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New Years Eve...
The tall, powerfully built Australian glanced nervously around the room. Nobody had recognised him. He drank purposefully from his pint glass of golden lager. As the glass returned to the table he noticed the deep red lipstick residue . His wandering fingers wrapped around a curl in his long blonde wig. He didn't like dressing up as a woman but this was the only way he could avoid the persistent public gaze in this unforgiving parish.
He wandered over to the bar to replenish his supplies. His steadiness in the high heels gave him confidence. He smiled. It was at this point he noticed the eyes. Across from the dance floor. The Eyes pierced into him. He was afraid. A bead of sweat ran the length of his strapless back and nestled into his suspender belt.
The Eyes approached. He held his breath.
"What are you doing here ?" hissed the Eyes.
Copy from Football Unlimited of 01/01/2001.
The veneration of Terry Venables continues apace. Middlesbrough remain in the bottom three but five matches into his emergency coaching assignment Venables' own stock is so high that there is a sense of a dirty job moving steadily towards completion.
Leeds United, the inferior Premiership version, not the top-of-the-range Champions League model, became the latest team to falter against a Middlesbrough side who stretched their unbeaten run under Venables to five games.
In that time Middlesbrough have conceded only two goals: a bizarre own-goal from Noel Whelan on Saturday and yesterday a debatable penalty which allowed Robbie Keane to notch his first Leeds goal since his loan switch from Italy.
Copy from The Independent of 01/01/2001.
It hardly ranks alongside the fighting draw in the San Siro or the famous victory in the Stadio Olimpico, but such is the ground Leeds have lost on the home front since October that even a fortuitous point against lowly Premiership opposition qualifies as a step forward for David O'Leary's domestic underachievers.
It was gratefully claimed, after defeats against Aston Villa and Newcastle, with a helping hand from the referee David Elleray. The ball Mark Viduka attempted to play to the left edge of the Middlesbrough area nearly 10 minutes into the second half undoubtedly struck one of Curtis Fleming's hands and, though the intention of the act was in serious doubt, the referee gave the penalty that got Leeds off the hook.
Robbie Keane, on his first start since his staggered £13m move from Internazionale, buried the kick low into the left corner of Mark Schwarzer's goal. The young Irishman celebrated with a cartwheel and a somersault, but at the final whistle the Elland Road regulars were not head over heels after watching their team stutter into the new year looking a long way short of the £74m sum of their individual parts.
Boos rang round the ground as the teams departed and O'Leary acknowledged: "We should be doing better, I know that. The players know that."
Middlesbrough, who led from the 27th minute, courtesy of Alen Boksic, are now unbeaten in five games since Terry Venables assumed full control of team affairs from Bryan Robson. But their head coach was far from contented, saying: "Before the game I would have been happy with the draw but, having played it, I'm disappointed. I felt it wasn't a penalty."
O'Leary's eagerness to make a fresh start was reflected in the line-up he selected. There were four changes to the side beaten 2-1 at Newcastle on Boxing Day Keane for Alan Smith in attack, David Batty for the suspended Eirik Bakke and Jason Wilcox for the injured Harry Kewell in midfield, and Lucas Radebe for Jonathan Woodgate in central defence.
It was Batty's first start for a year and three weeks. Neither he, nor the more genuine new boy Keane, wasted time before making their presence felt, with Keane delivering a measured cross from the right that might have prompted a fourth-minute goal had Lee Bowyer not glanced Viduka's head-on wide of the target and Batty rattling first Christian Karembeu, then Hamilton Ricard with characteristically snappy challenges.
Middlesbrough, without their injured captain, Paul Ince, lacked midfield clout in the early stages and had their tightened defence to thank for stifling Leeds' endeavour until the 24th minute, when the jinking Keane slipped past Steve Vickers, Fleming and Gianluca Festa on the left edge of the area before driving a low shot into the side-netting.
Middlesbrough had barely caught sight of the home goal at that point. They were pinned in their own half when Paul Okon forged the breakthrough with a pass of slide-rule precision that bisected the hesitant Radebe and Rio Ferdinand and released Boksic through the middle, allowing him to finish in style, side-footing the ball through Paul Robinson's legs for his eighth goal of the season and second in two games.
Middlesbrough closed ranks thereafter, to such good effect that it took Leeds until the 48th minute to force a save from Schwarzer, as the Australian dived smartly to his left to grasp a curling Wilcox shot.
Seven minutes later, Leeds were level, thanks to the generosity of Mr Elleray and the penalty-taking precision of Keane who came close to joining Boro 18 months ago.
It was the visitors, though, who came closer to victory, with Boksic and Phil Stamp squandering clear chances on the break in the last 10 minutes.
