Leeds bring it all back home
PSV Eindhoven 0 Leeds United 0A scoreless draw is not normally thought of as the kind of result to galvanise a flagging season but, given Leeds United's plummeting self-esteem these past months, this performance of technical and behavioural discipline against the Dutch champions should at least arrest the loss of belief at Elland Road.
Whether this becomes the turning point David O'Leary was looking for is another matter, but a home victory over Charlton Athletic in the Premiership on Sunday, followed by a successful second leg of this fourth-round tie against PSV Eindhoven next Thursday, would restore lost momentum to Leeds's season.
There were moments of occasional doubt again here but these were confined mainly to the opening quarter-hour and, once Leeds had settled, they were the better team.
It was an entertaining match of no bookings, though robust, and what will have impressed the watching Sven-Goran Eriksson as much as the skill level was the composure shown by Alan Smith in particular. The striker received constant physical attention yet did not once respond in his customary aggressive manner.
Danny Mills was similarly restrained and once even approached the referee to complain with his hands clasped behind his back. That work with the former referee Stephen Lodge is paying off.
The third of the domestically suspended England trio, Lee Bowyer, was the least convincing and, with only the return leg in which to shine before the Italy friendly next month, the midfielder may be struggling to make Eriksson's squad.
"I'm delighted with the performance, delighted the way we kept our shape," said O'Leary. "Those three are vital players for us and I was a bit worried about them coming in fresh, without matches, but they did well. Danny gave us drive going forward and didn't get involved in anything. He played the way a full-back should. I didn't give him that control, he did."
Overall, O'Leary said: "It's been a long time since I have been able to field the team I have wanted to put out on the field. This game is all about players and when you can field your best, like I did tonight, then it shows just what a difference it makes.
"I would have loved for us to have scored an away goal, but despite that I have to say I am delighted with this performance in such a big game. "
He added: "It was at this time last year when we travelled to Anderlecht with a number of key players out and we produced a performance (United won 4-1) which then gave us a lot of confidence for the rest of the season. Hopefully this performance tonight will help us for the rest of this campaign."
A thrill-a-minute first half could have ended 3-3 instead of 0-0, such was the purpose of both side's attacking. Leeds almost scored in 45 seconds after good work by Mark Viduka but straight after that it required two acrobatic saves from Nigel Martyn to prevent the visitors from falling behind.
PSV had clearly done their homework and realised that their right-winger Dennis Rommedahl - "a pigeon-catcher" according to Bobby Robson, the man who signed him - was favourite in any race with Ian Harte.
It was no great shock then to see Rommedahl tearing past Harte twice in the fifth minute. Martyn tipped the first Mark van Bommel shot over and then twisted superbly to deflect a Van Bommel volley that took a deflection six yards in front of the goalkeeper.
Leeds were rocking somewhat and Dominic Matteo produced a vital headed block before the half-hour to deny George Gakhokidze after Martyn had shown his other side by flapping at a Rommedahl centre.
But in between, with Smith leading the line imaginatively and Eirik Bakke prompting from midfield, Leeds could have scored twice themselves.
Smith just failed to get the finishing touch on a 22nd-minute Viduka header and 60 seconds later Viduka was foiled by a spectacular goal-line clearance from Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink.
Considering the zip of the first half, the second had a lot to live up to. It failed but, as it wore on, Leeds's control grew. Viduka displayed his sweet feet with some lovely work in the 54th minute and, after Harry Kewell had gone close with an angled volley, Viduka then powered a near-post header a yard wide.
Bowyer followed with his only dangerous effort of the night but it missed the target. After that the game petered out but Leeds could feel satisfied on the final whistle that a couple of aims had been achieved.
PSV EINDHOVEN: Lodewijks, Bogelund, Ooijer, Hofland (Nikiforov 67), Bouma, Rommedahl, van Bommel, Vogel, Gakhokidze, Bruggink (de Jong 36), Vennegoor of Heselink (Kezman 60). Subs Not Used: Coutinho, Faber, Ramzi, Addo.
LEEDS UNITED: Martyn, Mills, Ferdinand, Matteo, Harte, Bowyer, Dacourt, Bakke, Kewell, Smith, Viduka. Subs Not Used: Robinson, Kelly, Duberry, Batty, McPhail, Burns, Keane.
Referee: S Braschi (Prato)