Gray day turns into black day for Leeds

Leeds United 0 Bolton Wanderers 2
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The Independent Football

Day by day it gets worse for Leeds United. A financial basket case, their poverty on the pitch is almost as grim as the hardship off it and the First Division is as likely a destination next year as a red-faced trip to administration. Hope? It is hard to detect the slightest shred.

If they are to lift themselves off the bottom of the Premiership a minimum requirement is the defeat of potential relegation rivals at home and yesterday Leeds failed miserably to dispose of a Bolton team who fit the struggling identikit. The visitors did not even play well, but then they did not have to and at the moment a trip to Elland Road is like intruding on a stranger's funeral.

A quiet wake it is becoming too, because the raucous chants of defiance that Elland Road rang to when Leeds succumbed to Arsenal in their last home game were replaced by muted groans of universal frustration. Just occasionally the crowd stirred into "We are Leeds", but the sound was one of wishing without expectation.

Who can blame them? Leeds have now lost their last six games and the only suggestion of improvement Eddie Gray's appointment as caretaker manager following the sacking of Peter Reid brought was a slight drying up of goals conceded. Bolton managed only two - scored in a first-half minute by Kevin Davies and Giannakopolous Stelios - while 16 had been shipped in the previous four matches.

"We were disappointing," Gray said, refusing to see a non-existent silver lining. "There's definitely a lack of confidence and we have to defend better. We are making it easy for other teams to play." It was an honest assessment by Gray, who also took the hard decision of playing Jody Morris even though he had been charged with rape during the week. Mark Viduka, whose relationship with Reid had disintegrated, was also in the side but while they were recalled, there seemed to be no recollection by the players of their manager's pre-match warning not to give the ball away.

Leeds gave away presents as if they had been told to wear a red coat and white beard in the city's department stores and Bolton, who previously had won only once in this season's Premiership travels, could barely believe their luck. As a contest it was over by the 18th minute.

The first goal arrived after 16 minutes when Michael Duberry's attempt to clear Ricardo Gardner's cross merely directed the ball towards Davies on the edge of the area. Where the Leeds midfielders were is anyone's guess, but the Bolton striker had an eternity to tee up and drill a low shot past Paul Robinson.

Elland Road recoiled in shock but worse came within seconds. Davies was again allowed time and space, this time on the right of the area, and when he eluded Ian Harte he had only to deliver an accurate pass to Giannakopolous. From a range of three yards the Greek international hardly needed to be Jonny Wilkinson to score.

Confidence was coursing through Bolton now and they almost got a third after 21 minutes when Giannakopolous led a breakaway from a Leeds corner. He primed Per Frandsen, overlapping on the right, and it required a sharp save from Robinson.

What of Leeds? They were dreadful and it was typical of their inability to take responsibility that when David Batty had a chance to shoot after 31 minutes that he declined. Instead he tried a backheeled flick to Viduka that was as inaccurate as it was over-optimistic.

Batty was withdrawn at half-time, although he was far from being the worst Leeds player, and the introduction of Cyril Chapuis injected pace into the home side. Some players got a jab of urgency, too, and Jussi Jaaskelainen had to make his first significant save after 50 minutes when he blocked Viduka's shot after Sakho's backheel.

Leeds were better, Bolton half asleep, although the visitors stirred from their slumber to produce a piece of football out of character with what had gone before. Frandsen received the ball in an innocuous position and suddenly unleashed a curling right-foot shot from 30 yards that was heading for the top corner until Robinson tipped it away.

This also had an invigorating effect on the Elland Road crowd and they were almost rewarded for their vocal encouragement after 69 minutes when Viduka dived to head powerfully and was denied only by Jaaskelainen's save by his post.

It was the last time Bolton were seriously troubled. "Without playing outstandingly well, we did a professional job on them," Sam Allardyce, the visitors' manager, said. In Leeds' current state, that is all it takes.