Leeds need surgery

Phil Shaw sees Howard Wilkinson's new-look team fall apart in defence
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The Independent Online
The fate of Brian Deane, carried off after being felled by a set of stray Derby studs, served as an apt metaphor for the way Howard Wilkinson was feeling after his side snatched a 3-3 draw from the jaws of victory. The stricken striker had, the Leeds manager explained like some medic manque, suffered a nasty kick in "the nether regions".

The blow of conceding three goals in the final 12 minutes, largely self- inflicted, means that Wilkinson faces an immediate test of his credibility with the Elland Road crowd. A win at the Baseball Ground would have bought him breathing space after a calamitous end to last season. Instead, Leeds may need six points from the visits of Sheffield Wednesday and Wimbledon if rumblings against him are not to resurface.

While Wilkinson could hardly be expected to agree, Leeds' failure to seal their first win since 3 April (and only their fourth in the Premiership of 1996) may prove a blessing in disguise. Three points can mask a multitude of shortcomings; at least now no one can be under any illusions as to the major surgery still required.

The priority must be a creative midfielder. For six years everything went through Gary McAllister, but with the playmaker gone the onus fell on Lee Bowyer. Precocious talent that he is, the pounds 3m teenager from Charlton is not ready, mentally or physically, to run a game.

Alongside him were Mark Ford and Andy Couzens, noted for incendiary energy rather than distributive skill. As a result the wing-backs in a new, Liverpool- style formation received an inadequate supply of the ball. Ian Rush, in turn, did not enjoy the service on which he thrives.

Rush must have watched enviously as Croatia's Aljosa Asanovic, already a cult figure at Derby, speared a succession of fine passes to Dean Sturridge. They were the kind one assumes he expected McAllister to feed him, though it seemed an issue for the back burner when Ian Harte's thumping drive doubled the advantage secured by Jacob Laursen's debut own goal.

Jim Smith, the Derby manager, promptly sent on three substitutes. The impetus they provided at last helped the First Division runners-up to translate territorial superiority into goals, although the first, a left- footed volley by Sturridge, owed more to individual brilliance. It was then that Richard Jobson and Lucas Radebe, pillars of responsibility alongside Carlton Palmer, suddenly turned into faulty towers.

From the kick-off an under-hit back-pass by Jobson, a childhood Derby fan, gifted Paul Simpson an equaliser. Even after Bowyer had restored Leeds' lead, Radebe could have cleared halfway to Nottingham, only to end up, as Wilkinson's anatomy class had it, "on his arse". This time the retribution came from Sturridge's right foot.

Derby made a habit of comebacks last season, but Smith acknowledged the chasm in class they must now bridge, saying: "I don't think we'll do that too many times in this league." Nevertheless, the pace and finishing of Sturridge will trouble the best defences, and an outlay of pounds 1.5m for Asanovic and Christian Dailly looks like inspired business.

As for Smith's fellow former Boston United supremo, whose nine-point haul from the opening week last year ended up saving Leeds from banishment to the nether regions, he believed the first game was always going to be problematic. "We've got a new team," Wilkinson said, in what sounded like a plea for patience, "and new teams don't happen overnight.''

Goals: Laursen og (19) 0-1; Harte (72) 0-2; Sturridge (78) 1-2; Simpson (79) 2-2; Bowyer (85) 2-3; Sturridge (88) 3-3.

Derby County (3-5-2): Hoult; Yates, Laursen (Simpson, 75), Rowett; Parker, Asanovic, Dailly, D Powell (Flynn, 75), C Powell; Sturridge, Gabbiadini (Willems, 75). Substitutes not used: Van der Laan, Taylor (gk).

Leeds United (3-5-2): Martyn; Jobson, Palmer, Radebe (Wetherall, 89); Kelly, Couzens (Tinkler, 86), Ford, Bowyer, Sharpe; Rush, Deane (Harte, 57). Substitutes not used: Wallace, Beeney (gk).

Referee: P Danson (Leicester).

Bookings: Leeds: Ford, Radebe, Rush.

Man of the match: Asanovic.

Attendance: 17,927.