LIVERPOOL are possibly the only team in the Premiership with nothing to play for - and it showed yesterday as they were out-thought and out-fought by a hungrier Leeds United side who look a good bet to claim one of the remaining UEFA Cup places.
A week after playing a potentially decisive role in the destiny of the championship, holding Manchester United to a draw at Old Trafford, Howard Wilkinson's men claimed the scalp of last Sunday's Coca-Cola Cup winners, thanks to a 30th-minute goal by Brian Deane.
The Leeds striker, who has been eclipsed recently by the stunning form of Ghanaian import Tony Yeboah, reacted swiftly to guide the ball into the net after a shot from Gary Speed had rebounded off an upright.
Until then, Liverpool, whose Wembley victory over Bolton Wanderers had fulfilled the objective of qualifying for Europe, had looked the more threatening. Afterwards Leeds, with their captain Gary McAllister the dominant force in an often-crowded midfield, looked in control.
"It was pleasing to come to a place like Anfield and be so composed and comfortable," said Howard Wilkinson, the Leeds manager, who can look forward confidently to taking some reward from an initially frustrating season.
It needed two outstanding saves from John Lukic to ensure Leeds' victory
It appears as though he has made "Europe" a banned word in the dressing room, judging by the way he parried questions on that subject in the Anfield press room. "There are too many ifs and buts," he said, pointing to the television screen relaying the surprising sequence of events in the FA Cup semi-final at Villa Park.
It needed two outstanding saves from John Lukic to ensure Leeds' first victory at Anfield for 23 years. The first denied Robbie Fowler, who had collected a weak palmed clearance by the Leeds goalkeeper only to see Lukic recover and tip his fierce drive over the bar.
The second crucial save, hardly discernible to most of the 37,454 crowd, prevented Mark Kennedy, Liverpool's recent £2 million recruit from Millwall, celebrating his debut as a second-half substitute with a spectacular goal. Kennedy, whose sizzling shot from 25 yards was touched on to the crossbar, did enough in the 19 minutes he was allocated to suggest he will prove a good investment.
"He looked very capable out there," said Liverpool manager Roy Evans, who believed the scoreline did not reflect the balance of chances. He also felt frustrated by referee Keith Burge's failure to award a penalty when Mark Walters was upended by Carlton Palmer.
But Leeds, although hanging on grimly in the closing stages, had their chances to win more comfortably. Deane failed to score from a cross to the near post by Rod Wallace just before the interval, and Gary Speed and Palmer were both just off target in the second half.
They were also unlucky when McAllister combined well with Yeboah before flicking the ball over David James from 25 yards, only to see it strike the crossbar.
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