Football: Strachan has right touch

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The Independent Online
Leeds United. . . .3 Sheffield United. .1

AS A preparation for their European Cup tie in Glasgow on Wednesday, a domestic commitment which Leeds often seemed to regard as tiresome turned out far better for them than it might have done.

Two goals within four minutes late in the game gave the Champions a victory that eventually looked clear-cut enough to suggest they are in reasonable fettle for Ibrox.

But, for much of the match, the word that sprang to mind was not Rangers but strangers, so disjointed was the play of both sides.

The first half hour, in particular, made one grateful for scraps of information such as Adrian Littlejohn's middle name being Sylvester and the stripes on each Sheffield United shirt being subtly different.

The few decent touches came from Gordon Strachan, who created two early chances which were missed by Lee Chapman - the second an open goal the embarrassment of which was only slightly diluted by an offside flag.

Strachan's contribution to the goal Chapman finally did score was more routine.

His corner seemed to have been hit too deep, but Jon Newsome retrieved the ball and fed it back to Eric Cantona, whose well-flighted cross was just too inviting for Chapman to neglect.

A corner also produced Sheffield's equaliser, an event which had hardly looked likely. John Gannon's fierce inswinger needed just a delicate touch from the head of Paul Beesley to steer it into the net.

The game now went into its liveliest phase. Cantona's header was well saved at one end and Gary Speed blocked Carl Bradshaw's volley on the line at the other as the match could have tilted either way.

When it tilted towards Leeds, it did so sharply and irreversibly. Newsome's long free-kick should have been cleared by Paul Rogers but his feet froze on him and Speed shot home fiercely.

It was Gary McAllister's chip into the penalty area that produced a flattering third goal, Chris Whyte heading against the bar and then nodding in the rebound.

Bradshaw's protests made him the sixth player to have his name taken by Ray Lewis. The other Sheffield victims were Brian Deane for dissent and Mitch Ward and Littlejohn for fouls. For Leeds, David Batty spoke out of turn and Cantona, perhaps unwilling to risk his English, instead made his mark with a tackle on Tom Cowan.

Had it been in any sense a rough game, Mr Lewis would have needed a pocket computer rather than a notebook.

Leeds United: J Lukic; J Newsome, T Dorigo, D Batty, C Fairclough, C Whyte, G Strachan, E Cantona (C Shutt, 84 min), L Chapman, G McAllister, G Speed. Subs not used: S Sellars, M Day (gk). Manager: H Wilkinson.

Sheffield United: A Kelly; M Ward, T Cowan, J Gannon, B Gayle, P Beesley, C Bradshaw, P Rogers, A Littlejohn (I Bryson, 73 min), B Deane, A Cork. Subs not used: C Hartfield, S Tracey (gk). Manager: D Bassett.

Referee: R Lewis (Great Bookham).

Goals: Chapman (1-0, 35 min); Beesley (1-1, 53 min); Speed (2-1, 74 min); Whyte (3-1, 78 min).