Diao drives fans to turn on Venables

A happy anniversary for Liverpool deepened the gloom gathering over Leeds. A significant second-half goal by the Senegalese international, Salif Diao, gave the Merseysiders all three points precisely a year after manager Gerard Houllier collapsed with a severe heart problem during a home match against the same opponents. But it was hardly a cause for celebration in the Elland Road ranks.

While unbeaten Liverpool went to the top of the table, Leeds were left to address the unpalatable fact that they had lost three of their last four Premiership games and drawn the other. All of a sudden the euphoria of those opening wins against Manchester City and West Bromwich Albion, and the subsequent victory over Manchester United, is but a distant memory.

The natives are certainly becoming restive. They showed their disapproval of the club's progress under new manager Terry Venables by chanting "O'Leary, O'Leary" and "There's only one David Batty" in honour of the previous manager and the former England international midfielder who is out of favour with Venables. Predictably, however, this criticism was water off a duck's back to an old hand like him.

Typically, when Venables was asked if he had heard the chants, he quipped: "I have now! O'Leary's a nice name, so why not chant it. The supporters must do what they want to do, I have to do what I feel is right. Now if that's going to be good enough, only time will tell. But no one enjoys losing at home - not the players, not me, not the supporters, especially when you have played well enough to win the game."

There was definitely substance in Venables's contention that this performance constituted an improvement on their recent form and could easily have brought them the three points. Although Liverpool dominated the opening 20 minutes and much of the second half, Harry Kewell might have had a hat-trick with two headers and a shot. One of the headers was tipped over brilliantly by goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek, whose array of saves here fully justified his club's decision to award him a lucrative contract.

Houllier made light of his narrow escape from death a year ago by referring to the glaring mistake by one of his defenders near the end that nearly allowed Kewell to equalise.

"John Arne Riise did the best test I can have for my heart," said the Liverpool manager wryly before pointing out proudly that his team had lost only once, to Tottenham, in their last 27 games.

The Frenchman was also at pains to remind everyone that this victory had been obtained without Emile Heskey, Steven Gerrard and Stephane Henchoz, all of them injured, plus Michael Owen, who was rested until the last 15 minutes yesterday.

Indeed, the depth of Liverpool's squad is now such that that quartet of first-choice players was hardly missed. Diao underlined that fact with his winner, the first league goal of his career in Senegal, France and England.

He scored it in the 65th minute by sneaking into the Leeds penalty area and nudging a deflected centre from fellow Senegalese international El Hadji Diouf inside the near post with his right foot.

It was a fitting reward for a sound all-round display by the £4.5 million signing in Gerrard's place alongside Didi Hamann in the centre of midfield and for Liverpool's growing control of the game.

Yet it was a rare shot on target for them. Good defending by Leeds, not least in the case of debutant centre-back Teddy Lucic, saw to it that Paul Robinson hardly had a chance to press his case for replacing David Seaman in England's goal.

Dudek, by comparison, was positively overworked. Not only did the Polish international save athletically from Kewell, who hit the crossbar with his second header, he twice prevented his own defender, Djimi Traore, from conceding an own goal.

Kewell ought to have scored, though, when he left Dudek for dead after Riise had made that dreadful mistake five minutes before the end. With Liverpool cruising towards victory, the Norwegian full-back made a hash of rolling a short pass back to Sami Hyypia. Having intercepted, Mark Viduka, substituting for the injured Alan Smith, swept past the Liverpool captain and offered Kewell an inviting low centre.

His fellow Australian responded by sidestepping Dudek neatly as the goalkeeper lunged at him and, with the Liverpool defence in ruins, an equaliser appeared to be a formality. Instead, Kewell wafted the ball over the crossbar with his weaker right foot.

Match details

Leeds: Robinson, Mills, Woodgate, Lucic, Harte, Bowyer, Barmby, McPhail (Dacourt 75), Bakke, Smith (Viduka 56), Kewell.
Subs Not Used: Martyn, Kelly, Duberry.
Booked: Harte.

Liverpool: Dudek, Carragher, Hyypia, Traore, Riise, Murphy, Hamann, Diao, Cheyrou, Baros (Owen 69), Diouf.
Subs Not Used: Babbel, Smicer, Arphexad, Biscan.
Booked: Carragher, Diouf.
Goals: Diao 66.
Att: 40,187
Ref: S Dunn (Avon).

Copyright - The Telegraph


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