Leeds show the need for Bates' bombastic spirit

Stoke City 0 - Leeds United 1
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The Independent Online

The result might have been right for Leeds, but little else was yesterday. Stoke were awful, Leeds were awful, the first half was awful and the second half was awful. Even the game's only goal was awful, Gary Kelly's cross being bundled haplessly into his own net by Wayne Thomas. Whatever Ken Bates invested in Leeds for, it wasn't entertainment.

The result might have been right for Leeds, but little else was yesterday. Stoke were awful, Leeds were awful, the first half was awful and the second half was awful. Even the game's only goal was awful, Gary Kelly's cross being bundled haplessly into his own net by Wayne Thomas. Whatever Ken Bates invested in Leeds for, it wasn't entertainment.

He was not at the Britannia Stadium, but the spirit of Bates hung in the air to such an extent that when Pottermus, Stoke's hippopotamus mascot, and his companion cut a giant mock cake in the centre-circle just before kick-off, you half expected Leeds' new owner to emerge in a shower of fivers, grinning ambiguously like a mafioso Santa Claus. Anticlimactically, the sponge square opened merely to reveal the figure £795,110 - the amount raised for Stoke City by the Britannia Building Society's Save and Support scheme.

Significant enough in Championship terms, but alongside the £10m Bates has spent on Leeds, the sponge cake was chicken feed. Such is the difference in potential of the sides. Stoke may have sat a point above Leeds at kick-off, but it would take a character of far more bombast even than Bates to waltz into the Potteries pledging European football. Bates, in fairness, has spoken of patient rebuilding, warning that promotion this season would be damagingly premature. On that score, he can probably sleep easy.

Leeds are deservedly mid-table of a mediocre division, but as their manager, Kevin Blackwell, pointed out, even that is an achievement given their dire position last summer. At least now the spectre of falling into administration and being docked 10 points has passed. "I sat the players down before the game," Blackwell said, "and told them that this is the day we move forward, the day we can stop looking over our shoulders."

That might be true for the club, but not Blackwell. Bates has made clear in the past that he does not believe former goalkeepers make the best managers. Blackwell has had just one brief chat with Bates, and expects to have more detailed discussions later this week, but was none the less bullish about his future. "I can wheel and deal with the best of them," he said. "I can put out a side that can play, that's tactically well-structured. I hope my future's at Leeds."

Blackwell is right to highlight the context, but Leeds are still fundamentally ordinary. Yesterday they didn't even muster a shot on target in the first hour, and were lucky to be playing a team as supine as Stoke. Their scoreboard may as well be in binary: not since Ipswich lost 3-2 in the middle of September has any team scored more than a single goal at the Britannia Stadium, and Stoke themselves have now failed to score in six games.

It took a minor skirmish to jolt the game into even the vaguest semblance of life, Danny Pugh's reaction to a Darel Russell challenge prompting a spot of grappling, but it was in the brief flurry which followed that the goal came. Kelly crossed from the right and Thomas, swinging with his left foot, missed his clearance completely, the ball cannoning off his standing leg and into the net.

An ugly goal in keeping with an ugly match. The Bates era is off to a winning start.

Bates profile, News, page 25

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