Fowler ends Leeds goal drought

Leeds United 2 Ipswich Town 0
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The Independent Online

Fortune finally smiled on Leeds again last night as they took advantage of a surprisingly listless display by a precariously placed Ipswich at Elland Road to record their first victory in 11 matches stretching back to New Year's Day.

When, in the first attack of the second half, Robbie Fowler's ninth goal in 15 games for Leeds ended a collective drought that had lasted 7 hours 21 minutes, it took a freakish bounce to take the ball over Andy Marshall in Ipswich's goal.

Leeds needed a debatable penalty by Ian Harte with 12 minutes remaining to make the points safe, Marshall being adjudged to have brought down Alan Smith as he overran Fowler's pass. By dashing to lead the hugging of Brian Kidd after converting the spot-kick, Harte made a point of a different kind.

"I didn't know the players were going to do that," admitted David O'Leary, whose coach was vilified by a section of Leeds' supporters at Everton on Sunday. "What they did the other day [a press conference in support of Kidd] was marvellous and our crowd were terrific to him tonight.

"I'm so pleased for Brian because he's such a quiet person. Sunday seemed such a bad day for us, but it may turn out to have been a good one. We needed to find out what people thought of him and tonight they demonstrated how highly they value him.

The Leeds manager, referring sarcastically to his team's "shocking season ­ we're only in fifth place", added: "When we started out our aim was to try to get a top-four place. If we can achieve that I'll be delighted."

Rio Ferdinand was imperious after his back injury, but, while their spine was reinforced, Leeds' attempts to prove they have backbone were not altogether convincing. Ipswich's manager, George Burley, echoed O'Leary's assessment of a "fluky" first goal, and said pointedly of the penalty: "Sometimes you go away to the big clubs and these decisions go against you".

In a swirling wind, and on a pock-marked surface, both teams were initially so tentative that news of Liverpool's delayed kick-off prompted one to wonder when Leeds and Ipswich were going to start. It was difficult to believe both came so close to qualifying for the Champions' League last spring, Leeds' ponderous build-up betraying a loss of confidence and Ipswich being content to mount only occasional counter-attacks.

Then, with only 16 seconds on the stopwatch after half-time, it happened: Leeds scored. Fowler, taking a short pass from Viduka 20 yards out, hit a less than venomous shot which bounced a couple of times before looping over the sprawling Marshall. Bearing out those who argue that luck evens itself out over a season, it was eerily reminiscent of Paul Ince's goal against Nigel Martyn at Middlesbrough.

It would be overstating the case to suggest that self-belief flooded through the Leeds ranks, though they did move the ball around with marginally greater conviction. Yet the breakthrough also tricked Ipswich out of their shell. Matt Holland, making his 250th appearance for the club, set up Jim Magilton with a cushioned header on the hour, and Leeds were relieved to see his shot deflected behind off Ferdinand.

The dissent which had surfaced at Goodison Park had given way to declarations of undying support, but those, in turn, were replaced by anxious murmurings in the stands until Harte doubled the advantage. Fowler ought to have made it 3-0 but got his feet in a tangle, allowing Herman Hreidarsson to make a vital goal-line block, while Martyn stretched to beat aside Mark Venus' 30-yard drive. Blackburn, the next opponents for both clubs, can have seen nothing to worry them unduly.

Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn 6; Kelly 5, Ferdinand 7, Matteo 6, Harte 6; Smith 8, Batty 6, Bakke 5, Kewell 5 (Keane, 80); Fowler 6, Viduka 6. Substitutes not used: Dacourt, Wilcox, Duberry, Robinson (gk).

Ipswich Town (3-5-2): Marshall 5; McGreal 6, Hreidarsson 7, Venus 6; Wilnis 5, George 4 (Miller, 85), Holland 6, Magilton 6, Clapham 5; Stewart 4 (M Bent, 79), Armstrong 4 (Couñago, 79). Substitutes not used: Bramble, Sereni (gk).

Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury) 6.

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