Leeds up next

Friday 30 November 2001

Ian McCulloch writes...

Great White Hopes

Leeds quest for the Premiership title has come off the rails slightly over the last few weeks, with a home draw against Aston Villa following a two-nil loss at Sunderland. Going out of the Worthington Cup at home to Chelsea on Wednesday night has only added to their woes and things are starting to look decidedly shaky. From being top of the table for most of the season, Leeds are now looking up at Liverpool who have come almost out of nowhere to open a two point lead with a game in hand.

Leeds manager David O'Leary will point to the fact that his Australian strike force of Mark Viduka and Harry Kewell have been away on World Cup duty and that he is once again suffering an injury crisis.

Last season's Champions' League semi-final run has raised expectations at Elland Road that this is the year for Leeds to finally fulfil their fans' great expectations. Now firmly established as one of the country's top four teams, the fact that no silverware has been won since the First Division Championship in 1992 is a matter of concern, and the feeling remains that Leeds need to shed their reputation as perennial underachievers. Even the great Leeds team of the seventies failed to capitalise fully on their undoubted qualities; Don Revie's side finishing runners-up in the league five times and losing four major cup finals.

The Team

With the imminent signing of Liverpool's Robbie Fowler for £11million, David O'Leary's spending has now reached an incredible £96million in less than three years. Robbie Keane at £12million was the summer's big signing, joining the likes of Rio Ferdinand and Mark Viduka who cost £18 and £6 million respectively.

Despite their wealth of talent up-front with Alan Smith, Michael Bridges, Keane and Viduka set to challenge Fowler for his place, it has been in defence where Leeds have really showed their strength. With England keeper Nigel Martyn in goal, central defensive pairing of Ferdinand and the underrated Dominic Matteo, and fullbacks Mills and Harte, Leeds have conceded a miserly eight goals in thirteen league games.

Viduka and Kewell were rested against Chelsea, jet lag being given as the reason, but both should be available for the Fulham game. More worrying for Leeds will be the injuries suffered by key players Matteo, Eirik Bakke and Stephen McPhail. McPhail limped out of Elland Road on crutches with his right ankle heavily strapped, while Matteo has damaged his Achilles tendon and Bakke has ligament problems.

He Wore Both Colours

Stalwart left back of the Fulham sides of the fifties and sixties, Jim Langley actually started his career as a left-winger with Leeds. After nine games and three goals for them, he moved to Brighton where he was converted to fullback. Joining Fulham in 1957 for £12,000, Langley went on to make 356 appearances scoring 33 goals. A real crowd favourite with his trademark bicycle-kick and sense of humour, he was part of the team that reached two FA Cup semi-finals and won promotion to the old First Division. During his time at the Cottage he made three appearances for England.

One of the all-time Fulham greats, Langley was sold prematurely to QPR in 1965 where he picked up a Third Division Championship medal and won the League Cup. He left Rangers in 1967 and managed Hillingdon Borough, whom he took to Wembley, and played for, in the FA Trophy. He was steward of his local British Legion Club in Hillingdon until his retirement.

From the Past

In September 1969, First Division Leeds came down to Third Division Fulham for a second round League Cup-Tie. Leeds were league champions, but gave Fulham the ultimate compliment of playing in the same way that they did against every other First Division side - defensively, cynically and boringly. As it happened, Fulham completely outplayed their visitors, and but for some woeful finishing would have won handsomely. Wingers Jimmy Conway and Les Barrett gave international fullbacks Paul Reaney and Terry Cooper a complete roasting.

As was their way, Leeds resorted to questionable tactics to win the game rather than by playing football. They had a number of routines that pushed the meaning of gamesmanship to new boundaries, and one of them was to be the downfall of Fulham. In a tactic not really seen before, Leeds used to push giant England defender Jack Charlton up at corners, and his sole aim was to distract the goalkeeper. He would stand in front of the unfortunate custodian, jump and down, stand on his feet, lean on him, and generally do whatever he could to immobilise him as the ball came over. It worked a treat against poor Ian Seymour, and Charlton scored the only goal of the game.

Fulham finished the game with 26 shots at goal compared with fifteen for Leeds. A telling comment from the programme of that night perhaps put Fulham's ambitions into context: "We are not really expecting too much tonight....a win would be asking too much. It is achievement in itself to have earned a visit from the Champions."

Not Many People Know That

Apart from "United" or "Dirty Leeds", the men from Elland Road appear to have no real nickname.