independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Diouf changes from sewer rat to matador

LEEDS UNITED 2
TOTTENHAM 1

By the end, there were plastic bags and crisp packets skittering across the turf of a club which has long since been cast out of the big time and on to the Premier League's refuse tip. But that was the only rubbish on view.

This was a day when Leeds simply didn't flinch in the face of a fixture with history, which, to quote their manager Neil Warnock's observations beforehand, "runs off the tongue naturally".

For his Tottenham counterpart, Andre Villas-Boas, the gamble of playing without a recognised striker backfired. However, the most decisive factor in Leeds' progress was Spurs' inability to deal with the long balls which caught them so desperately flat.

It is the kind of tactic for which sophisticates of the game like Villas-Boas have little time but it also frequently caused him and his high defensive line problems when he managed Chelsea.

Warnock has always been willing to employ the unfashionable methods which others might discard and El-Hadji Diouf's integral role in this victory revealed the rewards.

It was a gamble bringing Diouf across from Doncaster Rovers after an English career blighted by the controversies which famously led Warnock to brand the Senegalese a "sewer rat".

Earlier this season, Warnock revised his opinion, describing Diouf as the team's "matador" and that was certainly true yesterday.

He was at the crux of both his side's goals and his partnership with the 26-year-old Scottish striker Ross McCormack, whose curled finish proved the difference between the sides, was something Tottenham could never match.

For Spurs, Scott Parker displayed the type of bite which Dave Mackay used to in a Tottenham shirt, in the days when he and Billy Bremner would slug it out.

Aaron Lennon, who started on the right, switched to the left and drifted inside, was buoyed enough by his return to the club where he played 45 times before his £500,000 move to White Hart Lane, to show that he is now the finished product.

However, their contributions weren't enough to save Spurs, who opted to give Jermain Defoe more time to recover from a hip injury ahead of Wednesday's Premier League date with Norwich.

Warnock (right) had also taken a gamble with his striker – deploying Luke Varney instead of Luciano Becchio, the Argentinian whose refusal to accept a new deal clearly rankles.

Leeds took the lead with their first opportunity thanks to a clinical finish from a player who has been frequently criticised for being anything but.

Varney scored on his Leeds debut against Shrewsbury Town back in August following a summer move from Portsmouth.

He had not scored since, but he made a mockery of that one goal in 19 games statistic when he ran on to Michael Brown's through pass and calmly slotted the ball round goalkeeper Brad Friedel. His celebrations were muted, but Elland Road exploded into noise. Game and upset on.

Tottenham responded, Jamie Ashdown getting down well to keep out a snap shot from Tom Huddlestone before denying Gareth Bale with his legs. The Leeds goalkeeper also did well to keep out a fizzing shot from Clint Dempsey before the break.

Block

Nevertheless, the best chance of another goal fell to Leeds, McCormack running on to Varney's header, only for Friedel to get out quickly to block his shot.

Leeds needed a second goal and it came five minutes into the second half when the Spurs defence paid the price for pushing too high up the pitch.

Michael Brown's flick and volleyed punt from his own half, helped on by Diouf, was only speculative but Kyle Naughton was leaden, allowing McCormack to race into the penalty area, cut back inside and clip the ball left-footed past Brad Friedel just as he reached the six-yard box.

The Leeds manager had said that his defenders were looking forward to "pitting their wits" against Gareth Bale but the two men billeted to stop his left foot launching a grenade couldn't prevent the cross from which Dempsey's looping header halved Leeds' lead within eight minutes.

However, there was to be no comeback as, thereafter, Brown marshalled a rearguard in which 22-year-old centre-half Tom Lees stood particularly firm. Resilience was written through the spine of the team.

Despite victory, the good old days feel like a long way off for Leeds. The new owners, GFH Capital, have endorsed the widely held view that they are experiencing an "acute lack of cash".

The fans' frustrations were clear in the way Warnock lamented their sarcasm towards the players. "The glass is often half-empty, never half-full, in Leeds. Maybe that's a Yorkshire trait, that," Warnock said. (© Independent News Service)

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