Leeds succumb to fear factor

Phil Shaw
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The Independent Online
Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Leeds and Liverpool fought out an attritional stalemate at Elland Road yesterday, depressingly out of keeping with the mood of the weekend's other ties, and must reconvene at Anfield a week on Wednesday to decide who goes through to the FA Cup semi-finals.

Liverpool, having overwhelmed Leeds 5-0 there seven weeks ago, will start strong favourites. They enjoyed the same status going into this match, a fact that merely heightened Leeds' determination not to lose rather than stimulated their desire to win. With Liverpool only marginally more prepared to take risks, the result was a dour spectacle.

Generous judges talked of the sides' mutual respect, as if they had seen Don Revie and Billy Bremner pit their wits against Bill Shankly and Ian St John. In truth, while there were some admirable displays by defenders, the fear of losing - of taking even the slightest chance that might result in defeat - was all pervasive.

For that, much of the responsibility has to be taken by Howard Wilkinson. The Leeds' manager's team selection, unusually featuring a third central defender, seemed to have been made solely with the intention of negating the 43-goal partnership of Stan Collymore and Robbie Fowler. One of his midfielders, Mark Ford, slavishly followed Steve McManaman with only limited success.

Having prevented Liverpool from finding their usual rhythm, however, Leeds had few ideas as to how to break the impasse themselves. They tried, with scant success, to exploit a height advantage at set-pieces, and waited in vain for Tony Yeboah to unleash a thunderbolt like the one which beat Liverpool last August.

A more prosaic performer, Nigel Worthington, had Leeds' best chance in the 21st minute. From Yeboah's attempted scissors kick, the ball bounced awkwardly away from the left-back, although Phil Babb still had to clear his shot by the base of the post.

Leeds seldom threatened again until 12 minutes from time, when Gary McAllister, less influential than Wilkinson might have liked, fired over after Brian Deane's flick-on had created an opening. In the meantime, Liverpool, despite being unable to penetrate along the flanks in their customary manner, enjoyed the greater share of possession.

Their clearest opportunities came either side of McAllister's miss. A raking Fowler drive all but brushed the left upright, while Jason McAteer shot wide with red shirts queuing up for a cross.

For all the assurance of John Lukic and his oft-maligned protectors, one was left with the feeling that Liverpool's pace along the ground will be too much for Leeds in the replay. Coming four days before the Coca- Cola Cup final against Aston Villa, it is a fixture Leeds could have done without. Perhaps Wilkinson will adopt a more positive approach at Wembley, but no one should hold their breath.

"At half-time I said: 'Let's make this game entertaining, let's lie down and let Liverpool score three'," he said, piling on the sarcasm. The stayaway thousands, who balked at increased seat prices, were good judges. The TV millions must have been glad it was not pay-to-view.

Leeds United: (5-3-2): Lukic; Kelly, Radebe, Wetherall, Beesley, Worthington; Palmer, McAllister, Ford (Pemberton, 70); Yeboah, Brolin (Deane, 77). Substitute not used: Gray.

Liverpool (3-4-1-2): James; Wright, Scales, Babb; McAteer, Thomas, Barnes (Redknapp, 85), Jones; McManaman; Collymore, Fowler. Substitutes not used: Rush, Warner (gk).

Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury, Oxon).

Bookings: Leeds: Palmer.

Man of the match: McManaman. Attendance: 24,632.

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