Milner delivers faint glimpse of Finney's genius

Charlton Athletic 0 Leeds United 1
Click to follow

These are hard times for Leeds, and people differ on how to make them easier, on what the priorities are. For their caretaker manager, Eddie Gray, it is to get from his team consistently the sort of performance that literally knocked Charlton back on their heels to claim an unlikely 1-0 victory at the Valley on Saturday.

Gray reached into history, seeking the team spirit he remembered as a player in the Revie years. "I told them that they needed to get on with proving themselves," he said. "There is a lot of ability there but it counts for nothing unless they are prepared to put in the effort."

Beset by crippling debts, rumoured to be on the brink of going into administration, Leeds remain prime candidates for relegation unless Saturday's victory leads to a revival. In the corresponding fixture towards the end of last season, Leeds hit all the right notes, putting six past Charlton, going on to secure their place in the Premiership. This time, one goal was enough to prevent Leeds from slipping further behind their fellow strugglers, to persuade Gray that the task is not insurmountable.

Having talked long and hard with his players, Gray then came up with a formula. It was to deny Charlton space in midfield and opportunities for creative play. With Mark Viduka performing manfully as the lone striker, Leeds grew in confidence after the highly promising teenager James Milner gave fresh notice of his potential with a ninth-minute goal.

With his crouching motion and two-footed application Milner's style is faintly reminiscent of Tom Finney. An exact comparison with such an illustrious figure is taking things too far but he is a player with great potential. "Level-headed, listens, learns," Gray says. Milner diligently and excitingly carried out the role Leeds found for him, operating with Jermaine Pennant as one of two wingers delegated to provide support for Viduka. This was no extravagant ploy but part of a system that had Alan Smith as an attacking midfielder, unquestionably his best position.

The outcome was that Charlton were brought up sharply after beginning the game in fourth position. "If our form continues, I'm sure we can stay there or thereabouts," their manager, Alan Curbishley, wrote in his programme notes. That and the healthy state of Charlton's finances shone through the gloom of a cold and damp November day, but the omens were not good. Over the past five years, Charlton had not beaten Leeds home or away and the record was not about to improve.

Normally strong in midfield under Scott Parker's shrewd and energetic guidance, Charlton were never allowed to get into their stride, kept at bay by the positive hustling of David Batty and Dominic Matteo, and stretched by Milner and Pennant. "We were chasing the game from the first minute. It was a bad day," Curbishley said.

A good day for Leeds, who rose above their tribulations to look much better than a team propping up the table. It was not simply a result to emphasise that nothing can be taken for granted in the Premiership. Here was a dressing-room reclaimed, rid of the factional disturbances that did for Peter Reid. Can it last, can Leeds progress from here? Gray was deadpan. "Today, we showed what we're capable of," he said. "I don't know what the future holds for the club but winning here - and I think we fully deserved it - will do a lot for confidence. Confidence is the key."

It could be seen from the moment Milner stole in from the left to neatly side-step Mark Fish and score from Viduka's pass. Soon afterwards, Viduka set off on a long run down Charlton's left, hoodwinking Hermann Hreidarsson with a foot feint, then outpacing him to bear down on Charlton's goal, foiled only when Radostin Kishishev cleared on the line.

There was a flicker of life in Charlton's attack when Matt Holland's header from Parker's cross was pushed on to an upright by Paul Robinson but there was little else to raise the flagging spirits of their supporters, whose taunt of "Going down" suggested desperation.

It seems that a result like this is always in Charlton's locker. "Leeds set about us," Curbishley added. "They stifled us and they broke on us. It just shows you how vital a first goal is in the Premiership."

A team transformed from that which gave up without a fight against Bolton at Elland Road last week, Leeds proved that there is life in them yet.

Goals: Milner (9) 0-1.

Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Kiely 5; Kishishev 5 (Fortune, 88), Fish 5, Perry 5, Hreidarsson 5, Stuart 5, Parker 6, Holland 5, Jensen 5 (Campbell-Ryce 5, 71), Euell 5, Svensson (Cole 5, h-t). Substitutes not used: Leite, Powell.

Leeds United (4-5-1): Robinson 6; Kelly 6, Radebe 6, Duberry 5, Harte 5, Pennant 6, Matteo 6, Batty 6, Smith 6, Milner 6, Viduka 6. Substitutes not used: Carson, Morris, Bridges, McPhail, Domi.

Referee: M Halsey (Bolton) 5.

Bookings: Charlton: Parker. Leeds: Smith.

Man of the match: Milner.

Attendance: 26,445.

Comments