Football: Radebe style all smiles for Graham

Ken Jones on Monday
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The Independent Online
IN CONVERSATION on the touchline at Selhurst Park, waiting after the match to perform for television, George Graham and Joe Kinnear agreed that not many players today are drawn to the responsibility of defending. "It isn't glamorous enough for them," Graham said.

Lucas Radebe is a notable exception. Almost every week Graham is asked "name your price" for Leeds United's athletic, leggy, South African centre back, whose performance in Saturday's 1-1 draw against Wimbledon further justified the high rating he gets throughout the Premiership. "I could sell him tomorrow," Graham confided, "and I'm talking about the biggest clubs."

Radebe's attitude is precisely that of the legacy Graham left in place at Arsenal. "Lucas loves defending," the Leeds manager said. "I see in him what I saw in Tony Adams, Nigel Winterburn, Lee Dixon and Steve Bould. They go on and on at Highbury because they get great joy from what they do and have two terrific midfielders providing protection."

An outstanding full-back in his day, a Republic of Ireland international who shared in the latter phase of Tottenham's long ago glories, Kinnear nodded in agreement.

Working a hard furrow, with five points from three games, the perky Wimbledon manager deserves better for his commitment. His is a poorly supported team, make do and mend, pick up what you can, buy in cheap, mould and capitalise. By comparison, even cash-strapped Leeds are from a different world.

Kinnear's task is to squeeze every last drop from average players, while hoping his better men can make decisive contributions. The withdrawal of Efan Ekoku after 40 minutes, replacing him with the limited Carl Leaburn, was one towering figure for another, prompted by Ekoku's inefectiveness.

It is the old story. Too laid back for his own good, Ekoku was on fire when scoring twice against Tottenham on the opening day of the season but here was the other side of him, ambition all too easily snuffed out by Radebe and Robert Molenaar. Kinnear's public utterances - "They put everything into it and we deserved something for our efforts towards the end" - barely concealed his frustration. "We were second best," he admitted to Graham, grateful for the terrific strike that enabled Wimbledon to draw level in the 72nd minute.

For all that graft, Wimbledon were fortunate to achieve parity with a team that bears all Graham's trademarks; defensively sound, well organised, unstinting in application and so lively going forward that their goal attempts were in double figures before Lee Bowyer put them ahead with a stunning shot in the 61st minute.

There are few more inspired attackers in the Premiership than Harry Kewell. David Hopkin looks better for losing weight, and Jimmy Hasselbaink has come fully to terms with the physical demands of the Premiership.

Today, attitude is all important. It stood out in the effort from Manchester United's Ryan Giggs and David Beckham in Poland last week. "We used to have midfield players to unlock defences," Graham added. "That's no longer enough. Everybody has to work."

When Kinnear saw things going wrong, he switched Hughes to the right side of midfield to help counter the threat that was coming from Kewell and Ian Harte. Bowyer's goal, coming after Neil Sullivan's goalkeeping had kept Wimbledon in the match, caused him to change again to three attackers with Hughes in close support from centre midfield. "We got caught out a little bit when Hughes scored," Graham said, "but I don't want to take anything away from the lad. To beat Nigel Martyn from that range (all of 30 yards) the shot had to be a bit special."

Before inviting Graham for a drink in the small, stuffy staff quarters known as the "bunker", Kinnear looked at him quizzically. "The word is you could be going to Tottenham," he said. Graham back in north London trying to stuff his previous employers? "I've got enough on my plate," he smiled.

Goals: Bowyer (61) 0-1; Hughes (72) 1-1.

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Cunningham, Perry, Blackwell, Kimble, Ardley (Gayle, 66), Roberts, Earle, Hughes, Ekoku (Leaburn, 40), Euell. Substitutes not used: Heald (gk), Kennedy, Fear.

Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn: Hiden, Molenaar, Radebe, Harte, Hopkin, Haaland, Bowyer, Kewell, Hasselbaink, Wijnhard. Substitutes not used: Wetherall, Sharpe, Ribeiro, Beeney (gk), Halle.

Bookings: Wimbledon: Perry, Roberts, Euell. Leeds: Wijnhard.

Referee: S Dunn (Bristol).

Man of the match: Radebe.

Attendance: 16,437.