Football: Radebe's slip short-changes Leeds

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IF MARTIN O'NEILL'S drawn-out dithering over whether he becomes Leeds United's manager does end with a negative answer, then David O'Leary ought to accompany his application with a video of this Uefa Cup second- round match. If nothing else it will prove the players' spirit is thriving under his caretakership.

On a night when little went right for Leeds, who hit the post twice and had Bruno Ribeiro sent off for two bookable offences, they doggedly refused to let Roma put the tie beyond doubt in the first leg. A single-goal advantage is a flimsy one to take to Elland Road for the return in a fortnight.

It was a splendidly stoic performance from the Leeds players, who not only have had to remain focused while the prolonged search for George Graham's successor goes on, but were also without David O'Leary last night. Under these circumstances, Marco Delvecchio's goal was a small price to pay.

Whatever O'Leary had said to his players it must have been memorable, because his rash words spoken in Maritimo in the last round had led to his "sending-off" and a one-match ban that meant he could have no contact with his team while they were in the stadium. Leeds were not quite leaderless - Eddie Gray acted as caretaker for the caretaker - but they were close.

The team and the formation were O'Leary's, however, even if the half- time talk was not, and although a 4-5-1 formation suggested caution Leeds promised much as Harry Kewell floated up from midfield to support Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink in attack.

Robert Molenaar hit the bar with a header after eight minutes, only to be adjudged to have fouled the goalkeeper, but Leeds appeared to have achieved object one of European trips - namely, taking the early verve out of the opposition - before they fell behind in the 18th minute. Lucas Radebe was hopelessly caught by Delvecchio's lightning turn and when the pass came from Francesco Totti, the Leeds captain merely waved a leg at the ball as it went by.

Delvecchio's angle on the left was not promising but his shot was immaculate, curling high past Nigel Martyn's shoulder.

Within three minutes Totti had missed narrowly, dragging his shot across goal, and Luigi Di Biaggio's free-kick whistled into the side-netting. Leeds were rocking, a goal seemed destined to come and it very nearly did. Except that it was at the opposite end, the visitors hitting the post twice.

The first chance stemmed from Lee Bowyer's delightful pass after 23 minutes which released Ribeiro beyond Roma's rearguard. His shot was low and it beat Antonio Chimenti, only for the ball to hit the far post and bounce clear.

That had been a strike at Roma's right, and it was also from that flank that Gunnar Halle, with a change of pace, was able to cut inside. His shot was aimed at the other post but the result was the same and Leeds had to rue their luck again.

Leeds had not got their just deserts, though you would not have known it from the reaction of their supporters, the majority of whom took off their shirts at half-time and whirled them above their heads like lassoes.

If they were trying to rope some hope it failed, because nine minutes into the second half Leeds were reduced to 10 men. Ribeiro was deceived by Alessandro Frau's quick feet and, as the Roma player set off down the right flank, he was caught. It was a heavy punishment but as he had been booked earlier, the red card came out.

The odds were stacked heavily against Leeds and Roma twice went close, but it was the visiting players who were celebrating at the finish.

AS Roma (4-3-1-2): Chimenti; Cafu, Aldair, Zago, Candela; Tomassi, Di Biagio, Di Francesco (Alenitchev, h-t); Frau (Bartelt, 58); Delvecchio, Totti. Substitutes not used: Bartelt, Petruzzi, Gautieri, Wome, Tomic, Campagnolo (gk).

Leeds United (4-5-1): Martyn; Hiden, Radebe, Molenaar, Halle; Bowyer, Hopkin, Kewell (Haaland, 68), McPhail, Ribeiro; Hasselbaink (Wijnhard, 78). Substitutes not used: Wetherall, Sharpe, Granville, Woodgate, Robinson (gk).

Referee: A Nieto (Spain).

Photograph, page 27