Football: Speed quick to press home the advantage

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The Independent Online
Leeds United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

West Ham United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

GARY SPEED, whose decline mirrored that of his team last season, gave Leeds a winning start to their home campaign with a goal which did scant justice to their superiority over West Ham at Elland Road.

While the Welsh midfielder's return of 12 goals was more than acceptable during Leeds' winter of discontent, the fact that the last of these was as far back as January gave last night's winner added symbolic value. On a night when they also opened a stand of awesome proportions, the mood of revivalism was unmistakeable.

The only negative aspect was Leeds' familiar lack of penetration. West Ham, written off as relegation certainties by far better scribblers than Sam Hammam, kept them at bay for an hour, and almost avoided a second successive defeat when Colin Foster's header went just wide two minutes from time.

It is still early doors, as Ron Atkinson would say, but already it is clear that Billy Bonds faces a major task in preventing West Ham from slipping straight back into the First Division.

Ironically, of the four Leeds players making home debuts, the most impressive was the least heralded. Howard Wilkinson has admitted that Gary Kelly, 19, was not making it as a striker, yet as an attacking right-back he looked a natural. It helped, of course, that he was working the same flank as Gordon Strachan.

Now in his 37th year, the former Scotland captain twice left Julian Dicks trailing in his wake. On the first occasion, following a 16th minute pass by Gary McAllister, he elected to cut the ball back to Speed when he might have scored himself. Foster was floored by the power of the ensuing shot, but recovered to play a key role in subduing Brian Deane, the hosts' pounds 2.7m target man.

Leeds were betraying signs of frustration, compounded by the ease with which Ludek Miklosko fielded a series of crosses and long throws, when Speed struck in the 61st minute. Deane seemed to be going nowhere with a bustling, diagonal run before Speed suddenly appeared from the opposite direction to fire low past the goalkeeper's outstretched arms from just inside the area.

Moments earlier, West Ham had shown the extent of their ambitions, by withdrawing Clive Allen in favour of an extra midfielder. Their failure to win a corner until the final minutes said it all, although Foster's near miss from a free header also suggested that Leeds have not entirely put their defensive frailties behind them.

Leeds United (4-4-2): Lukic; Kelly, Fairclough, O'Leary, Dorigo; Strachan (Newsome, 90), Batty, McAllister, Speed; Deane, Whelan (Rod Wallace, 83). Substitute not used: Beeney (gk).

West Ham United (5-3-2): Miklosko; Breacker, Potts (Robson, 73), Foster, Gale, Dicks; M Allen, Gordon, Butler; Morley, C Allen (Rowland, 60). Substitute not used: Peyton (gk).

Referee: L Dilkes (Mossley).