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

Last updated : 24 November 2003 By Kevin Markey
Paul Dews of the Yorkshire Evening Post writes;

Leeds United were given a harsh lesson in the art of Premiership survival by a spirited Bolton Wanderers side at Elland Road on Saturday.

There was nothing flamboyant about Wanderers' simple approach, but they were well organised and showed a desire to win what was a key fixture for both sides.

Crucially, it eased their own relegation worries yet leaves Leeds wondering where their next point will come from.

United have now lost eight out of their last nine Premiership outings and are perched in such a precarious position that the battle is already starting to look lost in their quest for top-flight survival.

Thankfully Aston Villa's defeat at Tottenham yesterday ensures that United remain just three points away from a position of safety, but on current form three points are more than enough to worry about.

On Saturday, Leeds looked every inch relegation fodder and it's clear that when the new broom is appointed sweeping changes must be made.

The majority of players huffed and puffed and charged around in the vain hope that something would come off. But it didn't.

Such a performance – Leeds simply weren't good enough – only served to underline the fact that it matters little as to who is in charge of the current side.

Eddie Gray's arrival in the dug-out prompted the sort of welcome that has not been seen since the last time the Scot was at the helm, but that support counted for little when things got under way.

Gray was as frustrated as the fans as United struggled to compete against a side who are beginning to build themselves a reputation as serial survivors.

Bolton are no strangers to the wrong end of the table and they are hardened campaigners who know what it takes to grind out results. There were lessons to be learned because Bolton were well organised and gritty.

One could only feel for the disappointed Gray who endured a nightmare build-up to what could be his first and last game in charge.

Not only were his own coaching credentials questioned by all and sundry, but players were dropping like flies on the training ground for a variety of reasons and Saturday was the first time the starting 11 had linked up together all week.

Gary Kelly was a late withdrawal with a back injury while David Batty and Seth Johnson declared themselves fit on the morning of the match. Jermaine Pennant was also absent with illness.

Gray handed Lucas Radebe his third start of the season and the South African stepped off the treatment table to turn in another assured display.

It was very much a re-shuffled pack for United, but it was the same outcome as Leeds suffered another disappointing defeat.

Gray had stressed the same principles as Peter Reid in terms of closing down from the front, but the plan didn't work as the manager would have hoped and United didn't win enough early ball.

That didn't look like being the case early doors as United set off at a good pace.
Jody Morris stamped his mark in the middle and James Milner, who was outstanding throughout, and Lamine Sakho looked a real threat down the flanks.

Mark Viduka even looked like he had woken from his slumbers now Reid has gone and for 15 minutes all was looking well.

Then, in the space of just 60 seconds, it went wrong. Horribly wrong.
The United defence, so brittle at times this season, lost their way for one first half minute and the game was effectively sealed.

Failure to deal with Ricardo Gardener's cross allowed Kevin Davies the opportunity to seize on a poor clearance and fire home from 20 yards.

If that wasn't bad enough, United conceded an even softer goal straight from the re-start.

Bolton immediately won possession and Davies, who latched on to a hope ful punt forward, was able to hit the by-line and square the ball to an unmarked Stelios who tapped it home from close range.

Just 17 minutes gone and it was game over. Some United heads dropped while Bolton, who had a couple of decent chances to extend their lead, simply dropped anchor.

Milner worked well on the right flank while Sakho provided some great service, but there was no-one willing to add a finishing touch and a number of chances went begging.

Batty was guilty of feeding Viduka when he had the prospect of a great chance while the Aussie faded as the game wore on.

Sub Cyril Chapuis showed some energy, but sadly he didn't look like a player who was going to start the fightback.

It was telling that Alan Smith and Dominic Matteo were sat high on the West Stand gantry watching another sorry defeat.

Smith, the only Leeds player to find the net in the last six weeks, would have brought a presence to the forward line and he was sorely missed.

Likewise Matteo. The central defender, who was ably replaced by the determined Radebe, is a natural leader and for the main United looked like a rudderless ship on Saturday with no-one holding things together.

The game drifted towards an inevitable conclusion and there was a smattering of boos as the players disappeared down the tunnel.

While Gray will forever be championed by the loyal fans, all the talk was of when Gordon Strachan will be coming in to take over the reins at Elland Road.

Strachan now appears to be the main contender for what is the toughest job in the Premiership.

He must go where three other men have failed and attempt to instill some belief, quality and passion into a side who are developing a habit for losing.

He must also do it quickly unless the board accept the reality that relegation is a real possibility and form a contingency plan should the worst come to the worst.

January will be the time when the board must stand up and be counted and the new manager must be allowed the chance to wheel and deal.

The only worry is that January could be too late if results don't pick up before then.

We all know what happens to teams who are bottom at Christmas, and it's vital Leeds give themselves a fighting chance.