Date: Saturday, 7th February 2004.
English Premier League.
Villa 2 Leeds United 0.
Villa: Angel (pen), Johnsen. Leeds
Sorensen; De La Cruz, Mellberg, Dublin
(Johnsen), Samuel; Solano, Hendrie (Ridgewell), Hitzlsperger, Barry; Angel, Vassell
(Crouch). Unused Subs: Allback, Postma.
Leeds United: Robinson; Kelly, Caldwell, Matteo, Domi; Pennant (Lennon), Bakke (Richardson), Johnson, Milner; Smith, Viduka. Unused Subs: Harte, McPhail, Carson.
Referee: Mr U. Rennie (Sheffield, Yorkshire).
returning Didier Domi was cited as the unfortunate
culprit at Aston Villa. On the stroke of half-time Domi
was adjudged to have fouled Darius Vassell when
through on goal, despite no appeals from anyone. Referee Uriah
Rennie was twenty yards away from the incident and,
as was clear to all present, there was no contact made. Steve Caldwell was the
person nearest to the incident and he said, “I was closer than the referee and
no way was that a penalty. The guy checked up, Didier touched the ball and Vassell went down. It was never a penalty in my opinion.”
Leeds United had lost six League games in a row only twice before. If they lost
against Wolves at Elland Road it would set an unwanted club
record. Sorry statistics were growing just like the club's debt. Former manager
David O'Leary, then in charge at Aston Villa, said he gained no pleasure from
the financial and footballing decline. O'Leary had
led Leeds to the European Cup Semi-Final in
2001 but was sacked just twelve months later after finishing fifth in the
Premiership. The Irishman was almost apologetic after his side inflicted more
pain on Leeds though he refused to accept that
his judgement in the transfer market was in any way
to blame for the club's rot.
O'Leary pointed an angry finger in the direction of former chairman Peter Ridsdale and former deputy-chairman Allan Leighton, the men
who controlled purse-strings. "Let me tell you, the Leeds United manager
at the time did not go in and tie up the chairman and demand that someone was
signed," he said. "It didn't happen like that. They set the agenda.
You would think that, with Allan Leighton overseeing Peter Ridsdale,
we would have been all right. Did I negotiate a single contract? No. I
nominated the players, they signed them. I have got the same agenda here at
Aston Villa. I recommend, then it is up to the board.
At Leeds, they structured all the money, not
me. I would love to have someone answer a lot of questions," he added.
"We had record gates, record sponsorships, cheques
from the Champions League and the UEFA Cup semi-finals I am just amazed at
where it has all gone."
Leeds, whose debt was approaching £100m,
had until that Friday to secure an agreement with creditors that would save the
club from administration. They had a little longer to avoid relegation from the
Premiership but that task could be even harder. O’Leary was adamant that Leeds were too good to go down. The
majority of the players were those he gelled into a great side. "They can
get out of it. I'm not just saying that, I believe it. When you look at the
players out there, they have a lot with European experience. They have quality
in Alan Smith and Mark Viduka up-front and a midfield
that is not a relegation midfield. Something is not right for them to be where they
are," he said. "I wasn't a fan when they were playing a 4-5-1 formation. For me, the 4-4-2 is the best system. They have got
to win games now. With three points you have a chance. Draws are okay but time
will start running out soon."
manager Eddie Gray made three changes to a side that performed so inadequately
against Middlesbrough seven days previously. Young centre-back
Matthew Kilgallon and left-back Ian Harte were dropped, while Michael Duberry
was absent after suffering a rib injury in training on the Friday that could
also keep him out for the rest of the month. There was a recall for Didier Domi, a debut for loan signing Steven Caldwell, and a
return for Mark Viduka, who had been on compassionate
leave nursing his sick father in Australia. All three deserved praise for
their contributions in an encouraging performance all round. Yet grit and
determination can only go so far. In the end, a team needs quality and
inspiration to prosper in the top flight of English football. The quality is
there but simply does not rear its head on a regular enough basis to make a
Leeds had enough of the ball to come away
with all three points but the final pass was too often misplaced. While Leeds displayed vigour
and steel at the back, defenders could also be guilty of returning the ball to
the opposition too easily. Referee Uriah Rennie awarded Villa a contentious penalty in first half
stoppage time that effectively swung the game. Didier Domi
slid across the penalty area to nick the ball off striker Darius Vassell but Rennie, who was
surely too far away from the incident to have ruled with any degree of
certainty, felt it was a foul. If so, why was Domi
not dismissed as the last player between striker and goal?
Angel scored from the penalty and Leeds had been kicked in the teeth. Goalkeeper Paul
Robinson, jeered by Villa supporters following the collapse of his summer move
from Leeds, had produced a wonder save to tip Nolberto Salano's header onto the
crossbar. Steve Caldwell headed off the line under pressure from Lee Hendrie. James Milner struck the bar for Leeds with a header and Hendrie hit the woodwork at the other end. It was all over
for Leeds just before the hour mark when Eirik Bakke, under pressure from
Ronnie Johnsen, headed into his own net when
defending a free-kick. Although Mark Viduka hit the
woodwork with a dipping volley and narrowly headed wide at a corner, Leeds
slumped to a sixth consecutive league defeat. The last time that happened was
in 1996 under Howard Wilkinson. They avoided a seventh defeat by drawing with Coventry City on the final day of the season.
Juan Pablo Angel celebrates his success from
the spot and Ronny Johnsen is delighted to get
credited with the second
Alan Smith wins a heading duel Mark Viduka leaves Jlloyd Samuel in
Gary Kelly closes in on Darius Vassell
gets the jump on Didier Domi
Seth Johnson gets United moving despite Lee Hendrie
Olof Mellberg is all over Alan Smith
Mark Viduka gave it
everything but could not score. He wins a header
watched by Dominic Matteo and Aaron Lennon.
Juan Pablo Angel and Ronny Johnsen
got the Villa goals Ian Harte and Matthew Kilgallon were
was Didier Domi was recalled Stephen Caldwell made his debut
and Mark Viduka returned from leave
absent through injury
Paul Robinson was jeered James Milner hit
the bar Erik Bakke
assisted Villa with an own goal
Thomas Sorensen was in the Villa goal Ulises De La Cruz and Jlloyd
Samuel were the full-backs
Olof Mellberg and Dion
Dublin formed the central defence Juan Pablo Angel
and Darius Vassell were the strikers
Nolberto Solano, Lee Hendrie, Thomas Hitzlsperger and Gareth Barry were Villa’s starting
Ronny Johnsen, Liam Ridgewell, and Peter Crouch were used as substitutes
Marcus Allback and
Stefan Postma were the unused substitutes