Elland Road Deadlock!!

Still the chase for Champions League football is at boiling point as there are no fewer than 6 teams with a serious chance of finishing fourth and another 4 or 5 with an outside chance. Liverpool could no longer afford to lose points with little under a third of the season to go.

As Liverpool had played UEFA Cup football on Thursday, the match at Elland Road was played on Sunday morning, so most of the weekend’s football had already taken place. It had been a pretty good weekend in respect of the chase for fourth spot, Charlton having lost at Arsenal, new chasers Aston Villa lost at Mersey neighbours Everton, whilst Fulham only picked up a point against Manchester United. There was only closest rivals and possibly strongest out of the pack, Newcastle, that were still to play, though in another good fortune for Liverpool as they drew to Portsmouth later on that day.

Under pressure manager Gerard Houllier named a similar line up to the team that beat Levski Sofia during the week, with only Danny Murphy replacing Bruno Cheyrou in midfield. The traveling faithful would have been pleased to see an unchanged strike force of Michael Owen and Milan Baros, though Emile Heskey had recovered from a back strain and made the bench for the first time in a couple of weeks.

Both sides had to go out and look for all 3 points as Leeds are leaving it late if they are to escape relegation whilst Liverpool want to maintain their chase for the elusive fourth place. Everybody expected the game to be fast and fiery and both teams were not going to disappoint. And after a minute’s silence was immaculately observed in respect for Leeds and Welsh legend John Charles, aka "The Gentle Giant".

Leeds got the game underway and within a couple of minutes, the fast pace that was to see out the 90 minutes had been set. Both sides went in search of the opening goal and it was Liverpool who created the first two goalscoring opportunities. Stevie Gerrard was once again on fire as he skipped a couple of challenges before slipping the ball through to Michael Owen, who cut inside on his right foot before his low shot that was beckoning for the far bottom corner, was deflected wide by Gary Kelly.

Owen then had a second chance soon after from 18 yards from goal as he again skipped a challenge but hit his shot high over the Leeds bar when you would have expected the England striker to do better. But we didn’t have to wait much longer as Liverpool applied more and more attacking pressure to the Leeds defence and on the 21st minute, former Leeds favourite Harry Kewell curled in a sublime shot, similar to the one he scored on Thursday against Levski Sofia, into the far top corner of the goal, leaving Paul Robinson stranded in the Leeds goal.

Liverpool failed to capitalize on their goal advantage as their forward play was not enough to bring another scoring opportunity and it was Leeds who got the next chance, their first shot on goal of the game shortly before the half hour mark. A long kick from keeper Robinson was poorly headed from Swiss defender Henchoz as he nodded it to the feet of Alan Smith who set Norwegian Eirik Bakke up to slot home from close range to level the game at 1-1.

Leeds then went one better 5 minutes later as Mark Viduka pounced on a loose ball to lob a stranded Kirkland and surprisingly put Leeds 2-1 up. Liverpool had to bounce back quickly from this as Leeds had the momentum to further the lead, so the battle in midfield heated up. Steven Gerrard and Dietmar Hamann was first to every ball and there possession almost paid off soon after the goal when a Harry Kewell cross from the left wing was met by the head of Owen but his header was off target.

It looked like it would take something special to beat a resilient Leeds defence and that’s exactly what Czech starlet Milan Baros created. Winning the ball 30 yards out he stormed through multiple home defenders and powered the ball home from just outside the box. He very nearly made it 3-2 shortly after when an inch perfect cross from Steven Gerrard was met by Baros but his head crashed despairingly back off the bar.

2-2 at half time and all was set for the momentum of the game to continue in the second half, more chances were expected and more goals to be seen. This was not to be the case as both sides battled to find the winner, Leeds’ Alan Smith coming the closest on two occasions, first a similar header to Baros’ effort in the first half again came back off the under side of the bar and then 15 minutes from the end, Smith ploughed his way through the shaky Liverpool defence before drilling a ball low to Kirkland’s far post, only for the bend of the ball to take it just wide.

With just 10 minutes left in the game, it looked as though both sides would settle for the draw until Dietmar Hamann hit a scorching 25 yard shot that beckoned for the top corner, only to be denied by a brilliant full stretch save by Robinson. The only other efforts for Liverpool were a few volley’s by Gerrard, trying to emulate his brilliant opener on Thursday night, this time though he failed to hit the target with either effort.

So both sides went away with a point, they could both hold their heads high after a fierce battle, and the point apiece was a fair result, though either sides could have taken the win. A deserved point for Leeds who look strong enough to avoid relegation but will need more points under their belt in the forthcoming weeks and Liverpool will take the point but again will need more wins if they are to secure fourth spot.

Next match for the Mighty Reds is on Wednesday night, the return leg in the UEFA Cup versus Levski Sofia, Liverpool will be looking to secure a quarter final place.

© Adam Elce,

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