Smooth Leeds speed to the top

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The Independent Online
Leeds United 2

Speed 3, White 88

Aston Villa 0

Attendance: 35,086

IN THE mini-championship that is the opening week of the season, it was Leeds United who came out on top yesterday when they dismissed the rival claims of Aston Villa with a performance as solid as it was symmetrical.

A goal two minutes from the start and another two minutes from the end ensured that Leeds maintained their 100 per cent record in the face of what they might have expected to be a stiffer challenge. But having beaten Manchester United and Tottenham in their opening two games, Villa were at best worthy, with the result that a match which had promised so much yielded little that will stay in the memory.

That might have been different if Tony Yeboah had managed a goal - not that anyone could reasonably have expected a repeat of his extraordinary effort against Liverpool. But while he gave another superb all-round demonstration of deft lay-offs and clever running, he only had one good chance - a header late on which, if he had not been quite so intent on placement, might not have given Mark Bosnich time to get across to push the ball away.

A five-man midfield meant Villa had plenty of the ball and Mark Draper played with a swagger that, initially at any rate, suggested he might take over the show. But nothing quite came off for him, and the fleeting openings created for Savo Milosevic were snapped shut before the big Serb had quite adjusted to the speed required in the English game.

The Villa manager, Brian Little, had gone into the match saying it was a chance to "find out a little more about ourselves", but the journey of self-discovery had hardly started when Leeds were ahead. Gary McAllister played a corner back to Gary Kelly and, as the Villa defence moved out, the angle for his cross suddenly became much more effective. Kelly whipped the ball in and David Wetherall made a splendid sight as he towered above everyone else at the far post to head towards the opposite corner, where Gary Speed helped the ball in.

The obligation to attack was now all with Villa, but Leeds made sure they restricted almost all their attempts on goal to shots from a distance. Of these, the one that caused most alarm for the home side came after 19 minutes when, with Milosevic and Dwight Yorke pulling their markers wide, Draper ran through the gap and hit a shot which John Lukic in the Leeds goal was extremely lucky to see bounce safely over the bar via his left forearm.

Moves from both sides were tending to break down early until, in the 88th minute, Leeds crafted another excellent headed goal, this time from the left. Brian Deane provided the cross and David White, on as a substitute, rose unchallenged to complete proceedings.

"It wasn't our silkiest performance," Howard Wilkinson, the Leeds manager, acknowledged. But for a day at the office like this a mixture of nylon and cotton is perfectly adequate.

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