Bowyer's night as shaky Leeds repel Everton

Leeds United 3 Everton 2
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"Lose Bowyer, Lose the Title" was the message on one banner at Elland Road last night, although without their most controversial player, Leeds moved comfortably enough into third place. However, the manner in which they wantonly all but tossed away a three-goal lead in the final nervy minutes against a hitherto toothless team suggested the arrival of the Premiership leaders, Newcastle, on Saturday should provide more solid evidence whether this fan's concerns are well-founded.

Lee Bowyer was very much with Leeds United yesterday evening, visiting the dressing-room before, during and after the match, which he watched from the television gantry high in the West Stand. His team-mates provided their own show of support for the transfer-listed midfielder, who has refused to pay a club fine lest it prejudices his civil action with the family of Sarfraz Najeib, by turning to applaud him and Jonathan Woodgate after each goal.

The fact that two of them were scored by Robbie Fowler would, on any other night have stolen the back-page headlines but this match was as much about those who did not play than those who did. Bowyer's name was chanted throughout, a show of support that was not lost on the Leeds manager David O'Leary or his chairman.

A hamstring injury sustained against Tottenham on 4 November meant Bowyer could not have played last night even if he had paid his fine, although he would be available to face Newcastle. Without him, Leeds have stumbled and stuttered ­ this was only their second win in six Premiership fixtures.

It was ironic, therefore, that his replacement, Gary Kelly, pressed into service on the right flank, should have provided the cross for the opening goal which Mark Viduka's header buried past Steve Simonsen. Since the Australian had previously sent two similar efforts comfortably over the bar, Everton had been given sufficient warning and Walter Smith reacted by immediately introducing Paul Gascoigne.

The options available to the Everton manager were painfully limited and were to become more restricted when Alessandro Pistone was stretchered off with an ankle ligament injury in the second half. With Duncan Ferguson and Kevin Campbell injured, he has been using Steve Watson as an emergency striker. With the match three minutes old, Everton's poverty was exposed as Thomas Radzinski cut inside from the right and squared to Watson, who eight yards out and unmarked, produced the shot of a full-back.

Fowler is perhaps the only man at Elland Road who might have been grateful for the controversy surrounding Bowyer and Woodgate since it has deflected attention from the fact that before last night he had yet to find the net for his new side.

Those who had crossed the Pennines from the blue corner of Merseyside might have guessed Fowler would have broken his duck against the club he supported as a boy and on which he has inflicted so much pain in his professional career.

Again, the goal came from the right side, but this time it was Danny Mills who ran at a retreating Everton defence before providing a little chip which Fowler took down on his chest and then in one neat movement drove past Simonsen.

Two minutes before the interval Fowler could have manufactured an even better goal. Harry Kewell, fed by Fowler's back-flick, returned the favour and from 20 yards the most natural forward in the domestic game shot against the base of the Everton post.

He probably deserved a second, although it arrived in a slightly fortuitous manner as David Batty's speculative shot was deflected by Abel Xavier straight into Fowler's path. He steadied himself and shot underneath Simonsen's body, although later the Everton keeper did manage to turn away Seth Johnson's 20-yard drive.

Unsurprisingly, Everton looked a slightly more dangerous proposition after Joe-Max Moore was pushed on to partner Radzinski and five minutes from time the American volleyed Watson's cross into the corner of the Leeds net, although by then they were three down.

Two minutes into stoppage time, in another act of carelessness, David Weir was left unmarked to head home Idan Tal's cross. For a team which on Sunday had surrendered a two-goal lead to Leicester's pop-gun attack, this was worrying sign against a team that had not won at Elland Road since the death of George VI.

Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn 6; Mills 7, Ferdinand 6, Matteo 7, Harte 5; Kelly 6, Johnston 6, Batty 8 (Bakke, 81), Kewell 6; Viduka 6 (Keane, 88), Fowler 7. Substitutes not used: Duberry, Wilcox, Robinson (gk).

Everton (4-4-2): Simonsen 5; Pistone 6 (Moore 7, 52), Xavier 5, Weir 4, Unsworth 5; Alexandersson 4 (Tal 5, 74), Gemmill 5, Pembridge 5 (Gascoigne 6, 22), Naysmith 4; Watson 4, Radzinski 5. Substitutes not used: Blomqvist, Gerrard (gk).

Referee: P Jones (Loughborough) 4.

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