'Smith's harsh words lifted us,' admits Matteo

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The Independent Online

Dominic Matteo, the Leeds United captain, believes his striker Alan Smith was right to criticise team-mates as the Elland Road side finally proved they have the stomach for a relegation fight.

Dominic Matteo, the Leeds United captain, believes his striker Alan Smith was right to criticise team-mates as the Elland Road side finally proved they have the stomach for a relegation fight.

Smith last week stoked the fires within the camp by claiming the players had lacked fight this season, while he also insisted he would leave in the summer if the club are relegated. After his man-of-the-match performance in Monday night's crucial 3-2 home victory over their relegation rivals Leicester City, Smith - who scored the 86th-minute winner - felt his words of condemnation "needed to be said" and had produced the desired effect.

The 23-year-old, though, still had to have the final word on the pitch as Leeds were on course to snatch a damaging draw from the jaws of victory until his late intervention.

Leeds looked far from a doomed side as Michael Duberry and Mark Viduka had put Leeds 2-0 up inside 13 minutes. That was until the 78th minute when first Paul Dickov and then Muzzy Izzet scored in the space of 90 seconds to haul Leicester level.

Matteo, who has no complaints with Smith, said: "Sometimes something needs to be said. Alan thought he needed to say it, and fair play to him. Alan wants this club to stay in the Premiership with all his heart and if he gets a reaction from the boys then it's a good thing. Maybe he said it for that reason. We had a laugh and a joke, a bit of banter, and if it stirred the dressing room up then good. But no-one had any grievance with him.

"It's part of his passion because he loves the club, he wants to do well and stay up, just like we all do. So it was a case of 'right, let's get on with it' and it has had a positive outcome. I've no complaints with Alan because he has been absolutely fantastic for us. He deserved his goal and his man-of-the-match award. Both Alan and Mark are a real handful. It was a good team performance, but you need big players in these games. It's fantastic for us that we've such big players in our team."

Viduka, though, is suspended for another vital relegation clash against Portsmouth on 25 April after being sent off against Leicester for two bookable offences, picking up his second caution for foolishly kicking the ball away in the 90th minute.

"What I did at the end was a silly thing - stupid," Viduka said. "I didn't think I was going to get sent off though. To be honest I was trying to kick the ball back to the keeper. Now I'll miss the Portsmouth game, which is vital, and I'll just be wishing the lads all the best. Hopefully they can do the business."

There is the dangerous prospect for Leeds that Smith could join Viduka on the sidelines for that game if he is booked for the 10th time this season on Saturday at Blackburn. If Smith can avoid a yellow card at Ewood Park he will also avoid an automatic two-game ban as the Football Association's amnesty on cautions begins on Monday.

Matteo knows Leeds can ill afford to be without both of their inspirational strikers for the match against Pompey. "Obviously we're gutted to lose Mark for that game," Matteo said. "It's disappointing, but in games like last night when you get caught up in things it is easy to do something like he did.

"I don't want to think about Alan being out as well. He is a wholehearted player, but if he gets through the Blackburn game he will be all right - so touch wood."

Matteo, meanwhile, has pledged his future to Leeds, even if they are relegated, although he, like Smith, appreciates his future may be out of his hands. "As far as I'm concerned I want to stay whether we stay up or go down," Matteo said.

Leeds have also confirmed that they have terminated Lamine Sakho's contract and done a deal with the French club Olympique de Marseille to take him back. The Cameroon international picked up an injury in a reserve match and is struggling to be fit for the rest of the season. Rather than having to pay his wages, Leeds have come to an agreement for Sakho to go back to Marseille to receive treatment with the French club paying his medical expenses.