Harry Kewell, at last rediscovering his irresistible form of 18 months ago, brought a dash of colour to an otherwise grey display by Leeds last night as they claimed a place in next Wednesday's draw for the fourth round of the Uefa Cup.
Leeds, forced to field a makeshift team, looked set for a resounding win when Kewell gave them an early lead with a thrilling solo effort that will be a contender for Elland Road's best goal this season. When the Australian hit the woodwork soon afterwards, the capacity crowd sat back and expected a routine home victory over the Swiss League's fourth-placed side.
Despite Richard Nuñez's riposte in first-half stoppage time, Robbie Keane restored the advantage seconds later. But Leeds, who let a 4-1 lead over Troyes in the previous round turn into a exercise in brinkmanship, were ultimately thankful that Nuñez's second goal, again in time added on, came too late to provide anything more than consolation for Grasshopper.
David O'Leary, the Leeds manager, was distinctly unimpressed by his side, who have now won only twice in 10 matches and face an arduous test of their championship credentials at Blackburn on Sunday. "I'm delighted we're through and can put this competition to bed until February, but disappointed with the way we played," he said. "The standard of the game was poor."
Even Kewell was not immune to criticism from O'Leary. "Harry scored a good goal, but I thought he could have done a lot more, particularly in the second half."
O'Leary added: "There might have been a bit of complacency. I know a lot of players were out of position and the balance of the team wasn't right, but we can play better than that. I was just relieved that there wasn't too much time left after they scored their second at the end."
Hans-Peter Zaugg, the Grasshopper coach, felt his side might have created an upset had they struck 10 minutes earlier. "We lost to a good team, but how far Leeds can go will depend on the draw," he added, a coded way of saying he did not fancy their chances against Spanish or Italian opposition.
In fact, a tussle with either Milan or Valencia, clubs they encountered in the Champions' League last season, might be just the lift Leeds need. The manner in which they have approached the Uefa Cup appears to reflect a certain reluctance, no doubt rooted in their disappointment over failing to re-qualify for the premier tournament.
Mark Viduka was a lone spearhead for Leeds, with Alan Smith and Keane operating deeper on right and left respectively, and Kewell in a roving role. This apparent embarrassment of riches had not produced a shot on target before the 18th minute, and there looked scant prospect of that changing as Grasshopper won a free-kick deep in home territory. But the ball was cleared by Gary Kelly and helped on by Olivier Dacourt, finding Kewell 15 yards inside his own half.
Skipping past Mihai Tararache, the Australian then beat Roland Schwegler with a searing burst of pace. His speed having carried him clear, he was confronted by Peter Jehle as the keeper hurtled out. With great deftness and composure, Kewell angled the ball into the far corner of the net.
Ten minutes later Kewell cut in from the right wing and swerved past Boris Smiljanic before unleashing a 30-yard drive. Jehle flapped at the ball as it smacked the bar.
Grasshopper equalised after rare sloppiness by Rio Ferdinand, whose pass to Danny Mills put him under pressure from Stéphane Chapuisat. Nigel Martyn smothered the loose ball only for it to run to Nuñez to convert a scrappy goal.
Leeds regained the initiative immediately. Mills' pass was dummied by Smith, allowing Viduka to take possession and slip the ball to Keane, who thrashed it beyond Jehle's dive from 15 yards.
Mills, with a saving tackle after on Nuñez to atone for his own misjudgement, and Martyn, with a fingertip save from Luca Ippoliti, kept Grasshopper at the bay as Leeds soft-pedalled. But Nuñez was allowed room to score from 25 yards at the death, an anti-climactic conclusion to an underwhelming contest.
Leeds United (4-2-3-1): Martyn; Kelly, Ferdinand, Mills, Harte; Dacourt, Batty; Smith, Kewell, Keane; Viduka. Substitutes not used: Wilcox, Duberry, McMaster, Richardson, Robinson (gk).
Grasshopper Zurich (4-4-2): Jehle; Schwegler, Castillo, Hodel, Smiljanic (Morales, 74); Gerber (Mwaruwari, 59), Diop, Cabanas (Ippoliti, 66), Tararache; Nuñez, Chapuisat. Substitutes not used: Baturina, Spycher, Jaggy, Benaglio (gk).
Referee: F de Bleeckere (Belgium).Reuse content