Luton Town 0 Leeds United 0

Luton unlucky to lose perfect record

Nick Callow
Sunday 14 August 2005 00:00
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Leeds beat Luton en route to winning the original First Division title when these sides last met in 1992. While Leeds went on to become challengers for the European Cup, Luton went down and spiralled to the bottom of the Football League. Now they could be passing each other in the opposite direction.

Leeds got used to playing at humble grounds as they successfully avoided a second successive relegation last season and the "You're not famous any more" chant just bores them now, but for a dose of realism they do not come much more tin pot than Luton, home of the Nick Owen Suite. The rickety three-sided ground of last season's League One Champions has floodlights (on from the start on this miserably grey summer's day), which look like they came from an old Subbuteo set with terraces to match. The problem for Leeds and the rest of the Championship is that they have a team that can play a bit.

Having marked their arrival at this level by beating highly fancied Crystal Palace and Southampton, Luton were unfortunate not to extend their 100 per cent start to three games. "The players sitting in the dressing room are disappointed and that shows how far we've come," said Luton manager Mike Newell. "We've surprised a few people already and if we can keep it going we will really shock them. The players have self-belief, a team ethic and are not arrogant individuals."

While Luton live out their dreams on top of the early-season table, Leeds will struggle based on their first three games. Manager Kevin Blackwell does not agree, though: "I think we could have won all three and you haven't seen the best of this side. The League will settle down after nine or 10 games. Anyone who says they will win the title or get promoted at this stage of the season is a fool and I'm not a fool."

Leeds were comprehensively outplayed on the pitch and out-sung off it. Luton's long spells of possession and general higher calibre of player made it look as though they would inevitably score, but Leeds battled hard and rode their luck. The best chances fell to the ever-dangerous and physical striker Steve Howard. He went closest in the 27th minute when the impressive defender Curtis Davies pulled back from the by-line and Howard bundled the ball on to a post.

Leeds were clinging on and only broke the spell in time added on at the end of the first half, when Michael Ricketts ran on to a Robbie Blake flick and tried to pass the ball into the net in the style of Arsenal's Thierry Henry. Unfortunately, for Leeds, he did it in the style of Michael Ricketts and shot wide.

Leeds were better after the break and Eirik Bakke had a decent long-range effort saved by Dean Brill. Luton looked stronger after Blackwell made three substitutions and they hit the woodwork again when Kevin Nicholls curled a 73rd- minute free-kick against the bar. The right-back Kevin Foley also had a shot well saved five minutes from time.

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