What The Locals Say.........

Last updated : 10 November 2003 By Kevin Markey
This is what Paul Dews of the Yorkshire Evening Post wrote:

Just when you thought there was nothing left to scrape out of the bottom of the barrel, Leeds United plumbed new depths at Portsmouth on Saturday.

The second half performance was so bad it will not only cost manager Peter Reid his job, but it was also enough for United to put one foot firmly in the Nationwide League.

That may sound harsh, but on the evidence of the second 45 minutes at Fratton Park it's hard to see how United will be playing their football anywhere other than Division One next season.

Indeed, it's beginning to look like some players are starting to believe that themselves and after conceding four second half goals to a side who are also struggling, maybe they are right.

There were exceptions to the rule, but the harsh reality is that the majority of the current United side lack either the quality or the desire to keep the club in the Premiership.

Alan Smith and Dominic Matteo do possess both and will fight to the end, but they need more support than they are getting if they want to be playing top-flight football in a white shirt next season.

Seth Johnson showed a willingness to battle and on another day he would have been an inspirational figure in a vital away win. But he couldn't fight the midfield battle alone.

James Milner also tried his heart out, but he is a raw youngster attempting to punch his weight in a struggling side.

There were other players who just saw the game pass them by. Roque Junior brought back memories of the Brian Caswell era, while Jody Morris huffed and puffed in the middle without any joy.

Michael Duberry couldn't be faulted for effort either – he rescued United on more than one occasion – but he is in desperate need of games to re-establish himself.

Sadly, the steady confidence drain is even starting to affect goalkeeper Paul Robinson and he looked a shadow of the man who was being tipped to wear England's number one jersey at Euro 2004.

In short, Saturday was an embarrassing day to be a Leeds United supporter and when the 6-1 defeat sunk in, it hurt.

Heavy losses at the hands of Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal could be just about accepted given the current climate at the club, but this was Portsmouth. That's right, newly-promoted Portsmouth.

They are an average side scrapping for their Premiership lives and Leeds made them look like Brazil in the second half by turning in possibly the worst 45 minutes in living memory.

It was United's heaviest Premiership defeat and was their worst loss since Stoke City rammed seven past Leeds back in December 1986 when Billy Bremner was at the helm.

The defeats at Everton and Leicester earlier this season actually looked good compared to what was served up at Fratton Park and there were no excuses for a blatant waving of the white flag. Indeed, some players should hang their heads in shame.

Up until Saturday there had never been a question about team spirit, but the sort of desire on display at Fratton Park would have appalled a pub team manager never mind a man whose job is on the line.

What made it worse is the fact that for 45 minutes, Leeds actually played the better football and looked by far the stronger of the two sides when they had possession.

It took United just three minutes to recover from Dejan Stefanovic's opener – he was allowed a free header at a corner – when Smith finished off a fine move to level the scores.

From then on, Leeds looked neat and tidy and Portsmouth rocked every time United countered. Smith was well shackled by Hayden Foxe and Stefanovic, but Johnson was a menace.

However, the hosts got their noses in front in first half injury time when debutant Gary O'Neil returned a poor clearance from Gary Kelly straight back into the United net.

It hit Matteo's back and squirmed past Robinson and it was another time to curse Lady Luck because at that stage it was an ill-deserved blow.

But no-one could have predicted what was to follow.

When Shaka Hislop denied Jermaine Pennant early in the second half, it gave hope that Leeds really did have the bit between their teeth and were determined to take something from the clash.

That was it, though, and from then on in it was humiliating. Foxe made it three when Robinson flapped as the Aussie shot from 20 yards and Leeds went into retreat mode.

The Pompey bullets started to fly thick and fast and too many United players went missing in action. It was game over.

The pain increased on 71 minutes when O'Neil grabbed his second after Berger's run and the one-time United target made it 5-1 four minutes later.

It was all too much to bear, but Pompey were allowed to keep on coming and it was no surprise when the United defence stood and watched Yakubu Ayegbeni add a sixth from close in.

It wouldn't have been unfair to think that the trip to Portsmouth would have acted as a wake-up call as to what could lie ahead next season if Leeds do go down.

Fratton Park is a run-down heap, the game was delayed 30 minutes because of floodlight problems and the clash was played out to a horrendous buzzing sound from the PA system.

In addition, the 1,100 travelling fans were put in uncovered seats and were surrounded by half of the city's riot police who were responding to earlier disturbances in the town centre.

It was a throwback to the 1980s in every respect, including the performance, and unless something amazing happens now, a full-time return to those days are just around the corner.

It's hard to believe it was three years ago to the day that Matteo scored that famous goal in the San Siro. How the mighty have fallen. Whether they will get back up again remains to be seen.

It's still hard to understand how a change of manager will alter things – you cannot put there what isn't there – unless Harry Houdini is resurrected from the grave to take charge.

Leeds are now in a real fight and unless the players realise it soon, the war will be over.