Managerial patter cannot disguise pitiful show

Phil Shaw watches a strong defensive unit hold their mundane visitors at bay
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The Independent Online
Goalless, guileless, graceless. This match was to the beautiful game what the Spice Girls are to political theory. So banal that the Leeds fans who baited John Scales beforehand were too non-plussed to boo him at the end.

Scales, whose punishment for preferring Tottenham to Leeds was to have to sit through the contest because of injury, may have considered his decision marginally vindicated by proceedings. Spurs were the better team although their inability to finish off Leeds hardly suggested that the new year will see them among the silverware.

Ruel Fox and David Howells headed against the woodwork either side of half-time, and Fox might well have had a late penalty. Even so, when Gerry Francis began his post-match comments by hailing his side's "excellent performance", one half-expected the Spurs manager to add, like a mischievous five-year-old: "Not!"

Apart from saving a header by Gary Kelly and a shot by Rod Wallace, Ian Walker came under so little threat that Spurs ought to have pushed harder for victory. But with their most inventive player, Teddy Sheringham, marked into mundanity by Lucas Radebe, they possessed insufficient craft to undermine Leeds' defensive resolve. At the back, Sol Campbell was so commanding that Francis may have wondered whether the Scales fee might have been better spent on a creative midfielder.

As for George Graham's team, they have now kept five clean sheets in six matches, prompting the question as to whether they really needed Scales either. In the unlikely event of Leeds maintaining that record when they visit Manchester United and Newcastle over the "holiday" period, Graham would be entitled to believe he has saved pounds 2.6m.

Other areas of the Leeds line-up certainly appear to be in more urgent need of strengthening, notably an alarmingly prosaic midfield. With the exception of Nigel Martyn, whose form merits scrutiny from the England management, few of the players bequeathed by Howard Wilkinson would probably be in Graham's ideal squad. Several, in fact, are unlikely to be in his actual squad come next August.

The Leeds manager reputedly has money to burn but he claims the players he wants are either not available or overpriced. While the present personnel should ensure survival, the credibility gap continues to widen at Elland Road. Having haemorrhaged talent since taking the title in 1992, their embarrassment over Scales highlights a disparity between their self-image as Yorkshire's Manchester United and the perception of them within the game.

Still, as Graham pointed out, Leeds performed poorly yet did not lose. As a concept not dissimilar from the supposed hallmark of champions - winning while not playing well - that seemed to hearten him. Francis, who has also bought Steffen Iversen since the 6-1 aberration at Bolton, is closer to the team he wants. However, it will take considerably more spending to make Spurs anything more than a decent long shot for the FA Cup.

On the subject of cups, the former Leeds legend Norman Hunter was about to fill his with a hot beverage during a half-time break from his duties as a radio summariser when an accidental collision left him with coronation chicken splattered over his trouser leg and the fabled left foot. Some scribes reflected that many a forward had a leg bitten for less. Others were still dissecting the incident, like Alan Hansen or Delia Smith, well into the second half. It was that kind of match.

Leeds United (5-2-1-2): Martyn; Kelly, Radebe, Palmer, Beesley, Halle; Bowyer, Ford (Jackson, 63); Wallace (Kewell, 74); Deane, Rush. Substitutes not used: Wetherall, Harte, Beeney (gk).

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Walker; Carr, Calderwood, Campbell, Wilson; Fox, Nielsen, Howells, Sinton; Iversen, Sheringham. Substitutes not used: Edinburgh, Dozzell, Nethercott, Allen, Baardsen (gk).

Referee: P Durkin (Portland, Dorset). Attendance: 33,783.

Bookings: Leeds: Martyn, Beesley. Tottenham: Sheringham, Nielsen.

Man of the match: Campbell.