Bowyer's ban leaves Leeds in disarray

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The Independent Football
Leeds United's preparations for the game that could propel them into the European Cup final were thrown into disarray last night when Lee Bowyer, their top scorer in the Champions' League, was ruled out of the semi-final, second leg tonight after being suspended for stamping on Valencia's Juan Sanchez last week.</p>David O'Leary, the Leeds manager, was planning his final training session when he received a call in his hotel room at 5pm advising him that the 24-year-old Bowyer had been banned for three matches by the disciplinary committee of Uefa, the European game's governing body.</p>The punishment relates to a first-half incident in last Wednesday's first leg at Elland Road, which ended in a 0-0 draw. Bowyer challenged Sanchez for the ball and apparently stepped on him, but was neither spoken too nor cautioned by the referee, Italy's Pierluigi Collina, whom O'Leary described yesterday as "the best I've come across".</p>Leeds will appeal against the ruling, which, if upheld, would also prevent Bowyer playing in the final in Milan on 23 May in the event of their defeating Valencia. But their protest, which will be heard on Friday, will not allow him to play in the Mestalla Stadium against Valencia, forcing O'Leary to adjust his tactics and selection at the 11th hour.</p>The Leeds manager pronounced himself "shocked", not only by the ban but by its timing, though he later admitted under questioning from a journalist that the club had received notification of the hearing from Uefa last Friday.</p>The club's director of media and corporate affairs, David Walker, described the clash between Bowyer and Sanchez as a "collision" and O'Leary took a similar view. "It [the alleged stamping] was never brought up by the Spanish media with me, so they must be quite amazed," he said. "Nor did the referee mention anything about it, or the Valencia coach [Hector Cuper].</p>"I spoke to Lee on the matter. He told me he tried to step over their player. But the bottom line is that he can't play.</p>"What we can do is try to get to the final and then try to get him there. At the moment there's a feeling of 'Let's win it for Bow' within the squad."</p>O'Leary insisted he was "all for" the use of video evidence, noting that Lazio's Pavel Nedved had been retrospectively penalised for a foul on Leeds' Alan Maybury which "could have broken our player's leg". He added: "But I can't believe, looking at this incident, that they could justify three games for violent play. Compared with the Martin Keown incident on Saturday [when the Arsenal defender clearly elbowed Leeds' Mark Viduka] ­ which was disgusting ­ it was innocuous."</p>Bowyer, meanwhile, was said to be stunned by the developments. "He's upset because he wants to play in big games and he's hungry to do well," explained O'Leary.</p>O'Leary and his head coach, Brian Kidd, had spent the afternoon fine-tuning their game plan. Now, he complained, they would have to reassess the situation, perhaps even changing their system, although the likelihood is that Bowyer will be replaced by the Norwegian, Eirik Bakke.</p>"I had a plan about how Lee would play," said O'Leary. "That's gone and he's out, which is a blow because he's a very good player. That said, we've gone into vital away matches without Lee [during the player's recent court case in Hull] and done well, so we have to look on the bright side."</p>Bowyer, Leeds' only ever-present in the Premiership, missed the games at Anderlecht and Real Madrid, which they won 4-1 and lost 3-2 respectively.</p>"If we're going to win this competition we'll have gone through a lot of hurdles," concluded O'Leary with a surprisingly relaxed laugh, reflecting on a season studded with controversies and problems. "Just about the only people we haven't been involved with are Nato." </p>