Football: Vale extend their Cup odyssey

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The Independent Online


Leeds United 0 Port Vale 0

As if to prove that their replay victory over the FA Cup holders, Everton, was no fluke, Port Vale last night held another of the so-called Premiership elite, Leeds United, with almost embarrassing ease in their fifth-round meeting at Elland Road.

A home tie against Liverpool or Charlton awaits the winners. On the evidence of this first match, Vale have little to fear when Leeds visit the Potteries next week on an evening to be confirmed next week.

The representatives of Birmingham City, whom Leeds receive in the second leg of a Coca-Cola Cup semi-final on Sunday, must have left equally convinced that a place at Wembley is not yet beyond them.

Even allowing for the fact that there was a live fixture on terrestrial TV, an attendance of less than 19,000 reflected the growing mood of apathy among Leeds' supporters. It was left to the 5,000 Vale fans to generate what passed for atmosphere, and to the First Division's 22nd-placed side to remind the home faithful what a cohesive passing game looks like.

Adding to the problems of their increasingly embattled manager, Howard Wilkinson, Leeds lost Gary Speed with a suspected fractured cheekbone after an accidental clash of heads with Jon McCarthy late in the first half. If the diagnosis proved correct, the Welsh midfielder will be out for at least six weeks.

Perhaps, given the indisposition of Speed and his team's lack of penetration and imagination, Wilkinson may turn to Tomas Brolin on Sunday. But the Swede would be ill advised to hold his breath, having been deemed unworthy of even a place among the substitutes on this occasion.

Leeds, unsurprisingly, were unhealthily dependent on Tony Yeboah, who was held with relative ease by Neil Aspin, a defender off-loaded early in the Wilkinson era. Vale were also without an influential attacker, although the withdrawal of Martin Foyle due to a stomach ailment did not noticeably affect their game plan.

That involved Andy Porter sticking like a limpet to Gary McAllister, and releasing at every opportunity the wingers who did so much to undermine Everton.

Steve Guppy and McCarthy were seldom quite as destructive against two of the Premiership's quickest full-backs, yet Vale still created the majority of the infrequent openings.

As early as the fourth minute, John Lukic tipped over Porter's goalbound drive. The Leeds keeper soon saved well from Tony Naylor and from Ian Bogie, the scourge of Neville Southall, while McCarthy somehow failed to connect with an Allen Tankard centre as the home defence appealed forlornly for offside. Speed, with a low shot well held by Paul Musselwhite, and Mark Ford, whose drive struck the keeper's legs, briefly raised Leeds' hopes. Paul Beesley's free header, which ended up closer to the corner flag than to goal, was more typical of their finishing. Vale, indeed, came closer to settling the contest, Guppy skying McCarthy's driven cross and Naylor forcing a fine save from Lukic with eight minutes left.

"We live to fight another day," Wilkinson said, taking role reversal to new extremes. John Rudge, his opposite number, was generous to a fault in describing Leeds as "an exceptional side," adding: "We've done it once by beating Everton. Now we've got to see whether lightning strikes twice."

Leeds United (4-5-1): Lukic; Kelly, Wetherall, Beesley, Dorigo; Wallace, Palmer, McAllister, Ford, Speed (Deane, 35); Yeboah. Substitutes not used: Radebe, Beeney (gk).

Port Vale (4-5-1): Musselwhite; Hill, Griffiths, Aspin, Tankard; McCarthy, Walker, Porter, Bogie, Guppy; Naylor. Substitutes not used: Glover, Talbot, Mills.

Referee: P Durkin (Portland, Dorset).