Football: Strachan at full strength

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The Independent Online
Leeds United. . . . . . . . . . . . .2

McAllister 21, Adams og 60

Arsenal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Campbell 27

Attendance: 37,515

A CONTEST between Leeds and Arsenal is the sort to anticipate like a Christmas family gathering. It sounds a wonderful concept but there are usually burned turkeys and objects without batteries to negotiate along the way.

The batteries were not included for a while at Elland Road yesterday. There was nothing much wrong with the goods on display but they were proving difficult to switch on. It never burgeoned into a vintage match but there were many good things, enough certainly to demonstrate why the sides were second and fourth in the Premiership.

Leeds won with a fortunate goal, Tony Adams deflecting a free-kick into his own net, but they marginally deserved the points on opportunities chiselled open. The Arsenal manager, George Graham, thought not, but he was graceful enough not to make an issue out of it.

His side are deemed lucky and like the golfer Gary Player, the more they practise the luckier they get. Like Player, too, these rehearsals presumably consist largely of hitting a white ball long distances in the air.

The boot of fortune, as Graham said, was on the other foot yesterday, or at least one belonging to the other side. Howard Wilkinson, the Leeds manager, content with the victory, mused on the likelihood of his side catching the Premiership leaders. Probably not, he seemed to be saying, amid comparisons with the Grand National, Crisp, Red Rum and Devon Loch.

It was the first Leeds goal, in the 22nd minute, the best of the match, which released the contest from its hesitant sparring. There seemed to be little danger as Gary McAllister received the ball via Steve Hodge and David Weatherall on the edge of the Arsenal area. He saw where there might be space, found it by pushing the ball there, rounded a defender and finished the job.

Arsenal's reply was immediate and decisive. They clearly sensed that the Leeds defence could be prised out of position. The positioning of Ian Wright on the right was enough for that and while this may have prevented his being on the end of some promising passes, he caused his share of disruption. The equaliser came from two headers, first John Jensen's and then Kevin Campbell's.

The sense of urgency never entirely disappeared thereafter. In a game of tactical managerial ploys - incomprehensible to many - Gordon Strachan reverted to his usual role on the right side of the midfield and immediately proved more influential. 'White Christmas' may be getting all the air time but watching Strachan, a bigger bargain than any to be had in the January sales, is always to be reminded of another Bing Crosby hit, 'I Found A Million Dollar Baby In A Five And Ten Cent Store'.

It was Strachan's equally splendid partner McAllister who hit the free-kick which gave Leeds the winner. It whistled its way through the defence and found only Adams, who gave it the slenderest but most significant of touches.

Leeds might have scored again but then, as Graham told those who listened, so might Arsenal have done.

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