VfB Stuttgart. 3
Leeds United. .0
NOT too many British teams have retrieved a three-goal deficit, and Leeds are facing elimination from the European Cup at the first hurdle after disintegrating last night in the second half of a match they had seemed capable of winning.
Having created the better chances in a promising first 45 minutes, they fell apart in the second, when disciplined defence turned to naivety, with the result that they became the latest in Fritz Walter's lengthening list of victims.
The veteran striker they call 'Fritzi' was the leading scorer in the Bundesliga last season, when he contributed 22 goals to Stuttgart's first championship. Leeds knew all about him, of course, yet he was good enough to put two past John Lukic in a five minute purple patch which settled the match, and probably the tie as a whole, midway through the second half.
A third goal from Andreas Buck leaves the Germans with the most comfortable of cushions to bring to the formality of a second leg, in two weeks' time.
Celtic's 2-0 defeat by Cologne the previous night had shown that the traditional British virtues of industry and application alone were not enough to overcome German technique and sophistication. Leeds always knew that they would have to play well, not just run themselves silly, to do better. For a long time, they did.
Jon Newsome, the inexperienced right-back who has had a chasing or two this season, was stood down as part of a shuffle which saw David Rocastle given a belated debut on the right side of midfield. David Batty took over from Newsome on the right flank of the defence, but was no more successful in the role than he had been in the match against Sweden which saw England eliminated from the European Championship.
Batty was never able to cope with the pacy incursions of Ludwig Kogl, Stuttgart's international winger, and the stand-in full- back's insecurity lay behind the tactical switch which saw Steve Hodge replace Rocastle, and Gordon Strachan switch wings, at half- time.
Leeds were required to defend in numbers, but were in anything but passive mood, and might have scored on several occasions in an encouraging first half in which they created the lion's share of the chances. Rocastle shot into the side netting at close range, then Eric Cantona had them oohing and aahing with a lovely chip from the edge of the D which Eike Immel was happy to touch over.
Close became closer when the consequent corner, taken by Strachan, was helped on by Chris Whyte to Cantona, whose downward header was booted off the line by Walter.
Strachan then demanded a flying save from Immel, who got down well to touch a low 25- yarder round his right-hand post, and by half-time Leeds' burgeoning confidence was such that Chris Fairclough was moving up as an auxiliary striker.
Forty-eight minutes had elapsed before Lukic was called upon to make a save of any consequence, and there was no hint of the misfortune to follow when he repelled a raking 25-yard strike from Thomas Strunz.
By that stage, Rocastle had given way to Hodge, and the fresh legs were welcome as Stuttgart changed up a gear, with devastating results. Enterprise first had its reward after 63 minutes, when Cantona surrendered possession to Kogl in a painful moment in which the Frenchman went lame with a pulled muscle. Oo-er Cantona.
Kogl's cross from the left set up Walter, who demonstrated the finishing expertise which has brought him 131 goals in 290 Bundesliga appearances by drawing Lukic before chipping the ball over the advancing goalkeeper from 12 yards.
From bad to worse. Five minutes later it was 2-0 when Lukic was unable to hold Eyjolfur Sverrisson's strong shot from the edge of the penalty area and the predatory Walter was on hand, as is his custom, to dispatch the loose ball.
The third goal, eight minutes from time, left Leeds with what looks like an impossible task in the return. Maurizio Gaudino was the provider with a headed pass which enabled Andreas Buck to run from halfway, past Fairclough and Tony Dorigo, before scoring with an angled shot from 20 yards.
In terms of Elland Road, at least, the interest rate was falling by the minute.
VfB Stuttgart: Immel; U Schneider, Frontzeck, Dubajic, Strunz (Schafer, 89), Buchwald, Buck, Sverrisson, Walter (Knup, 83), Gaudino, Kogl.
Leeds United: Lukic; Rocastle (Hodge, h/t), Dorigo, Batty, Fairclough, Whyte, Cantona (Shutt, 62), Strachan, Chapman, McAllister, Speed.
Referee: B Larsson (Swe).
Stuttgart police reported that 25 Leeds supporters were arrested last night for misbehaviour outside the stadium.
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