Articles

Various reports from Press Association, The Daily Telegraph and The Times

Elland Road Bore

by Rob King of "Press Association"

Liverpool turned from Sunday saints to sinners at Leeds as they bored their way to yet another replay in this year's interminable FA Cup campaign.

The team that thrilled a nation out of its seats in last week's whirlwind destruction of Premiership rivals Aston Villa, could barely raise an eyebrow against Howard Wilkinson's Elland Road spoilers in this forgettable quarter-final echo of a memorable 1965 final.

In a competition that has paid no heed to the FA's timetable, it ensured that not one outright winner featured in the post-match draw for the last four, which will pit this tie's survivors against either Nottingham Forest or Villa.

It will surely be Double-chasing Liverpool. Not only do Leeds now return to the scene of their heaviest defeat of the season, but they will probably do so on March 20 and will perhaps be preoccupied by their Coca-Cola Cup final date with Villa five days later.

Clearly few Yorkshiremen believe a second Wembley appearance is likely to come along so quickly after their first for 23 years, 15,000 thousand staying at home to watch on the box and save their wallets for Coca-Cola tickets. They were the wise ones.

It was perhaps unfair to ask Liverpool to live up to the scintillating entertainment of the 3-0 thrashing of Villa, without Leeds' negative approach.

But Wilkinson, still tortured by the memory of Leeds' 5-0 Merseyside thrashing in January, was determined not to get caught again, opening with a smothering five-man defence reinforced by the return of Gary Kelly.

The first seven minutes a week ago produced three dazzling goals, but this time there was just one glimmer of a chance in the whole first half when John Barnes prodded Steve McManaman through on the right after seven minutes.

Where Villa were punished by his instinctive right foot, Leeds were reprieved as he screwed a more measured effort across the face of goal.

The Robbie Fowler-Stan Collymore combination had yielded 26 goals in an unbeaten 16-match run with 12 wins -- including three against Leeds -- but this time they were largely restricted to Big Berthas, testing John Lukic from long range.

Nevertheless he was still stretched to get down to decent 25 yarders from both, especially Fowler in the 32nd minute.

Leeds, in one of their more prosaic moods in a season which has seen them joyfully through to Wilkinson's first major cup final but equally prone to disasters like their home defeat by Bolton, plugged away and might well have benefited from a creeping sloppiness in Liverpool's play.

John Scales, in particular, was a major culprit and when he stumbled over the ball on the edge of his area in the 37th minute, he presented Tomas Brolin with the chance to lob David James, who backpedalled furiously to the back post to rescue the ball.

Before then, the bustling combination of Tony Yeboah and Nigel Worthington had caught James in a dither as the Irish full-back got in on the left, but his tight-angled shot was clipped behind by Barnes on the near post.

Liverpool found a welcome higher gear after the break, Lukic turning aside Collymore's angled shot and then relieved when McManaman's swerving drive sailed past his diving left hand and smacked into the sidenetting.

But such moments of drama were rare in a game that sank fast in torpor, lifted by Fowler's 25 yard drive that zipped just inches the wrong side of the post.

Wilkinson sent on Brian Deane for the more subtle Brolin in the 77th minute and almost immediately his robust, direct run created an opening for Gary McAllister, hoisted over the bar.

The increased aerial threat twice had James struggling onto Worthington crosses and Roy Evans called for Jamie Redknapp to replace Barnes in an effort to stem the late tide.

It did not take much, in fairness, and referee Dermot Gallagher's final whistle was a merciful release.

Howard Wilkinson launched a vigorous defence of the Leeds tactics which bored half-empty Elland Road and a massive BBC Television audience in the goalless FA Cup quarter-final against Liverpool.

"I told them at half-time you've got to make this game more entertaining -- score a quick own goal, two of you lie down and let Liverpool get three, then everyone will go home happy -- except you," said the Leeds boss sarcastically.

He added: "They are a good team, they've scored a lot of goals recently and they are on a roll. When they get the ball they take some stopping."

"We went to Liverpool in January, had Gary Kelly sent off and got tonked 5-0 and everybody said we were rubbish."

"We've conceded no goals today and some people will say we're still rubbish. That's how it happens sometimes."

"I was pleased with our discipline and our defending. I just told them at half-time that we had to take the initiative more and not be so fearful of losing the ball."

Wilkinson, who has already taken Leeds to their first cup final in 23 years in the Coca-Cola, kept a second Wembley route open by spreading five across the back to man-mark Robbie Fowler and Stan Collymore to distraction and the frustration of a 24,632 crowd, 15,000 down on capacity.

There was no cup-tie atmosphere and Wilkinson said: "I was surprised by the crowd. Someone told me that it was anticipated as being the biggest television audience of the season."

"But this was our 16th cup tie. All our recent games have been 'pay' games and there's Wembley in a fortnight, so maybe that's reflected in the attendance."

"But we've had 42,000 applications for 31,000 tickets for the cup final. If all the Leeds fans were here today, where's the other 25,000 coming from who want to go to Wembley?"

Leeds now face a fixture pile-up, forced to cancel a Premiership game against Southampton for the daunting return to Anfield on March 20, just five days before the final against Aston Villa.

