Graham back on mean street

Leeds United 0 Tottenham Hotspur 0 Attendance: 33,783
Click to follow
The Independent Online
We can't say we weren't warned. When George Graham took over as Leeds United's manager in September, he threatened that they needed back the old meanness associated with the club. Yesterday at Elland Road the team proved as good as his word, the game as bad as can have been seen in the Premiership this season.

Leeds recorded their fourth clean sheet in succession as Graham's fabled powers of defensive organisation take hold, but further forward they had little flair or invention. Tottenham - just - supplied the more of that and deserved the spoils, twice hitting woodwork and having turned down what appeared valid claims for a penalty. "How we didn't win I don't know," said Gerry Francis, the Spurs manager.

The statistics told of two teams on the up after recent mini-crises but the reality showed both still struggling for form, well drilled to the point of cancelling each other out. Play was often condensed into a crowded midfield as both teams' defences pushed up to provoke cluttered rubbish. Paper blowing across the pitch in the gusting wind was apt comment.

Leeds fielded three centre-backs and two wide as full-backs rather than wing-backs. Neither did it help that Lee Sharpe was missing with a groin strain, his replacement on the left, the Norwegian Gunnar Halle making his debut after his pounds 400,000 signing from Oldham, functional at best. Six minutes from time he sent Ruel Fox sprawling but escaped unpunished. "One of the clearest cut penalties I have ever seen," said Francis. "It looked a good decision to me," replied Graham, with that celebrated wry smile.

Spurs did not risk John Scales, their pounds 2.6m acquisition from Liverpool, due to lack of match fitness after a groin injury rather than anything to do with the reception he might have faced after turning down Leeds last week, Francis said.

They were also without Chris Armstrong up front, but the willing new Norwegian Steffen Iversen ensured it scarcely showed. It was he who conjured the best chance of the first half, heading Teddy Sheringham clear, only for the England striker to overrun the ball and allow Nigel Martyn to clear. The Leeds goalkeeper was upset by Sheringham's challenge and retaliated with a push. Both were booked.

With Alan Nielsen getting forward well in support of the front two, Spurs always looked the more lively and likely. In the first half, the Dane forced Martyn into a good save with a fierce shot and also hooked in a cross which Fox headed against a post.

Leeds raids were sporadic, the zest of the still-absent Tony Yeboah sorely needed. Gary Kelly had a diving header saved by Ian Walker after 25 minutes and just before half-time, Walker again saved from Rodney Wallace - Kelly's mishit shot from the rebound then being fluffed by Ian Rush.

Early in the second half, Wallace drove a cross shot wide but thereafter Spurs were on top. Again the goal frame saved Leeds when David Howells's header from Fox's corner hit the bar, and Spurs also came close when shots by Sheringham, Howells and Nielsen were just wide.

"I'm not kidding myself," said Graham, aware that Leeds progress is painfully tortuous and also conceding that Tottenham were the better side while his own had too many off-form individuals. "It's disappointing to feel disappointed," said Francis, meanwhile. It was that kind of a match.

Comments