shout about in a first-half full of midfield thud and blunder but short of inspirational flashes in front of goal. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and his partner in a double Dutch home forward-line, Clyde Wijnhard, had to forage on a starvation diet of possession.

Cottee and Heskey were not exactly lavished with chances at the other end, though with a little more composure the latter might have broken the deadlock in the 38th minute. Steve Guppy's inswinging right-wing corner found Leicester's heavyweight striker unmarked at the far post. Before Heskey could deliver the punchline, however, Martin Hiden intervened with a counter-hooked clearance.

The first shot on target, in fact, arrived at the half-time break. It was struck by Tracey Shaw, Maxine the hairdresser from Coronation Street, but not with sufficient accuracy from the penalty spot to win her a Fiat car.

Only once in the second-half did Leeds seriously threaten to score, and even then Kasey Keller merely had to stretch to tip over David Wetherall's 64th- minute header.

With Muzzy Izzet dominant in midfield, O'Neill's Foxes had the home side increasingly on the run. They finally pounced with 75 minutes on the clock, Heskey breaking down the right and Cottee applying the killer touch on the six-yard line. It left O'Neill to salute the celebrating Leicester fans at the final whistle, and to face his press-room inquisitors. He did so, refreshed by a plastic cup of orange squash (price-less, presumably), in typically wise-cracking style. "What put everything into perspective," he said, "was Garry Parker turning to me on the bench and saying, 'I hope you do go, boss. I might get a game then'."