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Fulham flatten Leeds - S.Times

last updated Sunday 08th December 2002, 3:21 PM
Fulham 1 Leeds 0

“TERRY, Terry . . . time to go!” rang the chorus of disaffected Leeds United fans after their fourth Premiership defeat in a row and further miserable evidence of the desperation around a club that has mortgaged its future to the tune of £70m to challenge the might of Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal.

Fulham defender Martin Djetou
Fulham defender Martin Djetou gets his first goal
The complete lack of communication between Terry Venables and chairman Peter Ridsdale, not only during this match but evidently behind the scenes, suggests anything but a merry Christmas for them both. Indeed, if Fulham had taken their chances we could have been witnesses to a five-goal humiliation in this doom-laden encounter yesterday.

The knives are out, desperation is deep, and El Tel must be looking to see if there is any kind of a return clause to take him back to the sanctity of the television studio. He is the failing messiah, but Ridsdale, having sunk the wealth of Leeds on the whims of his previous manager David O’Leary, is now saddled with further evidence of his own gross mismanagement — the folly of allowing a fan to get his hands on the spending power of a club.

Venables said: “We are not playing well enough, and our position is not good enough. But there’s nothing clever or tricky going on . . . we are working hard to get out of a position that is uncomfortable. At the moment I don’t think it’s a relegation concern, but if we don’t soon turn it around, it might become that.”

Quite the most informative moment of the first half — a totally abject 45 minutes for Leeds — was something that did not move. It was up in the Loftus Road grandstand immediately after Fulham scored, and there, like Tweedledum and Tweedledee, sat Venables and Ridsdale. The expression of the chairman was worth a thousand words. It said: “I never believed in your team.”

Luis Boa Morte, too quick for either Jonathan Woodgate or Michael Duberry, was leading Fulham as a one-man strike force, given that four forwards were missing. From his speed, and Duberry’s desperate intervention, Fulham won a corner on the right in the 10th minute.

Pierre Wome struck the ball with precision and there, rising higher than anybody in the goalmouth, was Martin Djetou. Paul Robinson, the preferred Leeds goalkeeper, had aspirations to convince the watching England coach Sven-Göran Eriksson that he is next in line for the position. Not on this evidence. Robinson came, stopped, and did nothing to prevent Djetou’s clean header from crashing into his net.

It was no more than Fulham, or Leeds, deserved. Sylvain Legwinski and Sean Davis gave a shape and cohesion to Fulham’s midfield that nobody in Leeds colours came close to emulating. Venables’ men were leaderless in the week that he had trumpeted the time for men of character to show how much they cared for the club.

They have an injury epidemic, but so do others, not least Fulham, for whom yesterday was the 32nd match of a season elongated by the Intertoto Cup. This only made the pre-match words of Olivier Dacourt cut more deeply: he said there was a lack of communication within the camp, and that it spread from Venables himself.

And in this atmosphere, blooding Paul Okon as an anchor in midfield and bringing back Michael Bridges for his first start in two years wrecked by ankle and knee injuries, was not the answer. True, Okon and Bridges had combined in the fifth minute to offer Alan Smith a sight of goal. The England forward took one touch to control the ball, but with his second merely dribbled it into the hands of Edwin Van der Sar.

And that was it, the sum total of Leeds’ teeth bared in their barren first half. By then, Fulham, had their finishing matched their approach, would have been four goals up.

Boa Morte twisted and turned Woodgate, but Steed Malbranque, from eight yards, headed against the crossbar with Robinson bewitched. Then, from an excellent centre by Steve Finnan, Davis produced a stunning header, and Robinson an even more acrobatic leap to jack-knife to his right and claw the ball to safety.

The hopes of Leeds were withering away. Smith, suffering from a stomach bug, was too unwell to come out for the second half. Robbie Fowler, his replacement, is trying to rescue his career after a serious hip injury, and a boy called James Milner, even younger than Wayne Rooney, was sent on to the field, a leggy 16-year-old parading the right flank.

All this Leeds desperation came to nothing. True, Fowler did connect with a header from Milner’s cross but the sharp reactions of Van der Sar snuffed it out.

At the end, Ridsdale lifted his head out of his hands, turned and made a quick getaway. He has a club to save, if only he has a clue how to do it.

Asked if he is likely to be given the time to turn Leeds around, Venables answered: “I’ve got no idea, I just keep working. I am disappointed today, but we all have to get in there on Monday and start working.”

Van der Sar, Finnan, Melville, Wome, Brevett, Goldbaek, Malbranque, Davis, Legwinski, Boa Morte, Djetou.

Subs Not Used: Inamoto, Taylor, Knight, Stolcers, Willock.

Booked: Legwinski, Davis, Wome.

Goals: Djetou 10.

Robinson, Kelly, Woodgate, Duberry, Harte (Mills 73), Bakke, Okon, McPhail (Milner 57), Wilcox, Smith (Fowler 45), Bridges.

Subs Not Used: Martyn, Lucic.

Booked: Bakke, Fowler, Wilcox, Woodgate.

Att: 17,494
Ref: P Durkin (Dorset).
Source S.Times by Rob Hughes
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