Hoddle on the road to nowhere

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The Independent Online

Leeds United 1 Chelsea 0

Given that he is a man for whom important doors open, you would be surprised if David Mellor, MP, radio presenter and Chelsea fan, were not privy to some of Stamford Bridge's deeper secrets. Of course he is. "Just wait until you see who's going to be the next manager," he chirped to one of his Six-O-Six callers two summers ago, gleefully keeping the secret. A couple of days later: enter Glenn Hoddle.

So what does he know now that he isn't telling? "You have to say that on certain aspects of Glenn's record, the jury is out," Mellor said on Saturday night's show, more than once. This jury... is it, by any chance, known also as the Chelsea board?

To be fair to Hoddle, fortune was against him at Leeds. His well-organised defensive formation, in which the Romanian, Dan Petrescu, made his debut as a wing-back, frustrated the home side until 10 minutes from the end, only to lose to a goal some referees might have disallowed.

Hoddle was unusually angry, insisting that, immediately before Tony Yeboah knocked in his 12th goal of the season, Brian Deane had fouled his goalkeeper Dmitri Kharin. "It was, we felt, a wrong decision and it has cost us dearly," he said.

"I'm sure the referee gave it from an honest opinion," he added. "But managers and players sometimes have to come in after the game and justify their performances. Perhaps it is time to get referees in here as well, to justify their decisions.''

Given that he also had nine senior players unavailable through injury - Ruud Gullit, regrettably, among them - it was easy to sympathise with Hoddle. Moreover, as he said, there was merit in Chelsea's performance. Michael Duberry, recalled in extremis from his loan spell at Bournemouth, defended with an authority not seen in many 20-year-olds. At the other end, Gary Speed pulled off an extraordinary clearance under the crossbar to deny Mark Hughes.

But after three seasons scratching around near the bottom, there is an inescapable feeling that, whatever Hoddle is doing, it is leading nowhere in particular. There is a suspicion, too, that he is tending to delude himself. "I didn't feel they caused us that many problems," he said of Leeds. Where was he looking when Yeboah had the ball?

The Ghanaian, without a goal previously since 30 September, missed two chances in the first half, had one saved and saw another hit the woodwork in the second. They might have added up, on another day, to a much more emphatic Leeds win. Tomas Brolin, watching from the stands after a delay in the paperwork relating to his pounds 4.5m transfer from Parma, must have been impressed.

Goal: Yeboah (80) 1-0.

Leeds United (4-4-2): Lukic; Kelly, Wetherall, Jobson, Dorigo; Couzens (Wallace, 72), Palmer, McAllister, Speed; Deane, Yeboah. Substitutes not used: Worthington, Beeney (gk).

Chelsea (3-5-2): Kharin; Duberry, Lee, Johnsen (Furlong, 88); Petrescu, Burley, Newton, Hall, Wise; Stein, Hughes. Substitutes not used: Spackman, Hitchcock (gk).

Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).