Manchester United 1 Leeds United 1

Last updated : 24 February 2004 By Footymad Previewer

Their point at Old Trafford against Premiership champions Manchester United was won with a performance of real character and steely determination.

But, while Leeds fans celebrated this unexpected success against their bitter rivals, the seeds of the Red Devils' title hopes are slowly turning to dust, as Arsenal's 2-1 victory at Chelsea put The Gunners seven points clear at the top.

Although Sir Alex Ferguson's team are never out of the reckoning until the fat lady sings, their current form suggests that she is tuning up in expectation of a melodious finale.

United, already without Rio Ferdinand for the next seven months, and preparing for a four-match ban for Gary Neville, could also be without another defensive heavyweight with vital league and cup matches on the horizon.

Mikael Silvestre hobbled out of the game after only 24 minutes when he landed awkwardly after an innocuous challenge from Alan Smith.

Silvestre, who suffered knee and ankle injuries, was replaced by Wes Brown, but the Red Devils' defence is now down to the bare bones with a Champions League clash with Porto only days away.

With 18-year-old goalkeeper Scott Carson making his full debut and the Elland Road club missing striker Mark Viduka because of a FIFA suspension, Leeds must have feared the worst.

But an off colour home side, without Louis Saha, created many chances without ever really putting rookie Carson and his defenders under sustained pressure.

Had they breached Leeds' back line in a promising opening, it might have been a different story.

Carson confidently gathered Paul Scholes' deflected 20-yard shot in the opening seconds and then enjoyed a lucky break in the seventh minute.

Ryan Giggs' deep corner from the right found Silvestre stealing in to get in a low shot from six yards which was cleared off the line collectively by Gary Kelly and Carson.

John O'Shea went close with a header from another Giggs corner while the Welshman shaved a post after 20 minutes with a 12-yard shot after being fed by Scholes' defence-splitting pass.

Silvestre's enforced departure forced a reshuffle in the United defence and they were almost caught cold soon after when Dominic Matteo headed Stephen McPhail's free-kick narrowly wide.

Ferguson's side continued to probe rather than pressurise the Leeds defence.

In the 28th minute, Scholes' superbly disguised pass from the right along the edge of the Leeds box set up Kleberson, who turned and bent his shot inches wide of a post.

Twice Ruud van Nistelrooy should have punished Leeds in the closing stages of the first half.

First, the Dutchman headed well over the bar from four yards after being picked out by Giggs' excellent left wing cross in the 38th minute and he repeated the exercise four minutes later.

Smith, an isolated figure in the visiting attack, came close to scoring a fluke goal in the closing seconds of the first half when his 20-yard shot deflected off Nicky Butt and was taken with difficulty by home keeper Tim Howard.

The Whites began the second half in the belief that all three points and not one was within their grasp.

In the 53rd minute, Jermaine Pennant scooped the ball back to the near post from the left byline where Eirik Bakke's instinctive header forced a fine save from Howard.

The champions countered three minutes later.

Giggs' corner was touched on by Kleberson at the near post and Butt, coming in at the far post, got in an acrobatic shot from six yards which was parried by Carson and cleared by his defenders.

In a bid to inject more urgency into proceedings, Ferguson brought on Roy Keane for the ineffective Kleberson after 58 minutes and his first touch at a Giggs corner caused momentary panic in the Leeds defence.

Scholes worked a neat one-two with Butt on the edge of the Leeds penalty area before ballooning his shot high and wide from 12 yards.

The home side's urgency was there for all to see when Gary Neville's charge into the Leeds box ended with his shot rebounding off the top of a post.

The deadlock was finally broken by the Red Devils in the 64th minute.

Butt started the move when he found Scholes outside the Leeds box.

He spread the ball to his right where Gary Neville fired in a fierce 20-yard shot.

Carson did well to keep the ball out, but that most dangerous of predators Scholes was on hand to drive in the rebound right -footed from four yards.

If anyone thought that Leeds would buckle under an expected home onslaught, they were to be proved wrong.

In the 67th minute, Didier Domi's lovely hanging cross from the left picked out the redoubtable Smith on the edge of the six-yard box and he rose above Brown to plant his header into the bottom right corner of the net. John Charles himself would have been proud of that.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, out of action for the last five months following a knee operation, finally returned to the fray when he replaced Philip Neville after 70 minutes.

Everyone sat back in expectation of a Mancunian charge but it proved a weak and insipid response.

O'Shea headed a Giggs corner over the Leeds bar in the 83rd minute, and soon after, Gary Neville's cross from the right was worked onto Solskjaer by Butt.

The Norwegian laid the ball off to van Nisterooy, who lashed his shot high over the bar from six yards.

United manager Ferguson said his side had "a mountain to climb" if it was to retain the title.

He said: "I think we have a mountain to climb, but it is amazing what this team can do when it gets into its stride.

"We had a few chances, but we did not play well. The chances we had, we should have buried, but we looked a bit off colour."

Leeds boss Eddie Gray said: "The boys worked extremely hard for the result, having to play United without two of our major players in Mark Viduka and Paul Robinson.

"I was pleased with the response when we went a goal down. It was a good header from Alan Smith and I hope the result gave the boys a huge boost.

"I believe we can still get out of trouble, although it will be difficult."

MAN OF THE MATCH - Alan Smith. The Leeds striker showed tremendous determination and courage in leading the Leeds line almost single-handed. His goal was just reward for an excellent all round display.