Leeds revert to old routine

 

Leeds United 0 Charlton Athletic 0:A goalless draw in the UËFA Cup in Eindhoven, which brought fleeting promise of a Leeds United resurgence, was promptly followed yesterday by another Premiership stalemate that destroyed such imaginings at a stroke.

On this evidence Leeds are going nowhere, certainly not to the Champions League. They now trail Liverpool, in fourth place, by nine points, with a match in hand, have lacked fluency for large tracts of the season, and an edgy crowd has lapsed into grumbling mode more suited to cloth-capped days of yore.

On the day that Leeds issued a press release stating that they are accepting euros, one wondered if next season they will have any cause to.

Robbie Fowler should have provided an escape route five minutes into the second half when he struck a post from seven yards out after Harry Kewell had pulled the ball back into his path but that hardly justified David O'Leary's conclusion that Leeds's only fault had been their failure to take their chances.

A Leeds victory would have been an injustice for Charlton. Their spirit and organisation left Leeds increasingly bereft of ideas and they almost stole victory for themselves when Jason Euell's goal was narrowly ruled out for offside 13 minutes from time.

A Charlton side containing three 20-year-olds underlined the sense that last season's youthful Leeds adventurers are now no more, replaced by a side increasingly weighed down by the pressure of expectation.

O'Leary opted for Robbie Keane on the right of midfield - and he had a shocker. Once Olivier Dacourt had departed at half-time with a leg injury, courtesy of a heavy challenge by Luke Young, Leeds would have been better served by Stephen McPhail, a man who might have threaded together some passing movements, but who remains out of favour.

Charlton could have taken a second-minute lead. Dacourt played Gary Kelly into trouble with a risky pass across the box, Paul Konchesky wrested possession, but miskicked in his over-eagerness to take advantage.

Kewell's limited contributions have received increasing attention as Leeds' season has foundered. Whether because of injury, Australia's failure to qualify for the World Cup, or imaginings that he might one day exchange West Yorkshire for Italy, Kewell's verve has been largely absent, to the growing exasperation of his manager.

Yesterday, for the first half at least, was more encouraging: Kewell foraged more in central midfield, chased with alacrity down the left and, lo and behold, even tackled back on one occasion. With the two Robbies - Keane and Fowler - entirely redun dant up to half-time, a rejuvenated Kewell was badly needed.

It was Kewell's midfield involvement that sparked Leeds' first move of note, Eirik Bakke's shot from Dacourt's through-ball forcing a fine, low save from Dean Kiely. Then Kewell's appetite on the left created an excellent opportunity for Mark Viduka, who curled his shot well wide

Alan Curbishley has engendered an impressive togetherness, and his pre-match reference to the dangers of trying to buy success were all the more relevant coming from a manager who has had to operate with strict financial limitations.

His side harried in packs in midfield and defended stoutly, blocking so many shots that for all Leeds's pressure they might have stolen a lead five minutes before the interval when Ian Harte, with two half-challenges, did just enough to thwart Graham Stuart.

Harte's defensive limitations can be overlooked as long as he is productive going forward, but he looks short of confidence and the crowd were quick to chide a collection of lumped balls forward and clumsy crosses.

Fowler's shot against the post was followed by a cross-shot wide after Keane had dummied. Harte's free-kick, inches over, in the final minute was the last gasp. That is three points from 18 for Leeds since New Year's Day. A tough six games, admittedly, but only Leicester have a worse record.

Guardian Service

LEEDS UNITED: Martyn, Kelly, Ferdinand, Matteo, Harte, Keane, Dacourt (Batty 45), Bakke, Kewell, Fowler, Viduka. Subs not used: Robinson, McPhail, Duberry, Richardson.

CHARLTON ATHLETIC: Kiely, Young, Costa, Fortune, Powell, Stuart, Bart-Williams, Parker (Kinsella 80), Konchesky, Euell, Svensson (Kishishev 85). Subs not used: Ilic, Brown, Johansson. Booked: Bart-Williams.

Referee: M Dean (Cheshire).