Football: Wilkinson relies on the Cantona factor: French flair may be vital to Leeds in tomorrow's European Cup game. Phil Shaw reports

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The Independent Online
ERIC CANTONA, whose mistake undid an hour's good work by Leeds United in Stuttgart a fortnight ago, will have the chance to redeem himself in the eyes of manager Howard Wilkinson as the English champions strive to overturn a 3-0 deficit in their European Cup first round, second leg match at Elland Road tomorrow night.

The French international was caught in possession seconds after suffering a hamstring injury, and VfB Stuttgart promptly deepened his discomfort by scoring their first goal. Cantona was not expected to resume playing until late next month but returned to give a tour de force against Everton on Saturday, from which he suffered no ill effects.

'When Eric came off I was resigned to being without him for this one, but he has come back remarkably well,' Wilkinson said yesterday. 'We've got a much better chance of succeeding with him in attack. I'm sure he'll be nurturing a secret wish to make amends for the error which cost us a goal.'

In his newly published autobiography, Managing to Succeed (Mainstream, pounds 12.99), Wilkinson describes his pounds 900,000 'gamble' from Nimes as 'the most successful acquisition Leeds have ever made. . . After just two or three days in training, I knew we were witnessing a player of special talents.

'The big question now is whether he has the character and intelligence to adapt that ability - in that respect the next season or so will be make or break for Eric.'

In terms of Leeds managing to succeed tomorrow, the same could be said of the first 20 minutes. Wilkinson insists that an aggregate victory for Leeds represented 'a good sportsman's bet', provided they scored first.

'Even if it came with 15 minutes to go, I would fancy us to do it if we were performing. The bottom line must be that if Stuttgart are to go through, it will be over our dead bodies.'

While one away goal for the visitors tomorrow is likely to be one too many, Wilkinson believes that the size of the margin the Germans bring to Yorkshire could lead them to fall between two stools.

'I've asked myself how Christophe Daum (Stuttgart coach) will play it, and come up with two answers. He can either go for it for 15 minutes and try to finish us off, or defend what he's got and bite his nails for 90 minutes. They are a very good side, but so are we.'

Wilkinson will not name his team until shortly before kick-off, but is unlikely to spring any surprises like the 45-minute cameo by David Rocastle in the Neckarstadion in Stuttgart. 'It doesn't matter who we turn out,' he said. 'The heart of the team will be more important than its shape or ability. That has never been a problem in my time here - and if we're firing on all cylinders, anything could happen.'

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