Smith's double-take keeps Leeds aloft

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The Independent Football

IF ANYBODY expected this Yorkshire derby between teams that started the day at opposite ends of the Premiership to be a one- horse race, they were right.

IF ANYBODY expected this Yorkshire derby between teams that started the day at opposite ends of the Premiership to be a one- horse race, they were right.

Except that for much of it Wednesday looked the thoroughbreds and Leeds looked knackered after a run of victories that had taken them to the brink of a 68-year-old club record.

In the end, Leeds did make it nine wins on the trot, thanks to two simple tap-ins by their locally born young striker Alan Smith, but Wednesday's short trip back down the M1 would have been over well before they finished counting the missed opportunities that would have won them this game.

Leeds were lucky to overcome a defensively-minded Blackburn in midweek but Wednesday, relieved to have a Premiership victory under their belts at last after their worst-ever start to a season, and fresh from putting five goals past Wimbledon and four past Nottingham Forest, demonstrated that attack is the best way of stopping Leeds' gallop. They should have been four goals up by half-time as Wim Jonk and Petter Rudi dominated midfield and starved Leeds' own engine room of Lee Bowyer and Harry Kewell of any meaningful possession.

Andy Booth, regarded in some circles as no more than an honest plodder, unsettled the Leeds defence by popping up all over the pitch, and got his head to almost everything in the air. If he and his striking partner Gilles de Bilde had put a fraction of their chances on target, Wednesday would have pulled off an unlikely win by some distance.

But in the end it was a mistake by their goalkeeper, Pavel Srnicek, which turned the match. Leeds' strikers had been so ineffective that Michael Bridges had been replaced by Darren Huckerby. The substitute had been on the field 10 minutes when he cut in from the right and Srnicek spilled his shot to Smith, who tapped it in after 72 minutes.

Six minutes later, Smith doubled his tally with even less effort, side-footing the ball over the line after Bowyer's shot had come back off the foot of a post. And he passed up the chance of a hat-trick when he squandered another simple chance just before the end.

Wednesday's defeat deepened their plight, but their manager, Danny Wilson, treated it almost like a victory. "We were absolutely magnificent for 90 minutes," he said, "but one mistake cost us the game. This was our best performance of the season, and there was nothing more I could have asked of my players but to keep a clean sheet. We had 14 chances but we couldn't put the ball in the net."

Their two best opportunities came immediately before Leeds went ahead. Jonk split the home side's defence with a pass to Niclas Alexandersson, whose shot came off Nigel Martyn's legs to De Bilde, only for Jonathon Woodgate to scramble the ball away. Martyn then flung himself across his goal to punch away Booth's powerful header.

Leeds, in contrast, hardly put a shot on target before half-time, and although the interval pep talk by their manager, David O'Leary, produced 10 minutes of greater urgency after the break, the young side who unexpectedly head the Premiership seemed to be suffering from altitude sickness as they allowed Wednesday to retrieve the initiative.

O'Leary was certainly under no illusion that his side deserved their record victory. "The wrong team won the match," he said. "Our defending was very poor and our strikers had to save us. For a team at the bottom of the League, Wednesday played tremendously well, but the bottom line in football is that you put the ball in the net, and we took our chances.

"If you are going to win the League you have to be a lucky manager, and I was a lucky manager today."

Leeds now look forward to their Uefa Cup tie against Lokomotiv Moscow at Elland Road on Thursday and a chance to set an outright club record.