Flashback 2001: Tottenham Hotspur v Leeds United

Lee Bowyer is hoisted aloft by teammates after scoring in the 2-1 win against Spurs.
Lee Bowyer is hoisted aloft by teammates after scoring in the 2-1 win against Spurs.
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Turn back the clock to Leeds United’s Premiership clash with Spurs in February 2001.

The scoreline at White Hart Lane did not depict a rout.

But George Graham, Tottenham Hotspur’s manager, was in no doubt.

“They tore us to pieces,” Graham said in a sorry admission of Spurs’ treatment at the hands of his former club.

That comment was brutally honest. The rest of his analysis ran closer to satire.

“We’re only young and we’re still learning,” said Graham, comments which echoed the stock response of David O’Leary to each and every one of Leeds United’s defeats.

“This was a lesson and hopefully it will help us in the long run. We’ve been beaten by a team who are doing wonderfully well in Europe.”

O’Leary was more accustomed to handing out such flattery but his players deserved Graham’s tribute.

Three days before their 2-1 victory over Spurs, United had qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League after humiliating Anderlecht in Belgium.

Only for the briefest period at White Hart Lane were Leeds in any trouble.

The irony was that their problems were caused solely by Rio Ferdinand, a defender who had been called into England’s squad earlier that day.

Doubts persisted about the sense of the £18m fee paid by Leeds to West Ham United for his signature but his selection by Sven Goran Eriksson caused little dissent. Ferdinand’s detractors still had the opportunity to gloat over the critical mistake which gifted Spurs their goal on 33 minutes.

The centre-back failed to complete what should have been a routine clearance, playing the ball instead to Sergie Rebrov.

His pass ran through to Ferdinand’s cousin Les, who evaded goalkeeper Nigel Martyn and stroked the ball into an empty net. Family empathy was in short supply.

O’Leary refused to pull his punches afterwards, saying: “That’s not the first mistake he’s made. At half-time I let him know in the nicest possible way that he’d made a howler.

“I’m a hard taskmaster with him and he’s got to learn.

“But let us get this into perspective _ he’s been fantastic since the day he joined us and Sven Goran Eriksson doesn’t need to know any more about Rio Ferdinand than he already knows.

“What happened at Spurs will not influence his opinion on how good a player Rio is.”

It did not influence United’s ability to win the Premier League game either.

Ian Harte pulled Leeds back into the game by calmly converting a 45th-minute penalty after Gary Doherty fouled Lee Bowyer and Bowyer scored himself 12 minutes into the second half with a fierce left-footed shot.

Spurs offered little in response and looked a shadow of the team who were previously unbeaten at home and defending a run of nine matches without defeat.

“We have to take the positives from this,” said Graham without specifying what those positives might be.

O’Leary, by comparison, have many to dwell on and was pleased to have given 22-year-old Ferdinand an opportunity to carry the armband as deputy for suspended captain Lucas Radebe.

“It was just for the experience,” O’Leary said. “Rio can handle it. This is part of the learning process and I think you’ll see him grow into the role.”

United: Martyn, Mills, Ferdinand, Matteo, Harte, Bakke (Kewell 46), Batty, Dacourt, Bowyer, Keane, Viduka. Subs (not used): Robinson, Wilcox, Burns, Maybury.

Leeds United head coach Thomas Christiansen. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe

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