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Is this the worst view in Europe?

The Toe Poke about an hour ago
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Spurs on the road to nowhere

Tottenham about an hour ago
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Mar 3, 2007

Leeds continue to fight 'the enemy within'

'That's why we're going down'. Not the chant you normally expect to hear, but it was hard to disagree with one Leeds fan, even if his was an isolated voice at Elland Road.

There are numerous reasons why Leeds will probably slip into English football's third tier for the first time in their history, and the majority of them were evident at Elland Road.

Another became apparent after the game, and in keeping with Leeds' season it was utterly unexpected. There was an initial surprise when midfielder Kevin Nicholls, appointed club captain by Wise, was nowhere to be found on the teamsheet; perhaps he had a minor injury.

Instead, as manager Dennis Wise revealed after the game, Leeds' faltering survival bid has been undermined by the man who should be the manager's chief lieutenant on the pitch: his captain.

'I was gobsmacked,' said Wise. 'He said to me he'd like to leave. There's 11 games to go and he was the captain of this football club. You expected him to dig in like the rest and get us out of this mess and not chuck it in. It's frightening, isn't it?'

To compound his disloyalty, Nicholls' preferred destination was his former club, and Leeds' relegation rivals. 'It disappointed me that he wanted to go straight away to Luton. I could understand it if he wanted to go to a bigger club, but why would he want to go back to Luton?'

Not that the regulars at Kenilworth Road should expect to see Nicholls back in the centre of their midfield in the near future. Wise explained: 'The one thing I'm not going to do is give him to Luton. Not in a million years. You think I'm mad? As though I'm going to loan him to Luton? It's seriously crazy.'

Nor did Nicholls' method of informing Wise endear him to his current manager. 'I'm disappointed in the way I found out,' he added. 'It takes [Luton boss] Mike Newell ringing me up to ask if I'd be interested in doing something with Kevin Nicholls.'

It all made Nicholls' seemingly anodyne captain's column in the programme a must-read. 'We believe we will pull clear,' he had written. 'We are all in it together.' Well, evidently not quite all. Ken Bates' column, meanwhile, was entitled 'the enemy within'. It is to be presumed that he was not referring to Nicholls. He probably is now.

Their enemies on the pitch, Sheffield Wednesday, acquitted themselves rather more creditably. The scoreline flattered Leeds. For much of the second half Wednesday, even with 10 men, were comfortable, until a pair of late goals gave it a more acceptable gloss for the home side.

It required a helping hand from Wednesday to end a drought that spanned almost eight hours. It came from Lee Bullen, slicing into his own net in the 88th minute. It appeared that inconsequential that the travelling supporters could celebrate it, singing '4-0 to the Wednesday'. They were less gleeful when Richard Cresswell, a former Wednesday striker, scored in the 90th-minute, but Leeds were unable to salvage a point.

They did not deserve to. Wednesday, despite only winning once in 2007 themselves, were the more accomplished and scored three goals, two of them of high quality.

The opener came from Marcus Tudgay, heading in from eight yards seconds after his striker Deon Burton had hit the post.

The second was simply superb: regular Championship-watchers are aware that Wednesday winger Chris Brunt possesses one of the finest left feet in the country. Others may become aware of it, too, after he robbed Frazer Richardson and lobbed Graham Stack from 40 yards. The Leeds goalkeeper had realised his pursuit was futile before it nestled in the back of the net.

'Chris Brunt has had the vision and audacity to shoot from there,' said his manager Brian Laws. 'His execution was superb.'

Their third was a terrific team goal, begun by Brunt and, after Burton and Glenn Whelan had transferred the ball across the pitch, finished emphatically by Jermaine Johnson.

Despite that, Wise insisted, somewhat implausibly, insisted: 'I was chuffed with the players. They've done great. I think they showed a lot of spirit. They had balls as well, when they were 3-0 down, to still want the ball.'

Praising his players' performance is a familiar refrain. So, too, is criticising a referee, in this case Lee Probert. Wise had two complaints - his refusal to dismiss Lee Bullen for tugging back David Healy and his rejection of a more questionable appeal, also on the Northern Ireland striker. Yet Probert's most debateable decision was to send off Tudgay just after half-time. Leeds should have been the beneficiaries, but, ultimately, they weren't.

Derby defeats are never pleasant, but the repercussions of this could be decisive. Leeds now only have 10 games left to ensure survival; they have not won in five and are running out of matches to overhaul teams such as Luton, where Nicholls may ply his trade next season.

The optimists may regard Leeds' five remaining home games as distinctly winnable, but that requires a team capable of securing all three points. With or without Kevin Nicholls, they do not seem to have one.

• MAN OF THE MATCH: Iain Turner - The Wednesday goalkeeper's outstanding saves from Ian Moore and David Healy preceded Brunt's wonderful goal, and they were obvious turning points. There are plenty of other candidates in the Wednesday side, however, including Steve Watson, Glenn Whelan, Johnson and Brunt.

• MOAN OF THE MATCH: For Wise, it was Nicholls. For Brian Laws, it was the red card shown to Tudgay for supposedly kicking the ball away. 'It's embarrassing, sending people off for finishing a move,' he said. 'How hard is it to hear a whistle? There are 25,000 spectactors whistling. Ridiculous.'

• LEEDS VERDICT: Defensively poor and outpaced on too many occasions, they may have too many flaws to survive. The plus, as Wise said, was that at least they are creating chances again.

• WEDNESDAY VERDICT: Leeds, as is their wont, overshadowed their opponents, but this was an impressive performance. Fears of relegation should be banished now.

• DENNIS THE MENACE: There was certainly menace implied as he reacted to one question with an answer of 'you're a very, very negative person'.


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