Leeds rely on Brolin's class

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Tomas Brolin's sparkling skills helped drag Leeds back from the brink of FA Cup defeat at Port Vale on Tuesday night but it is clear he still has to convince the Leeds manager, Howard Wilkinson, that he has a full- time part to play at Elland Road.

The 26-year-old Swede has cut an isolated figure in recent weeks, omitted and given trolley-pushing duties at Aston Villa, "injured" and then not selected for the next three games, and then given six fleeting minutes against Birmingham as Leeds clinched a Coca-Cola Cup final place last Sunday.

But at Vale Park , it was the pounds 4.5m buy from Parma that Wilkinson turned to in an attempt to rescue a cause that seemed beyond them after they had been totally outplayed by John Rudge's men.

Brolin, still the darling of the Leeds fans despite his limited appearances, responded in the grand manner, his presence helping the inspirational Gary McAllister turn the game around.

It was from Brolin's pin-point left-wing cross that McAllister headed the Premiership side on terms, and the Swede might then have grabbed his fifth goal in England - he was denied by a fine Paul Musselwhite save after linking with Tony Yeboah - before McAllister's late match-winner.

McAllister had no doubts that Brolin's presence had made a vital difference as Leeds recovered from an "inept" first-half display.

"Tomas makes people pass the ball to him," McAllister said. "That was what we needed and he did really well for the first goal as well."

Wilkinson, though "more than happy" with aspects of Brolin's performance, indicated his doubts over the Swede were still not fully resolved. "I sent him on because I thought he would give us something in terms of dropping off their back four, getting hold of the ball and bringing other people into the game," Wilkinson said.

"That started to happen but it didn't happen as much as I would have liked throughout that 45 minutes because he drifted out of it and tired."

It is clear that Wilkinson feels Brolin, perhaps still suffering from the consequences of the ankle injury which kept him out for six months last term, is still well short of the required fitness levels.

"I was pleased with his contribution against Vale but he's got to do that more often," declared Wilkinson. "He's got to get into the game more and he knows that. He had a very good 20 minutes, but I want to see him do that for 90 minutes in a game of the pace you get in a Premiership match.

"I don't think he's as ready for 90 minutes as he should be and he's got to be prepared for 90 minutes of that. We all know what we would like a game to be, but sometimes it's not like that, sometimes it's like it was on Tuesday. The pace of the game is frightening at times and if you can't keep up with that you'll lose."

Last night it was Rudge's brave battlers who eventually could not keep it up, McAllister freeing himself of Andy Porter's shackles to prove the difference between the teams.

While the Burslem outfit could still claim a Wembley date after their goalless draw at West Bromwich in the first leg of English final of the Anglo-Italian Cup, their main goal now has to be ensuring First Division survival.

The Leeds game represented only their third defeat in 20 matches, but nine of those games have been cup matches and they are just one place off the bottom of the table.