Depleted Leeds suffer further deflation

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The Independent Football

Trouble piles upon trouble for Leeds, whose long list of injuries is emphasising that David O'Leary's squad is seriously lacking the substance to be regarded as genuine contenders. After the mauling he saw his patched-up side suffer in Spain in the Champions' League, the Irishman regarded three points yesterday as essential to morale with Milan due at Elland Road on Tuesday. Instead, Leeds lost at home to a Premiership newcomer for the second time this month.

Trouble piles upon trouble for Leeds, whose long list of injuries is emphasising that David O'Leary's squad is seriously lacking the substance to be regarded as genuine contenders. After the mauling he saw his patched-up side suffer in Spain in the Champions' League, the Irishman regarded three points yesterday as essential to morale with Milan due at Elland Road on Tuesday. Instead, Leeds lost at home to a Premiership newcomer for the second time this month.

Lee Bowyer's fourth-minute goal was quickly nullified by the opportunism of James Scowcroft, after which Ipswich grew in self-esteem, defending solidly and attacking with conviction against a Leeds side in which that quality is absent at present. The winning goal came from Jermaine Wright, only his second for the club, two minutes into the second half.

"We scored a good goal but after that we did not do enough and on the day we were beaten by the better side," O'Leary said. "To say we were weary would be unfair to Ipswich.''

Already ravaged by injuries, Leeds suffered another blow when the midfielder Stephen McPhail reported an Achilles tendon problem that is likely to keep him out of Tuesday's match. Leeds have asked for their striker Mark Viduka to be released from Olympic duty now that Australia cannot qualify for the second phase. However, O'Leary conceded: "It is out of our hands. In any case, it is asking a lot for him to travel that far and go straight into a Champions' League game.''

Leeds enjoyed just the start they had wanted, even if the benefit was short-lived. Fed by Olivier Dacourt, right back Gary Kelly made an unhampered advance into the Ipswich half and looked across to find a choice of targets in the centre. His pass found Lee Bowyer unmarked at 12 yards out and the midfielder's first-time side-footed shot beat Richard Wright easily.

Deprived now of Jason Wilcox and Lucas Radebe as well as their six other high-profile absentees, what David O'Leary wanted most was a solid, strong Premier League performance from his depleted side. What he did not need was Ipswich on level terms before there was chance to consolidate.

But Ipswich were as willing to accept a gift as Leeds, although their 12th-minute equalising goal was a matter of good fortune rather than any mistake on the home side's part. It happened when Hermann Hreidarsson made a complete hash of his attempt to hook Marcus Stewart's left-wing cross towards goal but in doing so set up the perfect chance at the far post for James Scowcroft, whose stooping header gave Nigel Martyn no chance.

Leeds made more opportunities before half-time as Ipswich worked hard to stay level. Darren Huckerby, who needs to make an impact while Harry Kewell and Viduka are not around, sailed through the Ipswich defence on a crisp one-two with Michael Bridges, but could not test Richard Wright. Then Bridges, given a clear sight of goal when Bowyer's diagonal pass beat John McGreal, wasted the chance with a snatched shot.

Ipswich defended acceptably well, young Titus Bramble, their promising England under-21, learning from the experience passed on by McGreal alongside him. Indeed, the visitors might have stolen a half-time advantage when Michael Duberry failed to pick up Stewart's run, whose header from a McGreal cross ought to have found the Leeds net.

This highlighted the vulnerability of a defence shorn of Jonathan Woodgate as well as Radebe in which Danny Mills, normally a wing back, operated alongside Duberry in the middle. It was a weakness from which Ipswich were quickly to profit in the second half. With Mills drawn out of position, Jermaine Wright made a run from the left towards goal, swapped passes with Stewart to go past Stephen McPhail and then slid the ball beyond Martyn's reach.

With so many key players missing Leeds deserved some sympathy. It is beholden on the money men now to strengthen O'Leary's squad, otherwise a season that promised more of the same after last year's excitement might turn into a miserable anti-climax.

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