Leeds survive Bradford blitz

 

Leeds United's championship aspirations survived a barnstorming performance by Bradford City at Valley Parade yesterday. Compared with their recent trial by stiletto in Rome this was an ordeal by broadsword for David O'Leary's players, and the fact that they came through it with equal credit said much for the way the team are continuing to develop.

Bradford's first home defeat in the Premiership since the start of October keeps them in the bottom three, but again the quality and spirit of their performance said much for their chances of survival. Southampton, Derby County and Wimbledon, fellow strugglers all, still have to visit Valley Parade.

After one of Peter Beagrie's spectacular shots had brought Bradford back into the game at 21, Leeds were forced to defend for much of the last quarter-hour but the two goals Michael Bridges had scored earlier proved sufficient to bring them the victory which has kept them within four points of the leaders, Manchester United.

For Bradford, defeat could have been far more depressing. Yesterday morning their only fit goalkeeper, Matt Clarke, twisted a knee falling down some stairs at home. This meant that Neville Southall, the 41-year-old former Everton and Wales goalkeeper who recently joined them from Torquay as a coach, had to don the gloves, leaving Valley Parade to put its hands together in silent prayer.

The annuals give Southall's weight as 13 stone, but this appeared a mite generous. Southall did not learn that he would be playing until an hour and a half before kick-off. "I enjoyed it; it was a laugh," he said later. He had not appeared in the Premiership since a game for Everton against Tottenham late in 1997, and his league career had begun at Bury in 1980. In Premiership terms it was rather like bringing back Lloyd George.

Though he was not directly at fault for either of Bridges's goals, you could not help wondering how a younger man would have dealt with them. The free-kick from Ian Harte which found the Leeds striker nipping in front of David Wetherall to score after 12 minutes was close to an area which a goalkeeper would normally call his own. Again, Southall did not need to chug away from his line three minutes past the hour when Lee Bowyer gained possession near the left-hand byline. All that happened was that the goalkeeper stranded himself beyond the near post, leaving Alan Smith to lay the ball into the goalmouth and Bridges to lift it into the roof of the net.

Beagrie's shot apart, even Bradford's better movements lacked a similar incisiveness near goal. Wetherall and Stuart McCall offered their attack consistent support, and the pace and mobility of the front runners, Dean Saunders and Dean Windass, brought out the best in Lucas Radebe and the worst in Alf-Inge Haaland, who was lucky to escape with lectures from Paul Durkin after being booked and continuing to foul.

Though half a dozen players were booked, Nigel Martyn was allowed to get away with a kick at Jorge Cadete in full view of the referee. One or two other incidents also went unpunished.

Fortunately this did not spoil a West Yorkshire derby of the oldfashioned blood-and-guts kind. Jewell's players responded superbly and none more so than Wetherall, whose presence in the goalmouth was a menace to Radebe and Haaland. Bradford, however, were unable to reflect their strength of will in terms of accurate finishing.

Had Smith not shot wide of a gaping net after neat passes by Bridges and Stephen McPhail had spreadeagled the Bradford defence, the contest might have been virtually settled by the 20th minute. Bradford took much encouragement from that let-off, but apart from a couple of headers by Windass they did not look like scoring until Harte blocked a shot from the same player in the 74th minute.

Another minute and Beagrie's left foot had driven in a superb goal from just outside the penalty area. Valley Parade roared its optimism but Leeds held on without losing their heads or their lead.

At the last Southall flung himself hard right to hold a swerving 20-yard shot from Eirik Bakke. The old boy might get another game.

BRADFORD: Southall, McCall, Wetherall, Lawrence, Whalley (Cadete 65), Beagrie, O'Brien, Windass, Halle (Blake 65), Jacobs, Saunders. Subs Not Used: Taylor, Sharpe, Dreyer. Booked: Wetherall, Jacobs, Windass, Lawrence. Goals: Beagrie 75.

LEEDS: Martyn, Kelly, Harte, Haaland, Radebe, Bridges (Huckerby 90), Bowyer, McPhail (Hopkin 73), Wilcox, Smith, Bakke. Subs Not Used: Robinson, Duberry, Maybury. Booked: Harte, Haaland. Goals: Bridges 12, 63.

Referee: P Durkin (Dorset).