Kandol lights Leeds United's fire

RONNIE MOORE bullishly promised that Leeds United would not be greeted by violins at Prenton Park yesterday, but confident managers may find themselves dancing to Dennis Wise's tune this season.

United have taken the guise of easy targets this summer, a feeling enhanced on Thursday when the Football League enforced the club's 15-point deduction for breaching insolvency rules, but Leeds are unlikely to drown in their own self pity.

However little sympathy the English game may have for Leeds, it is no more surprising than the lack of sympathy United have for themselves.

Their breathless victory at Tranmere Rovers on the opening day of the League One season yesterday should remind the division as a whole that Leeds have been victimised for long enough.

Wise's players were drifting towards a 1-0 defeat after a tame first-half performance but, perversely, the situation offered the ideal opportunity for United to display their mental attributes and make what is and will be an important statement.

Goals from Matt Heath and Tresor Kandol – the latter's a dramatic strike in the 89th minute – completed a magical reversal after half-time, and left United to accept a wild ovation from their supporters at full-time.

In those celebratory seconds, Leeds were galvanised in a way which has never previously happened during Wise's reign. The former Chelsea midfielder has fought a harsh battle against scepticism; yesterday, he looked every bit a part of the club.

Sober reflections on United's performance will bring with them the realisation that Leeds were completely outplayed before half-time, but their success in reversing a narrow deficit, driving a dent into their 15-point penalty, was of far greater relevance.

Wise has time to work on performances; the immediate necessity is impressive results.

The quality of Tranmere's performance suggests they may edge towards a journey into the play-offs, and Moore's side tackled Leeds during the first period with energy and intent which went far beyond the usual enthusiasm created by the first day of a new term.

United's troubles have not affected their infectious reputation, and Wise can be sure that his side are still the draw in League One.

Yesterday was an indication of how much their presence will raise the performance of their opposition, and the examination of Leeds was fierce. Through the goals from Heath and Kandol, the test was passed with distinction.

A sense of injustice has been keenly felt by United's wider family this week, and that feeling was tangible among the travelling supporters at Prenton Park. But the idea that Moore would extend his sympathy to Leeds was as unlikely as a show of leniency had been at the Football League's meeting on Thursday.

Rovers were suitably wound up, and the coil sprung instantly. Calvin Zola's fifth-minute shot was both a warning and a fortunate escape, curling around Casper Ankergren from the edge of the box and shaking the side netting.

Zola gave a rugged edge to Tranmere's attack, and the powerful striker's free header from Paul McLaren's corner three minutes later spared Ankergren by bouncing past the post. The Danish goalkeeper then intervened in the 21st minute when a weak header from Frazer Richardson offered Chris Shuker possession inside the box.

Ankergren slid the ball clear from Shuker's feet, and ran out to block a low shot from Chris Greenacre as the striker attempted to find an empty net. But the reprieve was brief, and United's defence was breached by a dynamic attack 60 seconds later.

A long ball reached Shuker on the left wing, and his low pass to the back post left Wise's backline strewn across the field. The ball sneaked beyond Richardson and fell to Greenacre, who forced a simple chance into the net from four yards.

Wise had started the fixture sat in the stands, but the goal saw him descend immediately to the touchline.

The limited possession offered to his midfield gave them little chance of dominating the first session, but equally crucial had been Kandol's failure to convert a glaring chance in the ninth minute.

Thompson's corner drifted over a crowded and box and picked out Kandol, who guided a header over the bar with Tranmere's net lacking protection.

It was as clear an opening as Wise could have asked for, and one which Kandol should have converted.

For all Tranmere's industry, which earned their half-time lead, Leeds were guilty of showing them mercy.

Referee Lee Mason came to United's aid, however, when he denied Rovers a 44th-minute penalty after Shuker fell to the ground inside the box. Heath appeared to have pulled Shuker's shirt and, although the challenge was innocuous, Mason was forced to withstand strong appeals from Tranmere's players and supporters.

A goal in the shadow of half-time would have left United in desperate trouble, and with no realistic hope of recovering.

But their vastly-improved start to the second half pointed to an imminent fightback, and it took 10 minutes for Leeds to pull themselves level with a header from Heath.

Thompson, who had driven one free-kick from a promising position against Tranmere's wall 60 seconds earlier, guided another set-piece across goal with perfect weight, and Heath ran in unmarked to drill his header past Coyne at the far post.

The change in United's demeanour was immediate, and Wise's players began to pass the ball with confidence, abandoning the direct approach which had preventing them from dominating any stage of the first half.

Tranmere's defence was visibly wobbling when Kandol collected Richardson's long ball and drove a fierce shot across goal, seconds after Heath's finish. Those two pivotal minutes prompted a tireless final half-hour in which both sides scented victory.

Manuel Rui Marques denied Tranmere's best opportunity when he blocked two quick efforts from Greenacre inside the six-yard box following a cross from Shuker, and Ankergren reacted well to clear the ball after Zola ran onto a well-timed through ball.

But with 60 seconds remaining, Kandol fired the shot through the arm which United have yearned for, and have long deserved.

A cross from Andy Hughes, United's latest signing from Norwich, fell kindly to the much-derided striker, who forced his close-range shot past a disbelieving Coyne.

An unlikely summer was conclusively ended by the most unlikely of saviours.

Tranmere Rovers: Coyne, Stockdale, Chorley, Goodison, Sherriff, Shuker (Curran 83), McLaren, Jennings, Davies, Zola, Greenacre (Taylor 81). Subs (not used): Tremarco, Kay, Achterberg.

Leeds United: Ankergren, Richardson, Marques, Heath, Lewis, Weston (Flo 76), Thompson, Hughes, Westlake, Kandol, Beckford (Howson 90). Subs (not used): Carole, Parker, Elliott.

Referee: L Mason (Lancashire).

Attendance: 11,008