Wilkinson has no case for defence

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The Independent Online
JON CULLEY

Leeds United 0 Middlesbrough 1

Howard Wilkinson knew he would be on trial and came prepared. The case for the defence was well rehearsed, spelt out in the match programme, where seven years of achievements were listed. First and Second Division championships, two seasons in Europe, etc, etc...

Given that Middlesbrough were able to weigh in with more evidence for the prosecution, it was a wise move on the Leeds manager's part. Curiously, however, after the poison aimed at him in the aftermath of the Coca-Cola Cup final, he faced no more than a little disgruntled booing from the Leeds public, who went home quietly. To consider their verdict, one presumed.

Wilkinson tries manfully at most times to put his thoughts into eloquent words, and does pretty well. It is clear where his thoughts have been moving in the last few days.

"It has been a difficult time but I wouldn't change my job for the world," he said. "Sometimes it has its down side. The up sides more than make up for that but I don't think that's the appeal. The appeal is that you are out there on the edge. Sometimes you fall off but at least you've seen over the edge. And I wouldn't swap my position, willingly, even in the worst of times, for that of someone sitting in the stands.

"Even on a day like today, when it is not a nice experience, you feel it is more valuable than not being able to be out there. You experience feelings and thoughts and disappointments and highs; and that's a turn- on. If I said to the players tomorrow that we were going to cancel the last eight games, they'd be disappointed, because that's how they feel too."

It was all good Wilko-speak, the kind of language to win a jury's sympathy. But it does not disguise the common judgment that he has a team that has lost its way, lacking creativity, inspiration, motivation. Wilkinson himself concedes that, irrespective of the cup defeats of the past 10 days, Leeds have not played well since before Christmas.

Middlesbrough had not won a Premiership match since before Christmas but did so comfortably here after a third-minute penalty gave them something to defend. Leeds enjoyed much possession but rarely encroached threateningly into heavily defended opposition territory. Wilkinson had neither Tony Yeboah (injured) nor Tomas Brolin (sick) available but they might not have seen much of the ball in any event.

Gary McAllister's penalty miss at the start of the second half was, therefore, an expensive one. Middlesbrough might have won more handsomely had not Lucas Radebe, who took over in goal after John Lukic sustained concussion, done the job before.

Goal: Kavanagh (pen, 4) 0-1.

Leeds United (5-4-1): Lukic (Blunt, 46); Kelly, Wetherall, Pemberton (Jackson, 80), Radebe, Kewell (Wallace, 80); Gray, Palmer, McAllister, Speed; Deane.

Middlesbrough (5-3-2): Walsh; Cox, Whyte, Pearson, Whelan, Fleming; Pollock, Mustoe, Kavanagh; Hendrie, Barmby. Substitutes not used: Fjortoft, Juninho, Branco.

Referee: D Elleray (Harrow).

Bookings: Leeds: Pemberton; Middlesbrough: Hendrie, Whyte.

Man of the match: Kewell.

Attendance: 31,778.

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