Portsmouth reach safety as LuaLua sinks Leeds

Leeds United 1 Portsmouth 2
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The Independent Football

Harry Redknapp said he would not be opening a bottle of champagne on Portsmouth's flight back to the south coast, and although Eddie Gray would have been offered wine at last night's dinner to celebrate the 100 finest goals in Leeds United's history, it would have had a sour taste.

For the Portsmouth manager the bubbles would have been within after a comfortable victory which guarantees Pompey a second successive season of top-flight football for the first time since Harold Macmillan, a showman in the Redknapp mould, was telling everybody they had never had it so good.

It is a long, long time since Portsmouth fans, 3,000 of whom travelled north for an 11.30am kick-off in Yorkshire, would have felt so good. Their cars, streaming blue scarves, spent Sunday afternoon in a straggling, joyous convoy towards the Solent.

"If you love football and live in Portsmouth, these would have been the best two years of your life," said Redknapp. "You've spent the last six seasons in the bottom half of the First Division and then you've won the championship and stayed up in the Premier League.

"But I would be a liar if I said I'd enjoyed the experience," he admitted. "I didn't enjoy it until the final whistle went. My chairman has just come up to me and said: 'Now we can go for position places'. Stuff that. Fourth bottom will be good enough for me."

What was so surprising, shocking to those from Yorkshire, was just how comfortably Portsmouth won a fixture that had for so long been seen as pivotal to both clubs' futures.

Only in the last seven minutes, after Ian Harte had converted a penalty awarded for a needless tug on Michael Duberry's shirt by Linvoy Primus, did Leeds look as though they believed they could compete. Had Shaka Hislop not saved instinctively from Nick Barmby they would have secured a draw that would have made a mockery of the balance of play.

However, even a draw would not have been good enough. Because of their abysmal goal-difference, Leeds are now effectively four points behind Manchester City with three matches to play, only one of which is at Elland Road. They are staring into the abyss and Gray, with his habitual, weary honesty, did not attempt to disguise the gravity of his club's position.

"I have been in football a long time and this is one of the biggest disappointments of my career," he said. "This was a fixture we had to win and you have to be realistic in football. Now we have to win three matches on the trot and that is something that has not happened to us this season."

He was asked if he thought Leeds suffered from a lack of fight, something Alan Smith identified in the humiliating 6-1 defeat at Fratton Park in November which signalled the end of Peter Reid's tottering regime. No, Gray replied, there was quite simply a lack of quality.

In the absence of the suspended Mark Viduka, Hislop was largely untroubled, but it was in defence where Leeds were utterly inadequate. Lately, Gray has been so unsure of his back four that he has employed two further defenders, Dominic Matteo and Lucas Radebe, to act as holding midfielders. Portsmouth, with specialists in every position, dominated the midfield and Leeds's defence, which has not kept a clean sheet since Boxing Day, is too fragile to be shored up.

Portsmouth scored from their first attack, Aiyegbeni Yakubu easily beating Duberry to head into an exposed net. Duberry was at fault for the second, conceding a corner by stabbing a low cross just the right side of his own post. From the corner, Paul Robinson spilled Yakubu's header and Lomana LuaLua bundled the ball across the line.

Nobody at Elland Road pretended Leeds were anything other than doomed. From the moment their then chairman, Peter Ridsdale, signed the £60m loan that was supposed to ensure their regular participation in the Champions' League to the moment Uriah Rennie blew his whistle to push them towards e the Nationwide League is three years. Only Blackburn can match that speed of fall and they had Jack Walker's millions to cushion their landing in the First Division. Leeds will have only bare, harsh asphalt.

Goals: Yakubu 9 (0-1); LuaLua 50 (0-2); Harte 82 (1-2).

Leeds United (4-4-2): Robinson 5, Kelly 2, Duberry 3, Caldwell 5, Harte 4; Pennant 6, Matteo 5 (McPhail, 40, 4), Radebe 5 (Lennon 71, 6), Milner 5; Johnson 4 (Barmby, 59, 6) Smith 5. Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Kilgallon.

Portsmouth (4-4-2): Hislop 7, Primus 7, De Zeeuw 6, Sefanovic 6, Taylor 5; Stone 7 (Harper, 79), Smertin 6, Faye 8, Quashie 5; Yakubu 7, LuaLua 6 (Sheringham, 73, 5). Substitutes not used: Wapenaar (gk), Curtis, Berkovic.

Referee: U Rennie (Sheffield) 6.

Booked: Leeds: Caldwell, Kelly. Portsmouth: Smertin, De Zeeuw.

Man of the match: Faye.

Attendance: 39,273.


1 May Bolton Wanderers (a)

8 May Charlton Athletic (h)

15 May Chelsea (a)