The home and away winner

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Leeds United 3 Sunderland 0

You could sense the tension. The right result was vital and the Leeds supporters were bonded together in a common cause, gripped by a proper priority. At the final whistle there was a huge roar. Yes, Manchester United had lost again.

You realised what was important at Elland Road two thirds into a match that had implications concerning relegation. En route to their second league win since 4 September, the crowd rose to forget that minor matter and sang what was really on their minds: "Stand up if you hate Man U."

It wasn't difficult to realise why. Watching a team whose standards have declined so much that teachers at The Ridings would be shocked holds little attraction. The satisfaction of three laboured points was muted compared to the scoreline at Old Trafford.

Still, it gave the Leeds manager, George Graham, the chance to do something he has not been able to do since he joined Leeds: dampen optimism. "There's still a lot of work to do," he said repeatedly, smiles of relief breaking through.

Those, you suspect, were severely strained for spells during the afternoon. One suggestion from Germany of dividing a match into three saw Leeds going overboard to enlist for the experiment. For a third of this match they were dreadful, for the next 30 minutes adequate and the last rather good.

A look at the home line-up, with one of Britain's great strikers, Ian Rush, stuck out on the right wing, was enough to spread alarm and that concern was warranted. The Leeds back four may know each other very well, but there was little evidence of it and, if Sunderland had had cool heads in front of goal, they could have been three up.

Nigel Martyn made two outstanding saves from Kevin Ball and David Kelly while Ball, inexplicably, chose to shoot from 20 yards when his dispossessing of David Wetherall gave him the freedom of the area.

Only a shock, you felt, would shake Leeds from this stupor and it arrived from a wholly unexpected source. No, not a goal from Rush, who waits to break his duck since his move from Liverpool, but from Mark Ford whose header from Rodney Wallace's was his first goal in 34 games.

With that, the defenders stepped up five yards to make contact with midfield and things got steadily better so that Lee Sharpe's precise shot and Brian Deane's acrobatic flick in the 62nd and 69th minutes were goals that were deserved even if the scoreline was flattering.

For Peter Reid, the Sunderland manager, the script had a familiar feel. "If you don't score when you are top," he said, "you'll get punished in the Premiership. I don't think we deserved to lose 3-0 but I keep saying that."

Which is not what you could say about what was preoccupying the crowd as they left. "That xxxx Cantona will be crying tonight," one man said. It had been a smashing day in Leeds.

Goals: Ford (26) 1-0; Sharpe (61) 2-0; Deane (68) 3-0.

Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn; Kelly, Wetherall, Beesley, Radebe; Rush, Bowyer (Couzens, 78), Ford, Sharpe; Wallace, Deane. Substitutes not used: Kewell, Harte, Jackson, Beeney (gk).

Sunderland (4-4-2): Perez; Hall, Howey (Rae, 52), Melville, Scott; Kelly, Ball, Bracewell, Gray; Bridges (Russell, 59), Stewart (Mullin, 78). Substitutes not used: Smith, Preece (gk).

Referee: S Dunn (Bristol).

Bookings: Leeds: Bowyer. Sunderland: Rae.

Man of the match: Wallace.

Attendance: 31,167.

Comments