Smith's menacing opening

FA Premiership: Leeds' young sniper starts with a double hit to leave Everton gasping
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The Independent Online

That's the trouble with sporting occasions in Leeds these days. They are over when they have hardly begun. Alas for Smith, Everton's manager Walter, it required only half an hour before he received confirmation that this could be yet again a long, tortuous season as he watched his Leeds striker namesake, Alan, bag a brace.

That's the trouble with sporting occasions in Leeds these days. They are over when they have hardly begun. Alas for Smith, Everton's manager Walter, it required only half an hour before he received confirmation that this could be yet again a long, tortuous season as he watched his Leeds striker namesake, Alan, bag a brace.

And unlike West Indies down the road at Headingley, yesterday's victims could not even cast aspersions at an iffy pitch. Elland Road's was in pristine condition, which brought the best out of a Leeds side rejuvenated after their summer break.

Everton rallied gamely in the closing stages, with the introduction from the bench of their two inspirational signings, Paul Gascoigne and Duncan Ferguson, but to no avail. Overall, this was an impressive first-day run-out for David O'Leary's side. Having signed a new six-year contract on Friday, worth a reported £10m, the Irishman can no longer claim that he is "just a young manager learning his trade". Neither are his players the "babies" that he once regarded them. They are now screaming toddlers, all desperate for the ball to parade their talents.

None more so than the belligerent teenager Smith, whose impersonation of a millennium version of Allan "Sniffer" Clarke has been too frequently tarnished by his desire forconfrontation.

After witnessing his protégé score his third goal of the season, all from headers - his first having arrived against 1860 Munich in the first leg of Leeds' Champions League qualifying tie - O'Leary observed: "He admits himself that last season he didn't perform as well as his first. Suddenly everyone was writing him off.

"But I had a good chat with him and told him what I felt. He clearly believed he had a hard-man image and was trying to live up to it. But I told him that I didn't want him going around acting like a thug. I don't want that in my team and now he knows it."

O'Leary added: "I'm trying to mould Alan into a great player. I just want him to have an edge, like Everton's Mark Hughes has had for so much of his career."

Yesterday, the England Under-21 international concentrated on the more cultural aspects of his game and forged a potentially potent partnership with his team's £7m signing, Mark Viduka, and Michael Bridges.

Having finished fifth, fourth and third in successive years, Leeds' performance justified the pre-match belief in Yorkshire that they can go at least one better this season. Much will depend on the distractions of the Champions' League, assuming Leeds have qualified after the second leg of their tie, in Munich on Wednesday.

If there is a worrying aspect for O'Leary it is that his squad start much as they finished last season, beset with numerous injuries and the threat of a court case hanging over three players. He may also be deprived of Viduka and his fellow Australian international Harry Kewell during the Olympics.

Viduka was the spearhead of a three-man attack, and although it was young Smith who took the plaudits with his goals, there was much to admire about the burly Australian, who arrived at Elland Road via Croatia Zagreb and Rangers. Strong in the air, he came close to scoring on two occasions and, both in front of goal and as a creator, his touch belied his physique.

In contrast, on an afternoon for sunglasses, Walter Smith will not have been blinded to the fact that his team suffer from the lack of an executioner in Kevin Campbell's absence, and also a properly resolute rearguard, despite the summer acquisition of Steve Watson and Alessandro Pistone from Newcastle.

"I'm very disappointed that we lost both goals to set-pieces," reflected Smith. "Maybe the players have not had enough time to get used to changes in defence, but it was poor all the same."

Hughes, the greying Wales manager doubling as a still-active striker, might have scored for Everton after just two minutes with a trademark volley, but his effort just cleared the bar. It was, however, a somewhat soporific opening, and Everton were definitely in need of a wake-up call after 17 minutes when, from a short corner, Bridges delivered a cross which the unmarked Smith deflected home with a delicate header.

Everton, who have spent nearly £20m in the summer, have also seen the departure of the midfield trio of Nick Barmby, Don Hutchison and John Collins. It meant that there were five changes from the team that started their final League game last season. In the first half particularly, too many of them looked like they had hardly been introduced.

Almost inevitably, on the half-hour Leeds extendedtheir advantage through a spectacularly-executed goal. Lee Bowyer again deceived Everton by floating a corner outside the area, where Ian Harte met it with a stinging volley. Although Paul Gerrard performed acrobatically even to reach the ball, he could only parry it into the air, where the predatory Smith was on hand to nod home.

At the beginning of the second half, Smith cleared off the line from Francis Jeffers, but the game soon returned to its more familiar pattern, with Leeds dominating exchanges. When Smith appeared to be brought down by David Unsworth, there should have been one of two courses open to the referee Dermot Gallagher: a penalty, or a caution for the striker for play-acting. Rather surprisingly, he allowed play to proceed without taking either option.

Finally, Everton produced the changes that their followers had been calling for, bringing on this week's £3.25m signing, Ferguson, followed by their summer free transfer, Gascoigne.

The lanky Scot proved a handful for Lucas Radebe and Jonathan Woodgate, but could not produce the goal which might have set up an intriguing finish.

Gascoigne, as expected, hustled and bustled, but to no great effect. Everton's recent ambitions have extended no further than in avoiding relegation. On this evidence, that may well again be the extent of their aims.

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