Football: Passionless affair has O'Leary defending his corner

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The Independent Online
Leeds United 2 Bradford City 1

DAVID O'LEARY'S usually sanguine demeanour had given way to frowns and transparent irritation. He felt he had to challenge suggestions his team had been less than convincing and reliant on two fortuitous goals. His players had dominated the match, the Leeds United manager maintained. Alan Smith had wittingly scored the first goal; Bradford City's late and inadequate response had been "blatantly offside".

Perhaps it was a reaction to the intensity of the derby occasion, except that there was scant evidence of the passion and frenzy of the traditional tribal conflict here. Perhaps he had been sucked into the propaganda sparring by comments from his opposite number, Paul Jewell, who questioned the validity of the decisive penalty awarded to Leeds. Or perhaps it is a sign that O'Leary does at last consider Leeds genuine championship contenders and is beginning to retaliate against the pressure and critical analysis, as most managers do in the circumstances.

He makes no secret of the fact he portrays Sir Alex Ferguson's treble- winners as the role model for his fledgling team. "That great Manchester United side show that you've got to keep playing no matter what, and in the last 15 minutes it can open up," he said. "That's what we've got to learn. We have to be more composed in the last third."

O'Leary must know also, as the club's supporters express to their growing anxiety, that he has to fill the considerable void left by Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink if he is to threaten Sir Alex's side. Smith has neither the physical presence nor, as yet, the experience. Michael Bridges is more forceful, yet most of his runs on Saturday were from wide and deep, generally petering out at the edge of the area.

The absence of Harry Kewell, declared ineligible by Fifa after failing to show for Australian duty against Brazil, drew Leeds' most potent tooth. No one could compensate with the penetration, the arrogance, the capacity for the unexpected.

For all their possession, Leeds too often lost their sense of direction in the maze of Bradford shirts planted in midfield. Eirik Bakke's long- range shooting provided a spectacular option but City's goalkeeper, Matt Clarke, coped confidently. He was required to move with greater urgency to block a header from the imperious Lucas Radebe and a raking shot from the promising Stephen McPhail.

Better chances were presented to Peter Beagrie, whose header was saved by Nigel Martyn in the first half, and Jamie Lawrence, who ought to have subjected O'Leary to acute concern instead of blazing off target five minutes from the end. Dean Windass's goal, offside or not, came too late to test Leeds' nerves.

Bradford make no apologies for having set out to stifle Leeds and salvage a point. With a little good fortune they might have achieved their objective.

However, when Bridges drove the ball low towards goal and Clarke went down to cover, Smith applied a crucial touch and lifted it over the committed goalkeeper.

Then, that infuriating affliction, the compulsion to pass back with no regard to the possible consequences, sealed Bradford's fate. Stuart McCall, the captain, was the offender and although Clarke defied Lee Bowyer's run a linesman penalised the goalkeeper for his follow-up collision with David Batty. Ian Harte completed the formalities.

Bradford may rue the nature of these goals but they should reappraise their strategy for survival. Conceding ground and playing with only one man up puts relentless demands on the defence. At the very least they ought to enjoy their adventure in the big league.

Goals: Smith 54 (1-0); Harte pen 80 (2-0); Windass 89 (2-1).

Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn; Kelly, Woodgate, Radebe, Harte; Bakke, Bowyer, Batty, McPhail; Bridges, Smith (Huckerby, 76). Substitutes not used: Robinson (gk), Hopkin, Mills, Duberry.

Bradford City (4-5-1): Clarke; Halle, Wetherall, O'Brien, Sharpe; Lawrence, McCall, Redfearn (Blake, 63), Windass, Beagrie (Myers, 78); Mills. Substitutes not used: Walsh (gk), Westwood, Whalley.

Referee: P Durkin (Portland).

Bookings: Leeds: Bowyer. Bradford: Mills, McCall, Sharpe, Windass.

Man of the match: Radebe.

Attendance: 39,937.