"That's a much better fixture just before Wembley: there's no fear of distraction when you play Liverpool in the cup," he added.

Merseyside boss Roy Evans also faces congestion as he pursues a dream double of league and cup but said: "Anyone worth their salt involved in chasing cups and championships is going to get that sort of pile-up."

"Staying in the cup is your first and foremost priority. It was a tough battle -- in the sixth round of the cup it's all to play for and they made it tight."

"We weren't as sharp as we have been lately but in cup ties sometimes the nerves jangle. But a draw is par for the course the way this cup run's going."

Evans also defended his side, adding: "If you're asking do we provide value for money, on a regular basis then yes we do. It wasn't as special as we wanted today, but we were trying to win it, that's for sure."

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Leeds take safety-first tactics to extremes

by Henry Winter of "The Daily Telegraph"

RARELY has a match promised so much and delivered so little. The thousands of supporters who stayed away from this FA Cup quarter-final can count themselves lucky. Elland Road, barely two thirds full as Leeds regulars husbanded their resources for a different road to Wembley, watched in increasing dismay as a host of major Premiership talents chugged their way towards a stalemate and March 20 replay.

Liverpool were happy with a return, as any team escaping from Leeds would be, but the hosts' tactics were unadventurous to say the least. The intention of a three-man central defence and a man-marking job on Steve McManaman was obvious: stifle vibrant, free-scoring opposition, who are now unbeaten in 17 outings. The homework Howard Wilkinson had set his pupils was studiously completed but it hardly contributed to any possibility of a spectacle.

Mark Ford followed McManaman like an eager puppy. The defensive triumvirate of David Wetherall, Paul Beesley and Lucas Radebe forced Stan Collymore and Robbie Fowler wide and deep, so reducing their threat. Afterwards, Wilkinson defended his approach in that wry way of his. "I said to the players at half-time, make it more entertaining. Go out there and give away an own goal. Then two of you lie down. Let Liverpool get three goals and then we'll all go home happy."

His real interval oration was actually more constructive. "I said we had to take the initiative more and not to be so fearful." Wilkinson aired his pride that Leeds were still involved in two exhausting competitions. "We haven't got a big squad, only 28 pros, a lot of them kids. In the past we've taken merciless stick for our cup form. To have kept things going on three fronts, with the frequency of bookings and injuries and with three players in Africa for some time, would have been nigh on impossible."

"It was a cup-tie and maybe there were a few nerves jangling"

"Gary McAllister has played all 16 cup-ties and every Premier League game bar one. That's 40-odd games plus international matches. Gary Kelly, David Wetherall, Carlton Palmer and Tony Yeboah are probably the same. Something's got to give."

It was clearly one too far for many supporters forced to pay out ever-rising sums to watch their team. The fact that the game was live on terrestrial TV further reduced the attendance. Liverpool, at least, turned up in sizeable numbers. Afterwards, the Merseysiders voiced contentment but know that the creation of an extra fixture simply complicates their championship run-in. Arsenal were due at Anfield, always a match echoing title overtones, on March 20, but will have their trip delayed, Cup replays taking precedence.

Roy Evans expressed his satisfaction. "It was a cup-tie and maybe there were a few nerves jangling," Liverpool's manager said. "But we're still in the semi-final draw, which is par for the course the way this cup is going. I thought we got in positions but didn't have the killer instinct."

The best chance of a defence-dominated match fell to Nigel Worthington in the 20th minute, following a game of ping-pong involving Ford, Yeboah and Phil Babb. Eventually the ball fell to Worthington, running wide to the left. He connected well enough with the ball only for Babb to clear at the post.

How typical. This was a game full of potential but no significant action, all flirting and no kissing. Both sides were defensively impressive, particularly Mark Wright for Liverpool.

In midfield, Leeds were well-prepared for Liverpool dangers. When John Barnes tried to wriggle clear of the white blanket thrown across midfield, Palmer came over and clattered him and was duly booked.

Almost of more interest was whether Yeboah would get booked for a series of fouls

Neither goalkeeper was seriously troubled. McManaman and Fowler hinted at finding a route past John Lukic but it was nothing more than a hint. Brolin, puffing hard to little effect, almost exploited John Scales's poor control, curling the ball high towards the top corner. Unfortunately for the mercurial Swede, James is a tall 'keeper.

Almost of more interest was whether Yeboah would get booked for a series of fouls, two of which were inflicted on McManaman. Gallagher proved in an indulgent mood. Yeboah threatened at something more positive early in the second half before the game turned back Liverpool's way. Fowler and McAteer combined to tee up Collymore out on the left. His stubbed shot hardly troubled Lukic.

McManaman then sprinted through, shoulders swaying, ball dancing in attendance, before releasing a low shot from 25 yards that forced Lukic to dive but without real worry.

Leeds came to life - but only slightly - when Brian Deane replaced the innefectual Brolin. With almost his first touch, the tall striker avoided three challenges and coaxed McAllister down the inside-right channel. McAllister's shot encapsulated the afternoon: a wayward finish from a below-par international.

