Football: Solano rewards Gullit's tactics

Leeds United 0 Newcastle United 1
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The Independent Online
DAVID O'LEARY'S response to his first home defeat as a manager was to reiterate his long-held view that any club which is to mount a serious challenge in the Premiership needs a bigger squad with more cover in all positions than Leeds are able to muster.

It sounds like an arguable view until you consider many of Leeds' absentees have been missing for most of the season and their youthful replacements have been doing nicely without them. Admittedly, O'Leary was also without his suspended leading scorer Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink on Saturday, but his opposite number, Ruud Gullit, could match that misfortune, as Alan Shearer was also suspended.

In reality, the difference between the sides came down to tactics, and surprisingly it was the cavalier Gullit who ground out the victory with a pragmatic approach worthy of O'Leary's mentor and predecessor at Elland Road, George Graham.

Newcastle arrived with the intention of condensing play into the central third of the pitch to frustrate Leeds' normal fluid passing game and pinch what they could on the break. It worked a treat.

Solid at the back and combative in midfield, Newcastle were content to await their opportunity and when the only goal of the game came it was via a classic counter-punch. Leeds were mounting their best spell of pressure early in the second half when the ball was cleared to Newcastle's Georgian striker Temuri Ketsbaia. He bought time for reinforcements to arrive by playing it back to Dietmar Hamann, and by the time he got it back Nolberto Solano have arrived to run on to his little flick and plant a low drive beyond Nigel Martyn.

It was a just reward for the Peruvian, who was unlucky not to give his side the lead in the first half when his 20-yard drive beat Martyn only to come back off a post. Ketsbaia, too, had earlier let Leeds off when he failed to take advantage of a poor back-pass by teenage defender Jonathon Woodgate.

"We did exactly what we had to do," said Gullit. "We contained them in a certain area of the pitch and prevented them creating anything."

Lee Bowyer ran at the heart of the defence once or twice but Leeds did little to disturb the composure of Newcastle's back four. It is two defeats in a row now for O'Leary, who must find a way of halting the slide before Graham returns to Elland Road with Tottenham for Saturday's FA Cup fifth- round tie.

Goal: Solano 63, 0-1.

Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn; Harte, Woodgate, Radebe, Granville (Halle, 66); Haaland, Hopkin, Bowyer, Kewell; Wijnhard (Korsten, 66), Smith. Substitutes not used: Wetherall, Robinson (gk), Jones.

Newcastle (4-4-2): Given; Griffin, Charvet, Howey, Barton; Solano, Hamann, Speed, Glass (Brady, 66); Saha (Andersson, 88), Ketsbaia. Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), Georgiadis, Hughes.

Referee: U Rennie (Sheffield).

Bookings: Leeds: Woodgate, Kewell. Newcastle: Barton, Speed, Charvet, Hamann.

Man of the match: Solano.

Attendance: 40,202.