Ford starts a Leeds fiesta

Leeds United 3 Ford 27, Sharpe 62, Deane 68 Sunderland 0 Attend ance: 31,667
Click to follow
The Independent Online
This was no Rush job for Leeds. It was never going to be. Banished to unfamiliar territory, wide on the right side of midfield, Ian Rush barely had a chance to train his sights on goal, let lone end a drought that has persisted since he crossed the Pennines. The most recent sighting of his poaching talent remains the already-fading memory of the goal he struck for Liverpool at Maine Road on the final day of last season.

At Elland Road yesterday Rush was virtually a spectator as the rearing ugly head of "relegation" was removed, for the time being at least, from the Leeds lexicon. Mark Ford's 27th-minute header, his first senior goal, scuppered Sunderland's enterprising start. Midway through the second half Lee Sharpe and Brian Deane added their names to the score-sheet, presenting George Graham with the second Premiership win of his new career and Leeds' most emphatic victory for 18 months.

Graham insists he needs six new hands for the rebuilding work ahead of him at Elland Road. He in effect had two yesterday, Deane and Lee Bowyer declared fit to start their first games for the new Leeds regime. Graham watched his reshuffled pack come close to producing the kind of early joker that doomed him to a losing hand on his return to Highbury last week.

Sunderland have neither won nor scored in a Premiership match away from home since August but they ought to have halted that depressing trend yesterday. David Kelly missed a header with the Leeds goal at his mercy after 30 seconds and Kevin Ball failed to bury two clear chances as Michael Bridges, the attacking gem unearthed by Jack Hixon, discoverer of one Alan Shearer, teased the home defence with his assured attacking play.

The tide turned just before the half-hour when the Sunderland defence parted like a red-and-white sea. Rod Wallace crossed from the right and Ford, granted the freedom of the penalty box, stooped to head past Lionel Perez. After the pregnant pause (the birth of his daughter) that obliged him to miss the 3-0 defeat at Arsenal, Wallace would have celebrated his return with a goal of his own had Ball not made a textbook covering tackle 10 minutes into the second half. But Sunderland were left fighting a losing cause when Sharpe swept in Leeds' second after 62 minutes.

Perez, a team-mate of Eric Cantona at Nimes, was beaten again six minutes later. Deane volleyed past Tony Coton's French stand-in to put the game beyond Sunderland's grasp. "We were fortunate to go one up," Graham conceded afterwards, "but a win is a win."

Peter Reid could only lament: "You don't win games in this league unless you score when you're on top." Sunderland have not won a league match at Elland Road for 35 years now. Their quota of success against Leeds away from Roker must have been used up by Bob Stokoe's boys at Wembley in 1973.