The game concluded with another mistake, really the only way it could finish. The error was made by Gallagher, clearly infected with the malaise that had earlier seized the players. When Jamie Redknapp swept a long, crossfield pass, Collymore looked set for one last charge on goal. But up popped the hand of Lucas Radebe to deflect the danger. Gallagher waved play on.

So the match concluded on a poor note. Those supporters who elected to avoid Elland Road should be congratulated on their prescience. While clubs enjoy long cup runs they represent an unwelcome additional expense to supporters. Anyone at Elland Road yesterday deserved a refund.

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Wilkinson forces stalemate

by Rob Hughes of "The Times"

LIKE George Burns, the FA Cup seems always to have been with us. Today, there is a void: Burns has given us his last laugh and the Cup lies dormant, for the first time in history. The semi-final draw does not have a single team that has qualified to play in it.

Yesterday's blank scoreline at Elland Road between Leeds United and Liverpool, contrived by the tactics from first to last, happened to draw 15,000 below Leeds's capacity gate. That meant that the majority of the 24,632 who could afford the extortionate 24 pound ticket price and could resist the live BBC Television transmission have somehow found the means to try to support their team all the way to Wembley in a second cup, just two weeks before they have to pay once again for the Coca-Cola Cup final - for which, surprise, surprise, there is an oversubscription of more than 10,000 desperate people chasing tickets.

"There are players who could finish this quarter-final in the blink of an eye," John Barnes, the Liverpool captain, had forecast at lunchtime. Nobody blinked - nobody dared - and, in a match that started tentatively and ended tired, the fear of defeat smothered any anticipation of victory, or any ambition to be a glory seeker.

Howard Wilkinson, the Leeds manager, resorted to sarcasm afterwards when he was asked if he felt sorry for the spectators. "Yeah, I said to them [the players] at half-time you've got to make this more entertaining," he said. "Go out and put in an own goal, then two of you lie down, let Liverpool go three up and everyone can go home happy saying they'd been entertained!"

He puckered his lips and then, in more characteristic mode, spoke of the draining league and cup programme, the fact that it is only early March and his captain, Gary McAllister, had played all 16 cup-ties this season, plus league matches, plus internationals. Yet in truth, Leeds, the home team remember, had set out technically to negate the smooth passing and rhythm with which Liverpool had trounced them 5-0 in the FA Carling Premiership game at Anfield.

Wilkinson matched Liverpool's three centre-back planning, but, down the flanks, he used negative, defensive players and, in front of his back-line, he deployed, first, Mark Ford to try to prevent the running and invention of McManaman and, when Ford had had enough, he deployed a substitute, Andy Gray, a winger, in exactly the same role.

How little we suspected that two of the early flourishes were to be highlights before the fear really gripped both teams. In the seventh minute, McAteer and Barnes created a flowing manoeuvre down the right and McManaman, slipping the leash of his close marker, fired low across the face of the goal - low and wide. Then McAllister, inevitably, the core of any Leeds creativity, stretched elegantly away from Thomas, drove through the resistance of Wright and managed to work the ball to Worthington, whose shot was deflected towards James, the goalkeeper.

Liverpool's predatory for wards were finding that the Leeds penalty area was surrounded by a no-go barrier. They were obliged to try to shoot from 30 yards and more; Collymore was first to get the message and twice his long shots, with right and left foot, were saved comfortably by Lukic.

Fowler, who surely tomorrow will be chosen for the full England squad for the first time in his young career, always had that impish turn of speed, that aggressive determination to get into scoring positions, and yet, partly because the service, from McAteer in particular, was so feebly inept, he too had to try his best from a distance. When Lukic did not fend off the shots, Fowler's direction was a foot wide.

The onus should have been on Leeds, on Yeboah especially, since the long ball to him was their main instinct. He did, midway through the first half, attempt one of his spectacular overhead kicks; the ball brushed off the body of Scales to Worthington and he, the replacement left back for the injured Dorigo, found the angle too acute, his attempted shot being cleared by Babb, although the ball was heading behind the near post in any case.

To make the spoiling matters worse, Dermot Gallagher, such a fine referee in Dortmund last Wednesday, was seeing no evil. Five times, tackles came in from behind, two of them by Yeboah on McManaman. The fouls were given, but the cards remained in this indulgent arbiter's pocket, until Palmer gave him no option but to caution him after crudely bringing his studs down on the shin of Barnes. Not surprisingly, Barnes did not see out the contest.

Neither did Brolin. Where was he, this Swedish pimpernel, whose effervescence had been so marvellous at the last European championship and right up to the 1994 World Cup semi-final? He was struggling to find the space, or the pace, of English cup fare. In consequence, defenders such as Wright and Radebe were comfortably in command.

Leeds's misadventure and the admission from Roy Evans, the Liverpool manager, that his side did not have their "normal killer instinct in getting balls into the box" may have severe consequences, for they must now replay this quarter-final on the Wednesday before their first visit to Wembley for 23 years.

"There's got to be a conclusion at Anfield," Evans observed, "so I hope we become a bit sharper there. It means more matches for us too, complicating the championship. But with the cups, we're happy to be in there. Fixture congestion at this time of the season means we are succeeding in the competitions. I wouldn't have it any other way."

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