Copy from Yorkshire Evening Post of 02/01/2001.
SPEAKING purely entertainment value, the 83rd rerun of Mary Poppins had plenty more going for it than a grim, grimacing, backs-to-the-wall Boro brought to the Premiership stage.
Yet it was played for and got as they continually frustrated a United side which simply could not find the key to pick a heavily padlocked door.
Boro are not winning many friends with their unambitious style, but it's points and not kinship they want in their determined fight to retain top-level status.
The challenge they threw down to United earned them a ninth point from 15 under new coach Terry Venables and, in the process, deprived David O'Leary's troops of yet another two in their more palatable quest.
United have been sucker-punched before by teams who have arrived on a grinding-out mission, but this was the first time this season that they had been faced with a rearguard action that was near-total.
That they took anything at all from the game was due in its entirety to a penalty decision that had its origins in the annals of Bolivian bribery.
It wasn't money that did the changing here, just the Elleray brain cells from grey to black to white in a grossly ill-judged moment.
Robbie Keane, enjoying his first start for Leeds, fully capitalised and left Venables to lament: "Before the game we would have been happy with a draw because it is always a difficult game here, but after playing it I'm a bit disappointed.
"I felt it wasn't a penalty. Decisions like that are really disappointing. It was a deflection that went on to the knee and then on to the hand. He didn't know anything about it.
"But I felt we handled what was thrown at us. Everyone is getting to know better and better what I am trying to do. Other clubs are getting drawn into the relegation zone now, so it is going to be interesting.
"We could have been more adventurous and a bit bolder, but overall I can't complain."
Jonathan Woodgate and Alan Smith were relegated to the bench as O'Leary shook up his team, with skipper Lucas Radebe back to partner Rio Ferdinand at the heart of defence.
The one-match suspension being served by Eirik Bakke meant that David Batty came into midfield for his first full airing for 14 months and Jason Wilcox took the place of the injured Harry Kewell.
Boro, surging in confidence through being unbeaten in four outings under new coach Terry Venables, were missing the influential Paul Ince through injury.
Viduka had a reasonable chance after just four minutes when Bowyer picked him out with a headed cross from Keane's delivery, but he steered it wide.
But it was a further 20 minutes before United were able to manufacture another opportunity, Keane ghosting through Vickers, Fleming and Ehigou on the left of the area before placing his shot just wide of the near post. Boro's tactics had predictably been to contain, soak up and wait patiently for a chance on the break and it came in the 26th minute when Okon measured his pass perfectly for Boksic to run on to, leaving Radebe stranded and going on to poke the ball home between Robinson's legs.
As United began the second half with some purpose Wilcox cut in from the left and brought a fine flying save from Schwarzer. Again Boro sat ten deep, inviting United to invent something magical to break them down, and when it finally happened, in the 53rd minute, it came via a typical Viduka flick in the box.
Fleming was harshly adjudged to have handled and Keane stepped up to slam his spot kick home, low to Schwarzer's right, celebrating his debut Leeds goal with a cartwheel.
Ferdinand wasn't far away with a header from Wilcox's corner on 67 minutes and when Dacourt was checked by Okon he should have done better than to send his direct free kick at goal high into the stand.
Smith, on for Keane with 15 minutes to go, was well off target when he first got sight of goal, but at the other end Robinson was forced into the save of the match to keep out an angled drive from Boksic.
Then the Leeds defence went missing in its entirety as Whelan squared the ball to substitute Stamp who, with better control, would surely have wrapped it up for Boro.
Matteo's skied shot let down some good approach work featuring Kelly as Leeds pressed for a late winner and what had really been needed was a concerted bombardment of crosses from players with the ability to get to the byline.
This aspect of United's play was conspicuous by its absence and contributed greatly to their inability to beat yet another team which should have been dispatched with something to spare.
Said O'Leary: "I've heard Terry's thoughts and maybe I'm young and naive, but I can't believe what he said. I've been accused of being naive a little bit, but they had two attacks and scored from one.
"I thought we dominated the game without making a great deal of our advantage in the last third. I told the players beforehand that Middlesbrough are better organised now, and for all that we were going to dominate we could not afford to give away a goal.
"But a certain individual let in a quality player like Alen Boksic and he went on to score a goal that their efforts had not deserved.
"The penalty we were given was dubious, but I could not believe some of the decisions which followed it. How the push on Lee Bowyer didn't warrant a penalty is beyond me." were relegated to the bench as O'Leary shook up his team, with skipper Lucas Radebe back to partner Rio Ferdinand at the heart of defence.
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The views expressed and hosted on this site belong entirely to their individual authors.