Ngog strikes to subdue battling Leeds

Leeds 0 Liverpool 1
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The Independent Football

Just so you knew this is the modern world, Rafa Benitez assessed the merits of a Carling Cup tie against League One opponents and fielded a Liverpool side showing nine changes from the one he sent out last in the Premier League. Yet among a full-house Elland Road crowd to watch a match heavy with historical resonance there were still spectators of a certain age who must have imagined themselves having a Life on Mars moment, where they awoke from some mysterious coma to find it was 1973.

Or maybe 1974, in April, when Leeds won their second League title under Don Revie and Liverpool finished second. It was the end of the Revie era, three months before the ill-starred decision to appoint Brian Clough as his successor, the point at which, even though they were to rise again to be champions under Howard Wilkinson, it might be argued that Leeds began to be haunted by memories and took the first steps of a long and painful decline.

They met Liverpool in the Charity Shield in August, Clough's first competitive game, but the occasion is recalled only for the disgrace of Kevin Keegan and Billy Bremner, fighting on the pitch and throwing off their shirts. None of the lasting pride of the 1965 Cup final, when Revie led his newly promoted Leeds out alongside Bill Shankly and saw them lose gallantly to Ian St John's extra-time header, nor of countless epic struggles as the clubs waged their perennial battle for supremacy in the League.

Their paths would cross again memorably, of course. Still chasing lost glories, before the day of reckoning came for Peter Ridsdale's excesses, Leeds won 4-3 at Elland Road in November 2000, when Mark Viduka scored all four.

It was the last time that Leeds would beat Liverpool in the League. Since then has come financial meltdown and two relegations.

Which is why the giants are now two divisions apart and why Benitez felt comfortable leaving Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres on the bench, starting only two of the side that beat West Ham last weekend. Yet this Leeds side fashioned by Simon Grayson is moving forward with impressive intent with a run of seven wins in eight.

It was Leeds setting the pace, making the attacks, ensuring Liverpool would not progress without anxiety. Indeed, had their opponents been reduced to 10 men when Javier Mascherano caught Jermaine Beckford with a flailing arm midway through the first half, the outcome might have been different.

"I'm not going to say it was intentional or otherwise,'' Grayson said. ''Sometimes they are given, sometimes not. I'm just hugely proud of my team. For all the changes, it was still a strong Liverpool team and we matched them.''

The crowd echoed his sentiments. Even when David Ngog, the 20-year-old French striker, spun away from Lubomir Michalik to score from close range in the 66th minute, the goal was greeted with spontaneous applause for the home side.

They had been denied a 12th-minute goal by an offside flag, moments after Michael Doyle had headed wide when he perhaps should have scored. Beckford, their vibrant top scorer, had gone close too and Liverpool were worried enough to require Gerrard to help out.

Leeds United (4-4-2): Higgs; Crowe, Michalik, Kisnorbo, Hughes (Kilkenny 78); Snodgrass, Howson, Doyle (Showunmi 88), Johnson; Becchio (Grella 81), Beckford. Substitutes not used: Ankergren (gk), Naylor, Prutton, Robinson.

Liverpool (4-1-4-1): Cavalieri; Degen (Johnson 71), Carragher, Kyrgiakos, Dossena; Mascherano; Babel (Skrtel 90), Spearing, Aurelio, Riera; Ngog (Gerrard 78). Substitutes not used: Torres, Voronin, Reina (gk), Plessis.

Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).

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