IT WAS a painful evening all round for the young ones at Elland Road last night. For David O'Leary's likely lads, there was the hurt of failure on the brink of club history. For Michael Owen, there was the more tangible suffering of another hamstring injury.
Liverpool's and England's striking asset pulled up sharply while chasing a lost cause of a through ball in the 20th minute and departed, clutching the right hamstring that has troubled him all season. He also left questions that Gerard Houllier was unable to answer.
"Michael will be having a scan," the Liverpool manager said. "We'll know more after that. It is the same problem he has had before. I don't think it's as serious as it looked but we'll just have to wait and see."
Kevin Keegan, for one, will be anxious to discover whether Owen's season is in danger of being prematurely curtailed. The England coach has already been obliged to start his caretakership without the teenage prodigy, who missed the European qualifying match against Poland at Wembley last month.
Houllier can ill afford to be without Owen, too, with Robbie Fowler due to start his six-match suspension on 24 April.
Leeds also pulled up short last night, equalling but not eclipsing the club record run of seven top-flight matches established at the start of the 1973-74 season by Don Revie's championship-winning team.
For all their youthful promise, this Leeds side are not yet champion class, as they showed against a Liverpool team playing out a sixth trophyless season in seven years.
"We can't win every game," said O'Leary, who had the consolation of collecting the manager of the month trophy before kick-off. "Liverpool made it hard for us and we have to learn from games like this. It's all part of the learning process."
At least that education is destined to be enhanced by Continental experience next month. Liverpool, for only the fourth time in 36 seasons are doomed to finish without a place in Europe, the height of their ambition last night being merely to poop the Leeds party.
Not that their chances of doing so looked promising early on as Leeds pinned them back in their own half. Lucas Radebe, travel weary after weekend international duty for South Africa in Gabon, could stand back and admire Lee Bowyer dictating the first-half flow.
For all the possession they enjoyed, however, Leeds struggled to forge clear openings. Not until the break approached did they seriously threaten David James's goal, though it took a goalline clearance by Dominic Matteo to keep out Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink's point-blank shot after from Harry Kewell's left-wing cross at the far post.
At the other end, Nigel Martyn was reduced to the role of spectator throughout the first half. He was not tested until just before the hour-mark when Karlheinz Riedle's flicked header put Fowler clear. The Cornishman, however, had little trouble in grasping the low drive that followed.
Liverpool threatened on the counterattack midway through the second half, Riedle, Owen's replacement, flashing a header narrowly wide after Patrik Berger found him on the edge of the home penalty area with an inviting right-wing cross.
It was Leeds, however, who came closest to scoring. Bowyer could have been excused for thinking he had maintained Leeds' record run. The chip shot he dispatched from the angle of the area with five minutes remaining dropped tantalisingly over James's bar.
Leeds United (4-3-3): Martyn; Halle (Jones, 21), Woodgate, Radebe, Harte; Hopkin, Batty, Bowyer; Hasselbaink, Smith, Kewell (Ribeiro, 88). Substitutes not used: Robinson (gk), Wetherall, Wijnhard.
Liverpool (4-4-2): James; Gerrard, Carragher, Babb, Matteo; McManaman, Ince, Redknapp, Berger; Owen (Riedle, 24), Fowler. Substitutes not used: Friedel (gk), Ferri, Bjornebye, Thompson.
Referee: P Jones (Quorn, Leicestershire).
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