Football:Bowyer double bursts bubble

Leeds United 4 Bowyer 8, 61, Molenaar 68, Hasselbaink 79 West Ham United 0 Half-time: 1-0 Attendance:36,320
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The Independent Online
PERHAPS THEY were suffering from altitude sickness, having climbed to the unfamiliar heights of second in the Premiership last weekend, but West Ham had their bubble burst in spectacular fashion by a razor-sharp Leeds attack.

Harry Redknapp's high-fliers were lucky to travel back from Yorkshire with only four goals weighing down their spirits, and their chances of bouncing back were made no better by the dismissal of Neil Ruddock 20 minutes from the end.

Not that this was a case of 10 men buckling under the weight of numbers: Leeds were already three goals to the good when Ruddock attempted to chop Harry Kewell off at the knees and, but for a string of fine saves from Shaka Hislop and a couple of goal-line clearances by Stan Lazaridis, Leeds would have doubled their tally.

The tight ship George Graham ran at Elland Road might have begun to spring the odd defensive leak, but with David O'Leary at the helm it is now going full-steam ahead.

With their captain, Lucas Radebe, back at the heart of their defence after a six-week injury, and David Batty surely due back in town sometime soon to add ball-winning steel to their midfield, Leeds are starting to look like Championship contenders again.

They went ahead after only eight minutes when West Ham's Javier Margas, drafted into the side for the injured Rio Ferdinand, brought the gift- giving season forward a couple of weeks when he presented the ball to Lee Bowyer, who hammered it straight back into the bottom right-hand corner of Hislop's goal.

It was the first of four gilt-edged strikes from a free-flowing Leeds attack, and the only surprise was that the others were so long in arriving. Bowyer could have had a hat-trick by half-time but the two-man move that brought his second on the hour was worth the wait.

He found Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink on the left and the striker ran 30 yards before rolling the ball back into Bowyer's path for him to sweep it home from the edge of the area. With that, West Ham's defence, which had been showing exceptional bravery under fire, finally surrendered. They failed to clear an Ian Harte cross and Robert Molenaar drove in the third before Ruddock's dismissal. Hasselbaink dispossessed substitute John Moncur and spun on his heel to complete Redknapp's miserable afternoon with a 25-yard strike.

West Ham rarely looked like turning the tide. A Lazaridis free-kick, an Ian Wright breakaway that ended with a shot scuffed across the face of goal and a rising Frank Lampard drive that was punched away by Leeds' teenage goalkeeper, Paul Robinson, were all they had to show for their journey north.

O'Leary refused to be carried away by his side's impressive performance which lifted Leeds to third. "If the season ended today I'd settle for third and a place in Europe. We are still a young team," he said.

Redknapp added his approval for an improving Leeds side. "They were excellent," he said. "That was the best anyone has played against us all season."