Richardson epitomises new Leeds' passion

Leeds United 1 - Derby County 0
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Had Leeds lost, the conspiracy theorists would have loved the irony. Why, having sold Elland Road in the summer, did the club hand over sponsorship rights to the first game to Libra Demolition Limited?

Had Leeds lost, the conspiracy theorists would have loved the irony. Why, having sold Elland Road in the summer, did the club hand over sponsorship rights to the first game to Libra Demolition Limited?

But Leeds won and with a little style. Howard Wilkinson was in the stands, Brian Deane was on the pitch and it was possible to forget the last decade had ever happened, let alone the last two disastrous years. This was a day where beach balls could be tossed around the Revie Stand and the past forgotten, however briefly.

If Leeds are to become the new Sheffield Wednesday, this coming month is the time when the ghosts of Hillsborough are most likely to rise and swallow them up. Only four of Kevin Blackwell's players had ever worn a Leeds shirt before and one, Stephen Crainey, had been an employee of Southampton some 18 hours previously. Those who meet their five-a-side team in the car park before a match could comprehend the level of under-preparation.

Blackwell confessed he had no time to let the nerves seep in. The Leeds manager had been at the club's training complex at Thorp Arch until half-past eight on Friday night finalising Crainey's transfer. "I got to bed shattered and when I woke up there was a game first thing; there wasn't a chance to get breakfast," he said. "I can't remember the last time I had a day off, which has maybe helped me because I haven't had time to think about the magnitude of what was happening."

This afternoon, Leeds will travel to Kent to prepare for tomorrow night's encounter with Gillingham, where the magnitude of what has happened will strike home. The fixture list has been kind to Leeds: four of their opening five games pitched them against big clubs with a history - Derby, Wolverhampton, Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United. At Priestfield Stadium tomorrow night Leeds will have to confront the corrugated-roofed reality of what makes up the other half of the Coca-Cola Championship.

Just as there had been at Elland Road's last game, where Alan Smith had been given an emotional send-off, there was a bloody-minded optimism among the crowd. The only difference was that, after his transfer to Manchester United, Smith was now "scum". The arrival of Danny Pugh from Old Trafford has almost been forgotten.

Yet despite the attention given to the veterans like Deane and Michael Ricketts, Pugh and another youngster, Frazer Richardson, who found the net, provided much of the impetus for the victory amid pitch temperatures of 104F.

"That desire to play for Leeds United shown by Danny Pugh and Frazer [Richardson] is the first thing the fans want to see," Blackwell remarked. "They'll say: 'Give me everything and if you lack a little bit of ability, we'll forgive you that'."

Not all relegated clubs become a Sheffield Wednesday or a Bradford. Some turn into Derby, who have bumped along the bottom of the First Division, unable to look beyond survival.

George Burley has been at the helm for a season and a half but only now does he feel the crisis at Pride Park has bottomed out. But for a post, a disallowed goal and a wonderful save from Neil Sullivan, Derby might have won their first game at Elland Road since November 1974 when one club was heading towards the proper championship and the other was bound for a European Cup final.

"We showed in patches we'll be no mugs this season," said Burley, whose aim was a modest finish in the top half of the table. "Last season the squad was decimated. The club had to let Ravanelli, Kinkladze, Rob Lee and Warren Barton all go and then you are building from scratch and having to stabilise."

Leeds would demand instant promotion but Burley knows that margins of failure in the Championship are slim. "At Ipswich we were in the play-offs four years on the trot before we went up and each time [we failed] we had to sell and start again. That's the reality of it."

Goal: Richardson 73 (1-0)

Leeds United: (4-4-2) Sullivan; Kelly, Duberry, Butler, Kilgallon; Richardson, Wright, Walton (Radebe 65), Pugh; Ricketts (Deane 71), Joachim. Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Crainey, Guppy.

Derby County: (3-5-2) Camp; Kenna (Reich 78), Mills, Johnson; Huddlestone (Bolder 60), Jackson, Idiakez, Taylor, Bisgaard; Smith, Tudgay (Junior 60). Substitutes not used: Grant (gk), Peschisolido.

Referee: M Clattenburg (Tyne and Wear).

Booked: Derby: Kenna.

Man of the match: Richardson.

Attendance: 30,589.

Comments