Level of entertainment in Wilkinson's hands

COCA-COLA CUP FINAL
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The Independent Online
GLENN MOORE

Football Correspondent

The destiny of tomorrow's Coca-Cola Cup final, and whether it will be worth watching, could well be decided by the approach of one man.

If Howard Wilkinson, the Leeds manager, comes to Wembley prepared to let his team play, they could win their first domestic cup final in 23 years. If he comes seeking to stifle the opposition and filch a result, it could be the worst spectacle since... well, since Leeds played Liverpool at home in the FA Cup quarter-final a fortnight ago.

After that goalless bore, Wilkinson sarcastically suggested his team should have "entertained, and lost by three goals". Which is precisely what happened when they went to Anfield for the replay, not that Leeds were any more positive than at Elland Road.

Hopefully that brace of matches will have convinced Wilkinson that his team are better served by having the shackles taken off. They are capable of beating anyone on their day, but those days are increasingly rare and tend to happen when Manchester United are visiting Elland Road.

Wilkinson has enough incentive: this is his first Wembley final in 34 years in the game. "It means an awful lot, one hell of a lot. It's a match I want to win."

In Gary McAllister, Leeds have one of the finest midfielders in the country; in Tony Yeboah, they have one of the most explosive forwards. Gary Kelly is a pacy full-back and John Lukic is an experienced, in-form goalkeeper.

Nigel Worthington is expected to play tomorrow in place of the injured Tony Dorigo, while Paul Beesley looks like making way for Lucas Radebe, who has been lifted by South Africa's African Nations success. The key decision is whether to play four of five at the back. If Wilkinson opts for five Leeds have come to stifle, especially if Mark Ford is also included as a marker.

Apart from a recent dip in form, largely provoked by a series of injuries, Villa have been consistent - consistently good. Unlike Leeds they concentrate on themselves, not the opposition.

"Only once this season have I picked a team with the opposition in mind. That was against Arsenal, in the League at Highbury, and we lost," Brian Little, the manager, said. "I won't do that again. We make people aware of the opposition, at set-pieces and suchlike, but we go out thinking of the way we play. I have confidence in the players. They know if they play well they can win.

"Howard thinks very deeply about the opposition and tends to change things - in one game against us big Brian Deane marked Alan Wright. He will be looking at us and thinking: 'I will have to do that'. I could not single out anyone in our team and say: 'It depends what he does on the day'. Leeds are slightly different. I think McAllister does make them tick. They have other strengths which might give us problems, like the set-pieces, but McAllister and Yeboah are the dangers in open play."

Villa do have important players: Mark Bosnich, Gareth Southgate, Mark Draper and Dwight Yorke form a mobile and intelligent spine. Gary Charles and Alan Wright give them width. Their shape (three centre-backs, wing- backs) is designed to be solid rather than attractive but the personnel, especially Yorke, lend it flair.

The player who gives them that individual spark looks, however, like missing out. Tommy Johnson's thigh injury is likely to rob Villa of their most inventive attacker; with Julian Joachim cup-tied, there is no natural replacement.

They will have the great unpredictable on their side, Savo Milosevic, who shoots when he should pass, passes when he should shoot but, in various ways, justifies his place as the first Serb to play in a Wembley final (Yeboah is the first Ghanaian).

It is a hard one to call. Villa are favourites, but so were Manchester United when Villa won two years ago. If Leeds come out to play, it could be their day, and good luck to them. If they come to spoil, all power to the Villa.

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