Fears that Tottenham might pick up the new season in the dismal fashion they finished the old one were robustly dispelled. Leeds, a team who look as if they are prepared to dig up roads with their bare hands for their boss, Peter Reid, were outfought and frequently outclassed, though it needed a pair of special goals to finish them off.
Having sneaked ahead inside five minutes through an enterprising Alan Smith strike from outside the penalty area, Leeds clung on grimly, and half-time was imminent when Mauricio Taricco unleashed a shot he is unlikely to better all season. For enterprise, though, it was beaten by the spectacular fashion in which Spurs' French recruit from West Ham, Frédéric Kanouté, controlled the ball in midair before volleying it sweetly home in the 70th minute.
Kanouté, sneered at in some quarters for having sustained an injury early in his first training session with his new club, had initially been declared a doubt for this match. There was little wrong with his movement, or his finishing, however, when the moment came.
Reid, who had said he would not touch drink until Leeds win a match, admitted he had breached this promise while at the Test match last Thursday. But he would have been entitled to crack open a bottle to celebrate the work-rate and commitment he has coaxed from his players.
"If they give me that every week, that's all I can ask,'' he said. "I am delighted. They are disappointed, and rightly so, but they all played for their shirts today. If they keep on doing that, we will win football matches.''
A win looked very much on the cards for a while. Spurs supporters were still bemoaning the ill fortune of Taricco's run and enterprising shot, which flew inches high, when Leeds won a free-kick just outside the Tottenham penalty area. Seth Johnson touched the ball to Smith, who drove it low past Kasey Keller.
Bobby Zamora looked the more enterprising of Spurs' new striking partnership, moving well off the ball and using possession intelligently, while the Portuguese Helder Postiga, found confidence and assurance rather more slowly. But it was through the speed of their wing-backs, Taricco and Stephen Carr, and the work-rate in midfield of Simon Davies, Jamie Redknapp and the ex-Arsenal youngster Rohan Ricketts that the home side gradually wore down Leeds' stubborn resistance.
If Carr had managed to get his foot, rather than a knee, to Ricketts' cross from the left, the equaliser would have come earlier than it did. As it was, even though they were continually peppered by long throws and crosses, Leeds must have fancied their chances of clinging on until the interval offered opportunity for a breather.
However, in the 40th minute Zamora pushed a pass out to the left, where Taricco collected, gathered speed, cut inside and, with defenders retreating before him, unleashed a tremendous shot high past Paul Robinson. "That goal was as a good as any I have seen at this ground,'' said his manager, Glenn Hoddle.
Leeds suffered even more of a roasting early in the second half, though the closest Spurs came to scoring was a Gary Kelly header cleared off the line. The arrival of Jermaine Pennant, in place of a clearly displeased Jason Wilcox, provoked a storm of booing for the young Arsenal loan player, though Spurs fans were conveniently overlooking the fact that Ricketts, too, is ex-Highbury.
The more meaningful substitution came on the hour. Zamora was hurt and Hoddle pitched Kanouté into the fray, despite stated doubts about the striker's fitness. Anthony Gardner had sent one free header from a Carr free-kick wastefully wide before another free-kick from the same player reached Gardner at the far post. He headed back to Kanouté, who controlled it beautifully before spinning to volley past Robinson.
Even Reid was moved. "You have to give credit to the opposition for the quality of their goals,'' he said.
Hoddle, too, was impressed: "Fredi is going to be a major asset. He was very close to not playing, but I had a gut feeling he could do something for us with half an hour to go.'' How right the manager was.
Tottenham Hotspur 2 Leeds United 1
Taricco 41, Kanouté 71; Smith 5
Half-time: 1-1 Attendance: 34,354Reuse content