Leeds show pride to pay Charles a fitting tribute

Leeds United 2 Liverpool 2
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Ghostly images flickered across the screen in one corner of Elland Road before the game, a monochrome celebration of the majesty of John Charles before he is laid to rest today. Leeds United and Liverpool then produced a fitting memorial, a contest bursting with colour and commitment that both could have won and either might have lost.

Harry Kewell returned in red to haunt his old club, scoring a fine goal in a display that demonstrated why Leeds were livid to bank just £2.5m for his sale last summer. But the home side responded swiftly, and against the run of play, with Eirik Bakke and Mark Viduka scoring in the space of six minutes to create visions among their stoical fans of a victory that would have lifted them out of the Premiership's bottom three.

Milan Baros levelled the scores by half-time, at which point the 40,000 crowd probably expected a scoreline reminiscent of the 5-4 win for Liverpool here in 1991 or Leeds' 4-3 success in the Charity Shield 18 months later. It was not to be, largely because Leeds worked voraciously in the second half to becalm Kewell.

With gross debts of around £100m, Leeds are more accustomed to issuing statements to the Stock Exchange than declarations of intent on the pitch. This, however, was their third game without defeat. With visits from Leicester, Portsmouth, Everton and Manchester City to come, Eddie Gray remains upbeat about the prospects of avoiding relegation.

"We're showing more belief that we can win matches," said Leeds' caretaker manager. "I thought the boys did well to come back into it after going one down." Asked whether the possibility of administration was affecting his team, Gray said: "I'm not bothered about that. All we can do is play football."

Gérard Houllier, while justified in arguing that Liverpool had enough opportunities before the interval to wrap only a second win in six league fixtures, was impressed by Leeds' performance. "If that team are bottom of the Premiership, it must be an extremely high level," he said.

Looking more relaxed than after Thursday's Uefa Cup win, Houllier suggested football had been the winner. On an afternoon that started with Leeds announcing that the West Stand would be renamed in Charles' honour, anything less would have been almost an affront to his memory.

The only sour note was struck by the Leeds supporters' voluble accusations of greed against Kewell. Not that he seemed remotely perturbed, at times running amok in a roving role. Midway through the first half, after the ball was worked across the pitch by Steven Gerrard and Baros, the Australian scored from 18 yards with a diagonal drive similar to the one against Levski Sofia 60 hours earlier.

A month ago Leeds would have accepted their fate. Now they were behind for only eight minutes before Didier Domi, building to an outstanding game, launched a long pass which Alan Smith won in the air. Jermaine Pennant played the ball short to Bakke, who rolled it past Chris Kirkland for his first Premiership goal since New Year's Day 2003.

Smith was again involved as Leeds went ahead. Seizing on a loose header by Sami Hyypia, the forward who had not trained all week because of a leg injury, chested the ball down and laid it invitingly into the penalty area. Kirkland was slow coming out, which allowed Viduka, one of the few modern players to combine Charles' physical power with his deftness of touch, to flick his seventh goal of the season past the keeper.

A minute earlier, Baros had headed against the bar from Gerrard's centre. The Czech, like Smith, outshone the out-of-form Michael Owen in front of Sven Goran Eriksson and restored parity by evading challenges from Domi and Seth Johnson before beating Paul Robinson.

Smith hit the underside of the bar, via Kirkland's fingertips, after James Milner's cross; Domi and Emile Heskey both had headers hacked off the line; and Robinson made flying saves to stop an Owen header and a brutal long shot by Dietmar Hamann with three minutes left.

"Thrilling action," purred Houllier. "Both teams were trying to win to the end." John Charles would have loved it.

Goals: Kewell (21) 0-1; Bakke (29) 1-1; Viduka (34) 2-1; Baros (42) 2-2.

Leeds United (4-4-2): Robinson 8; Kelly 4, Caldwell 6, Matteo 7, Domi 8; Pennant 6, Bakke 6 (McPhail 6, h-t), Seth Johnson 5, Milner 5; Smith 7 (Simon Johnson, 82), Viduka 6. Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Harte, Radebe.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Kirkland 6; Finnan 4, Hyypia 7, Henchoz 5, Carragher 6; Murphy 6, Gerrard 7, Hamann 6, Kewell 8; Baros 7 (Heskey, 80), Owen 4. Substitutes not used: Dudek (gk), Diouf, Biscan, Cheyrou.

Referee: P Durkin (Dorset) 8.

Booking: Liverpool: Henchoz.

Man of the match: Domi.

Attendance: 39,932.

Comments