Football: Speed's late strike camouflages the Leeds fault line

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Southampton . . .1

Leeds United. . .1

THERE are extraordinary circumstances - the Germans have definitely played a part - but a deep fault has formed in Leeds United. This result means they have gone six matches without a victory and at the moment their future appears to hold all the promise of Norman Lamont's.

An 85th-minute goal from Gary Speed camouflaged their problems to a degree and paid tribute to the energy levels of a team that has had to play three matches and travel to and from Stuttgart in seven days. But had it not been for two late strikes, against Aston Villa on Sunday and yesterday, the champions would have suffered four successive defeats.

That less than inspiring sequence has left them 11 points adrift of the Premier League leaders Norwich and included a 3-0 defeat by VfB Stuttgart that seriously threatens their continued participation in the European Cup. For the moment Leeds, fully-paid up believers in the ERM (enterprise, running and motivation), have temporarily suspended their membership.

Yesterday, certainly, they will count their blessings that they slipped away with a draw. Southampton took the lead in the 43rd minute and had they kept their composure and profited from some near-suicidal defending by Leeds in the second half they could have been three or four goals in front before Speed made his mark. The Leeds manager, Howard Wilkinson, claims his team have made more mistakes in the first five weeks of 1992-93 than in the previous four seasons, and could add at least another half-dozen to his tally.

Injuries have weakened Wilkinson's hand, but, deprived of Eric Cantona and Rod Wallace through hamstring injuries, Lee Chapman looks desperately isolated. The tall striker won virtually every ball in the air, but deprived of a foil to take advantage his superiority came to nothing. More surprisingly there was not a single good cross from the wings to feed this strength.

The match itself was almost unremittingly weak. It was stop-go throughout, but hardly anyone had the wit or invention to lift the few passages of play above the interruptions. Indeed the one moment that lingered in the memory from the first half-hour was a shuddering 20th-minute collision between Southampton's Richard Hall and Jason Dodd that led to the former being carried off the field to have eight stitches in an eye injury.

Francis Benali moved from left-back to centre-half and ironically helped the home cause by providing pace to counter Chapman's flick-ons. These were few and far between, however, as Southampton gained an untidy upper hand that lasted for an hour.

Perry Groves and Nicky Banger both could have scored until Matthew Le Tissier intervened. The Channel Islander may not be to every manager's taste but when he does apply himself it is usually to devastating effect. On this occasion he hit a wonderful pass from wing to wing to allow Groves to slip inside Tony Dorigo and score his first goal for Southampton since his move from Arsenal.

Southampton should have made more of the sort of breakaways that Stuttgart feasted on last Wednesday. But Leeds are nothing if not resilient and with the home supporters anticipating only their second victory of the season, Speed struck. Gordon Strachan's corner could have been cleared at least three times but it ricocheted to the edge of the area, where the Welsh international thumped the ball into the corner of the net.

'Even our most fanatical fans wouldn't have said we played well,' Wilkinson said, 'although we could have won it in the end. This week will have served our less experienced players well.' Whether it has served Leeds well is doubtful.

Southampton: T Flowers; J Dodd, F Benali, T Hurlock, R Hall (J Kenna, 23 min), K Moore, M Le Tissier, N Banger, K Dixon, D Speedie, P Groves (N Maddison, 74 min). Sub not used: I Andrews (gk). Manager: I Branfoot.

Leeds Utd: J Lukic; D Wetherall (C Shutt, 80 min), A Dorigo, D Batty, C Fairclough, C Whyte, G Strachan, S Hodge (S Sellars, 59 min), L Chapman, G McAllister, G Speed. Sub not used: M Day (gk). Manager: H Wilkinson.

Referee: A Buksh (London).

Goals: Groves (1-0, 43 min); Speed (1-1, 85 min).