Leeds United 2 Blues 0

Last updated : 05 January 2003 By Richard Barker
Leeds were able to avenge their early season defeat at St Andrews, and continue their own revival, with this victory over battling Blues. Whilst the defeat is bad enough news for Steve Bruce's men, the fact that two more defenders limped off injured is surely even more cause for concern.

Martin Grainger was unexpectedly recalled to the starting line-up after 3 months out injured, whilst Joey Hutchinson was given a first Premiership start in the heart of defence alongside Michael Johnson. Damien Johnson also returned to the side, coming in on the left for Stan Lazaridis, who was - believe it or not - injured.

Blues started the game slowly, and it was no real surprise that Leeds took an early lead. There was some controversy, however, as the home side broke for their goal following what appeared to be a blatant Ian Harte foul on Paul Devlin in the Leeds penalty area. Devlin's rather elaborate fall may have worked against him in the eyes of referee Phil Dowd, though there was certainly significant contact. However, Leeds broke, Gary Kelly flighted a deep cross which Mark Viduka headed back across goal for Eirik Bakke to head home from close range. Viduka had beaten youngster Hutchinson in the air to assist Bakke, but this was the only mistake in an otherwise excellent first Premiership outing for him. He was extremely confident and assured on the ball, and made several timely tackles and interventions against Australian duo Viduka and Harry Kewell. If only he was 4 inches taller, Blues would have one hell of a centre half on their books.

The remainder of the first half was something of a strange affair, with the home side trying little flicks and backheels - which on the whole came off - and making Blues look very average at times, though it was Blues who created many excellent opportunities, only for them all to be wasted. After Viduka missed an easy header for 2-0, Clinton Morrison continued his poor form when one-on-one with Paul Robinson, by firing straight at David Seaman's long-term replacement in waiting, and Damien Johnson could only hit a tame rebound effort at Kelly on the line. Not long after, following a Grainger corner, there was an almighty goalmouth scramble, in which one of about four players could have scored, yet failed to. Finally, just moments before the interval, Damien Johnson stole in at the far post, but Robinson was equal to his sliding effort. Whilst Leeds had looked like they were playing an exhibition match at times, it was Blues who had caused the most problems for either 'keeper.

Early in the second half, Blues players and fans were left cursing Mr Dowd again when Morrison appeared to be pulled down in the area by the impressive Jonathan Woodgate whilst attempting to get a shot in on goal. Blues misery continued into the second period, when both Michael Johnson and Grainger were both forced to limp out of the action with injuries - Grainger's self-inflicting following a bad challenge on Bakke. Indeed, it was Grainger's injury which left Blues exposed for Leeds second goal on 67 minutes. Kelly exchanged passes with Kewell, and Grainger was simply unable to track the Irish right-back, who lifted a precise ball into the centre for Viduka to head home.

Grainger was withdrawn not long after, and Blues were left with another strange looking defence to play out the remaining 20 or so minutes. Jeff Kenna was at left back, with Hutchinson and Geoff Horsfield as centre backs, and Damien Johnson as a right back. Blues fans who had dreamed of the Premiership for many years could hardly have envisaged a battle of Viduka and Kewell against Hutchinson and Horsfield at the back. Whilst nothing seems to be able to be done to restrict the injuries, it is becoming a bit of an embarassment, and is genuinely beginning to pose a threat to the impressive start to the season that Blues had made.

Blues continued to battle and search for a goal until the final whistle, with Aliou Cisse adopting a far more attacking role than usual, and Devlin being utilised at every opportunity down the right - though the service from him was poor. Leeds were always a threat on the counter-attack, but much like saturday at Old Trafford, it was a case of coming away with a respectable 2-0 defeat, and praying that these injuries begin to clear up.

Blues main saving grace this season may be that the bottom four (maybe five if you include Fulham) are all so bad, that amongst them, they will make up the bottom three. There's no doubt that Blues have a genuine injury crisis, and whilst the players are still doing the fans proud, it is a problem that is beginning to pose a threat to Premiership survival. Hopefully with the arrival of both Ferdinand Coly and Christophe Dugarry, plus hopefully two, three or maybe even four others, the current crop can be given a boost, and the team can get back to winning ways.

Vaesen - No chance with the goals
Kenna - Adequate
Grainger - Had done ok until injury
Johnson, M - Battled well, though worringly exposed for pace a couple of times
Hutchinson - Excellent, assured performance
Devlin - Had plenty of the ball, and wasted much of it
Johnson, D - Never really got into the game, and missed two chances
Cisse - Linked up with the front two well
Savage - Frustrated by the end, as illustrated by wild shots over the bar
Morrison - Slightly better all round, but must take chances
Kirovski - Quiet, but at times looked our best bet

Horsfield - Did as well as could be expected at the back
Powell - So so

Leeds Match Photo's