When these two last played in the Cup, Portsmouth, masterminded by Terry Venables, outwitted a Leeds side in the early stages of George Graham's managership. There was a brief flurry of memories when Luke Nightingale gave Portsmouth an early lead, but the Premiership side responded with two goals in the next eight minutes and, belying their lengthening casualty list, added three more in the second half to turn a rattling good cup tie into a rout. It was, said David O'Leary, the impressive young Leeds manager, a case of: "The babies looking after the young babies." At times, as darkness fell, you wondered whether they should be out so late, but there is nothing wrong with their skill or their heart because, as O'Leary had warned them, Fratton Park houses one of the more fanatical band of followers in the land. Last week, they paraded a coffin through the streets to symbolise the end of a once great club.
On the field, though, there was nothing wrong with the spirit; there was even the ghost of a chance in the first half. For all their troubles, the team looks in better shape than it has for much of a stuttering season. Steve Claridge is enjoying an Indian summer in his home town and Alan McLoughlin, barring one mistake which led to Leeds' decisive third goal just after half-time, was at the heart of some of their more fluent moments. One move which flowed through midfield to the front was worthy of Manchester United at their slickest. Sadly, for the First Division side, Leeds were able to play a similar game at a higher tempo for longer and, in David Hopkin, had the most influential player on the field.
Leeds arrived looking worryingly threadbare, for all the bright new faces ushered in from a thriving youth programme. Deprived of Alan Smith through suspension, O'Leary drafted in Willem Korsten, on loan from Vitesse Arnhem, to form a double Dutch partnership with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink at the front. With captain Lucas Radebe, on international duty with South Africa, Alfe-Inge Haaland and Lee Bowyer among eight first teamers unavailable, Leeds resembled a school outing.
They were settling in to some sort of pattern when Portsmouth struck. Ball has fashioned a miracle of re-clothing after the loss of John Aloisi, his leading striker, to Coventry. Claridge has flourished and in Nightingale Portsmouth have a callow youth of immense promise. Nightingale scored twice on his first- team debut against West Bromwich but has found goals hard to come by in recent weeks. But, in the ninth minute, he was on hand to give the home team a surprise early lead. Jeff Peron, working the left flank, drifted past Ian Harte and pulled the cross back from the byline. Claridge flicked on and the 17-year-old, who had spent his week in the exam room not the training ground, swept home left-footed from six yards.
No sooner had the raucous celebrations died down than Leeds were level. A short corner on the Portsmouth right, a swinging cross from Harte and David Wetherall thundered home a header from eight yards. Worse was to follow for the First Division side. In the 17th minute an innocuous nudge on Harry Kewell by Sammy Igoe was enough for referee Gary Willard to give a free-kick, near central and 25 yards from goal. Up stepped Harte to crash a left-foot shot past the helpless Alan Knight. It was a goal of some quality, but rather more than Leeds deserved at the end of a torrid opening.
Leeds further lowered their average age with the arrival of 19-year-old Matthew Jones for his debut after half-time. However, it was the gifted Kewell who effectively sealed the home team's fate five minutes into the second half. McLoughlin, for once, was caught in possession just outside the penalty area, Hasselbaink left Fitzroy Simpson sprawling and his drilled cross landed straight at the feet of Kewell, who rammed the ball past Knight.
Claridge continued to give Jonathan Woodgate and Wetherall an afternoon in the time warp. Used to the silkier skills of Premiership strikers, Claridge's ram-raiding comes from a different vintage, but he might have pulled one back with a curled right-foot shot.
Leeds, counter-attacking with pace and panache, could have added more to the goals by Bruno Ribeiro, a cruel deflection, and Clyde Wijnhard. Nigel Martyn produced two stunning saves to deny Michalis Vlachos and Claridge. "Woeful," was Alan Ball's assessment of his side's second-half showing. "I'd liked to have thrown more punches, though we still would have been knocked out. I've just said to David [O'Leary] what a fantastic future he has with young kids like that." Portsmouth will learn soon enough if they have any future at all.Reuse content