Smith's fifth gives Leeds a head of steam

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The Independent Online

Even with whistleblowing spy David Shayler watching, it looked as if it were an official secret to Middlesbrough how they could defeat Leeds. It surely didn't need MI6 to tell them that it is not advisable to give Lee Bowyer the run of the midfield, as they did in the first half, and that it is wise to watch Alan Smith, the country's hottest striker of the moment, at all times.

Even with whistleblowing spy David Shayler watching, it looked as if it were an official secret to Middlesbrough how they could defeat Leeds. It surely didn't need MI6 to tell them that it is not advisable to give Lee Bowyer the run of the midfield, as they did in the first half, and that it is wise to watch Alan Smith, the country's hottest striker of the moment, at all times.

Yet Bowyer scored the first, unchallenged by Middlesbrough's sentries and Smith sneaked unprotected beneath their radar to deflect his fifth of the season and take the game beyond the home side's second-half revival."

"I was really disappointed with the way our midfielders started off," said the Middlesbrough manager Bryan Robson. "But in the first minute Paul Okon broke his foot and didn't realise. He kept trying to play and it's now a nasty fracture and that's one of the reasons that Bowyer kept running off us early on. But once I sorted it out and got Bowyer tied down, I thought we came right back into the game."

That revival was down to the arrival of Joseph-Désiré Job. Rested after two games which had taken Middlesbrough to the top of the table as Robson reverted to his forceful but fancy-free strike force of Brian Deane and Hamilton Ricard, the Cameroonian came on in the 38th minute with the key. He changed Boro's formation and nearly their fortunes as well.

"But only a Martian would say we didn't deserve to win," said the Leeds manager David O'Learly, who was left counting even more injuries on the bus home as both Jonathan Woodgate and Eirik Bakke hobbled off before the game was 25 minutes old. "We should have had it wrapped up in the first half and even though we didn't play well in the second we still had good chances."

The last four games between the sides had failed to produce a goal but Leeds had two within the first 12 minutes. A sixth-minute lightning quick deep free kick was rapidly moved on by Michael Bridges to Bowyer who, from 18 yards, fired low and hard into the right-hand corner.

Bowyer's finish was clinical, although Middlesbrough gave him plenty of time to wash down, scrub up and don his surgeon's gown before slicing it home. Similarly, six minutes later when Olivier Dacourt advanced Middlesbrough's defence stood back so far that when he shot, Smith was closest to him. The ball deflected off Smith, wrong-footing goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer and the young striker was quick to claim his fifth goal in four games.

Despite the two early enforced changes, Leeds pressed on with Bridges twinkle-toed and dangerous around the box. In the 29th minute, he exchanged a stunning pass with Bowyer but the midfielder drifted the ball high and wide.

It was Job's running between the less mobile Deane and Ricard that nearly turned the second half. He stretched Lucas Radebe to the full and provided a useful target for Christian Karembeu. Suddenly Leeds' nerve-ends were jangling.

In the 67th minute, Job drew a flying save from Nigel Martyn - the goalkeeper's first heartbeat-raising action.

With 10 minutes remaining, Steve Vickers knocked down, Gary Pallister laid off and Phil Stamp swept home to give Middlesbrough hope, especially when in the 86th minute Martyn spilled Job's courageous shot. However, Michael Duberry cleared up before Deane could turn and anyhow Mark Viduka should have made all arguments academic in the 84th minute when he missed an open goal from Bowyer's corner.

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