Milner keeps hope alive for Leeds

Leeds United 1 Everton 1
Click to follow
The Independent Online

If this was a week in which the realistic hopes of Premiership survival in Leicester and Wolverhampton were dulled to a mute acceptance, there is still a sense of defiance about Leeds United.

If this was a week in which the realistic hopes of Premiership survival in Leicester and Wolverhampton were dulled to a mute acceptance, there is still a sense of defiance about Leeds United.

Had they demonstrated this kind of resolve after falling behind earlier in the campaign, the Yorkshire club might not now be contemplating the realities of relegation. In September, they had played Everton at Goodison Park and performed so shambolically that the then manager, Peter Reid, was subject to a straw poll conducted by his chairman among Leeds fans as to whether he should be sacked.

Last night, after falling behind, they displayed an immense show of spirit which, but for some ill-luck and an exceptional display from Nigel Martyn, should have finished with a fourth victory at Elland Road in five games.

In these desperate days, however, draws are not enough for Leeds, who with their dreadful goal difference are effectively three points behind Manchester City, Blackburn and Portsmouth. With away games at Highbury and Stamford Bridge to come, winning their last two home matches is now a minimum requirement for salvation.

There was a photograph of Martyn opposite the Leeds manager, Eddie Gray, as he admitted that this was an encounter that had to be won. Martyn still lives in Yorkshire and his return to Elland Road, where he had spent his last season occupying the bench, was predictably inspired from the moment he appeared to a standing ovation.

He was beaten only once, by a superlative drive, five minutes after the interval, from James Milner, who was just breaking into the Leeds side when Martyn was breaking out of it.

It was not quite as good as the jaw-droppingly excellent display he delivered in the Merseyside derby at Anfield, but it was not far off. He had the luck to see Alan Smith and Mark Viduka squander free headers, but he saved bravely from Smith and exceptionally from Milner after half an hour.

It was perhaps as well that he did since Martyn had passed straight to the teenager, who was faced with an open net and an acute angle; somehow the keeper flung himself to his left to turn the shot aside.

For all Leeds' constant, grinding pressure, they should, frankly, have been out of this game after 16 minutes when Tomasz Radzinski's shot struck the inside of Paul Robinson's post. Had Michael Duberry, whose reactions and positional sense were impeccable throughout an intense evening, not blocked what appeared to be a routine tap-in from the rebound, Wayne Rooney would have had his second goal of the match. This, almost certainly, would have been a knock-out blow.

Rooney's first intervention was dramatic enough. Thomas Gravesen had begun the match in compelling form before fading dreadfully and he sparked the move which led to Rooney's fifth goal in six matches, funnelling a pass to Steve Watson, who turned impressively and fed the wonderboy. His drive from the edge of the area bored itself into the corner of Robinson's net.

Thereafter, the Everton manager, David Moyes, confessed that his team lived off scraps. Gray, with Seth Johnson and Eirik Bakke unlikely to play again this season, had employed two centre-halves, Lucas Radebe and Dominic Matteo, as makeshift midfielders ­ a tactic wearily familiar to Everton supporters from their years under Walter Smith. Their task was to hold the centre of the pitch while Jermaine Pennant and Milner drove forward down either flank.

This they did to great effect. Every cross or set-piece pumped into the Everton area caused growing panic, which should have brought greater rewards and would have triggered intense fury in Moyes, who spent his own playing career at the heart of many defences that functioned better than this one.

Goals: Rooney (13) 0-1; Milner (50) 1-1.

Leeds United (4-4-2): Robinson 6; Kelly 5, Duberry 8, Caldwell 6, Harte 5; Pennant 7, Radebe 5, Matteo 5, Milner 7; Viduka 6, Smith 6. Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Barmby, Olembe, Lennon, Simon Johnson.

Everton (4-4-2): Martyn 8; Pistone 4, Yobo 5, Unsworth 4, Naysmith 4; Watson 5 (McFadden 4, 55), Gravesen 5 (Carsley,80), Linderoth 5 (Nyarko 6 ,55) Kilbane 5; Radzinski 6, Rooney 7. Substitutes not used: Wright (gk), Hibbert.

Referee: P Durkin (Dorset) 8.

Bookings: Leeds: Caldwell, Radebe. Everton: Nyarko.

Man of the match: Martyn.

Attendance: 39,835.

Comments