Bowyer holds key to Leeds' destiny

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The Independent Online

Lee Bowyer has assumed the status of a protected species after Leeds United's 2-1 victory over TSV 1860 Munich left their hopes of reaching the lucrative first-round stage of the Champions' League hanging by a thread.

Lee Bowyer has assumed the status of a protected species after Leeds United's 2-1 victory over TSV 1860 Munich left their hopes of reaching the lucrative first-round stage of the Champions' League hanging by a thread.

Allied to the injury plague blighting Leeds, the dismissals of Olivier Dacourt and Eirik Bakke during the final 15 minutes of Wednesday's third qualifying round, first leg match at Elland Road make Bowyer the only midfield player available to David O'Leary for the return fixture on 23 August.

Leeds' discomfort was compounded yesterday when they learned Bakke could be suspended for a further two games - in the Champions' League or Uefa Cup, depending on the outcome in Germany - following what the club described as an "administrative error" by the governing body of the European game.

Bakke, already cautioned for allegedly elbowing an opponent, was banished for a second bookable offence which the Cypriot referee's report classified as "intentional hand-ball". Video footage shows a yellow card being issued, yet the official report from Uefa's control and disciplinary body records it as a straight red-card offence, which would carry a three-match ban rather than the one Leedsanticipated.

Peter Ridsdale, the Leeds chairman, said: "Uefa's report contradicts their own delegate's report and the actions of the referee. We will make them aware of the details and we're sure they will rectify the situation."

Bakke watched on the dressing-room television as 1860, down to 10 men following Ned Zelic's 41st-minute dismissal, halved their arrears with a header by the former Bristol City striker Paul Agostino four minutes into stoppage time. "It was a horrible feeling seeing it go in," he said. "A 2-0 lead would have been ideal. But I don't think the ref had the best of games - it seemed like he wanted them to score."

The Norwegian added: "I don't think they're that good a side. I know we've hardly got a midfield for the game out there but I still think we can get aresult. They have to beat us and there aren't many matches where we don't score."

Since Leeds open the Premiership campaign against Everton the previous Saturday, even Bowyer's participation in the Olympiastadion is not guaranteed. "We really can't afford to lose Lee between now and then," O'Leary said.

Only one of the seven internationals ruled out by injury, Jonathan Woodgate, has any chance of being fit to play in Bavaria. O'Leary will therefore be forced to send out the most makeshift side Leeds have fielded since they first entered Continental competition 35 years ago - in what is arguably their biggest European game for a quarter of a century.

Fringe players such as Danny Mills and Darren Huckerby look certain to start. With Alf-Inge Haaland and David Hopkin both sold during the summer, Jamie McMaster, a 17-year-old midfielder, and Gareth Evans, a left-back who is 19, will also be in contention after remaining on the bench during the first game. Neither has appeared as a substitute to date.

Leeds, who are already resigned to losing Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka to Australia's team for the Sydney Olympics next month, may also be without them next March. The Socceroos' coach, Frank Farina, is pushing for some of his country's World Cup qualifying matches to be played then.

Meanwhile, the Yorkshire club have been told by the new Dundee manager, Ivano Bonnetti, that the asking price for Lee Wilkie, their stylish centre-back, is £2m. Wilkie, a Scotland Under-21 international, has been on trial with Leeds after being ineligible for Dundee's early-season games because of suspension.

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