Leeds (0) 0 Fulham (0) 1
Fulham winning at Elland Road ended with the fans’ boos filling the air and
Leeds United’s players walking off the field as following a hearse. In a
sense, they were because the dream of next season’s Champions League formally
died yesterday. Fulham, on the other hand, guaranteed their Premiership status
||Fulham goal scorer
What would the coroner’s report say about the Leeds team: passed away peacefully
after a short illness? That would be kind because Leeds were hardly a team yesterday.
Where was the joy, the effervescence that once made them sparkle? Gone. The question
now is who will be around when the team starts again?
Fulham deserved to win, their first away victory in the Premiership since the
turn of the year. They worked hard for what they got and when Steed Malbranque
got his chance, he took it well. But do not forget why Fulham had fallen into
such a perilous position: they are a nice football team in the same way that the
poodle is a nice dog.
Malbranque deserves credit and it was no accident that his strike won the match.
Seven minutes of the second half had passed when an Alain Goma shot was blocked
and fell to him. Quick as lightning, he struck with his right foot and the speed
of the shot beat Nigel Martyn. It wasn’t that Leeds didn’t search
for an equaliser but rather that they didn’t know where to look.
Afterwards David O’Leary acknowledged that his team lost a little heart
after Malbranque’s goal and lamented the absence of the injured Mark Viduka.
“He made a silly challenge in a five-a-side on Friday but that sums up
our season,” said O’Leary. Sadly, it does not. Leeds’ problems
run much deeper than unfortunate injuries.
The team have lost their way. From the performances, you now get a sense of
internal disenchantment and diminished self-esteem. Some of the players have
not progressed and others have gone backwards. Without wingers, yesterday’s
side was tactically incoherent.
The spirit that once made the team formidable has been eroded and again yesterday
too much desire was spent in unhelpful aggression. Lee Bowyer was a particular
culprit but there were times, too, when David Batty and Danny Mills were not
much better. Nothing demonstrates disharmony as much as indiscipline.
Even Rio Ferdinard, who you expect to soothe and encourage, snarled at Mills
after the full-back allowed Luis Boa Morte to slip inside him. It was a bad
mistake but Ferdinand’s rebuke didn’t do much for Mills’ spirits.
Another tell-tale sign was Robbie Fowler’s listlessness. His game depends
on sharpness but yesterday he played as if just awoken from a deep sleep. The
darting runs that so trouble defenders were absent. Robbie Keane played well,
but too often he had to run for two men.
What will gall Leeds fans is that so much more could have been achieved this
season. Even yesterday, Leeds still had plenty of chances to beat Fulham. Fowler
scrambled the ball across the line in the first half but the goal was disallowed
because of Bowyer’s foul on Edwin Van der Sar. Then Keane was unlucky when
running skilfully through the defence before pulling his shot wide.
Right on half-time Fowler stooped to head at the far post but couldn’t get
enough power and Van der Sar saved. There were other chances, most notably when
Mills crossed for Keane, who evaded Steve Finnan’s tackle and laid the ball
back for Fowler. He blazed high and over. Fulham were content to funnel back and
play Leeds on the break. They did so effectively and Van der Sar didn’t have
much more to do. Andy Melville and Goma were well protected by Sylvain Legwinski,
who did much to stifle Leeds.
Rufus Brevett also did much to annoy them. In the left-back’s various
skirmishes with Bowyer, Batty and Alan Smith, he was as much sinned against
as sinning. From Leeds’ point of view, the absurdity is that the usual
suspects continue to involve themselves in the usual nonsense.
For the summer, O’Leary could do worse than give his warriors video tapes
of Don Revie’s team at its best. The old team could and often did physically
dominate their rivals. They could, occasionally, be dirty but they were rarely
undisciplined. Revie, you see, brought together a fine group of players and
moulded them into a great team. So far, O’Leary has only a fine group of
Martyn, Mills, Ferdinand, Matteo, Harte, Smith, Bakke, Batty, Bowyer,
Subs Not Used: Robinson, Kelly, Wilcox, Johnson, Richardson.
Booked: Bowyer, Matteo.
Van der Sar, Finnan, Melville, Goma, Brevett, Davis (Ouaddou
87), Malbranque, Boa Morte (Goldbaek 9), Legwinski, Saha (Hayles 77), Marlet.
Subs Not Used: Taylor, Knight.
Booked: Goma(F,3), Van der Sar(D, 45), Legwinski(F, 83).
Goals: Malbranque 52.
Att: 39,111 Ref: R Styles (Waterlooville).