Leeds laid bare by Arsenal Class


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Published Thursday, May 08, 2008


Leeds laid bare by Arsenal class
By Owen Phillips

Like the streaker who attempted to cover her modesty 30 seconds after revealing almost all in the women's FA Cup final, Leeds' spirited response to Arsenal's dominance was a simple clichéd case of too little too late.

Bigger hands on her part (or indeed parts), or swifter action by the bemused stewards was necessary - possibly both.

But I suspect the poor men in yellow jackets did not want to rush over and be seen as overkeen in helping the young lady to cover up.

So the uninvited interloper gambolled about unchallenged for what seemed like an eternity before trying to head back to where she came from with a slightly sheepish look on her face.

In the football, league champions Arsenal's superiority saw them frolic around in the Leeds half with similar freedom, as they launched wave after wave of attack to secure the second part of the Double.

There was certainly no covering up the gulf in class between the two sides.

Leeds' last line of defence was exposed time and time again by a stunning and relentless display from the best side in England.

The all-conquering Arsenal were only denied a much more convincing victory by a breathtaking goalkeeping display from Carly Telford.

The women's showpiece game, held at Nottingham Forest's home for the second season in a row, seemed the perfect occasion to introduce my six-year-old daughter Abbie to the beautiful game.

And so it proved. She had a wonderful time at a sun-soaked, near capacity City Ground even if - in her mind at least - the streaker stole the show somewhat.

Daddy, why is there a nudey lady on the pitch?
Abbie Phillips (age 6)

Inevitably she thought it was one of the funniest things she had ever seen.

"Daddy why is there a nudey lady on the pitch?" Errrmmm - like any self-respecting father, I normally refer these type of questions up to Abbie's mum.

"I think she thought it would be funny and chose to take her clothes off," I said. "But it's not funny," I added while stifling a smirk.

"But why is everyone laughing and clapping?", Abbie countered. I was beginning to regret answering.

Of course that was not the only line of questioning. In the past three weeks Abbie has suddenly declared an interest in the sport which means Daddy sits on the sofa for hours at a time shouting at the television.

To her it's a simple game: "But Daddy why are the blue team not trying to score any goals?" "Well," I explained, "It's not that the Blues are not trying to score, it's simply that they are having trouble getting the ball to get close enough to the Reds half to shoot."

I told her the red team are playing a bit better than the blue team, and using all my years of football experience I suggested that the red team are "probably a bit better than the blue team".

And that was the match in a nutshell, Arsenal were simply too good.

Leeds battled bravely and defended superbly in the opening period but it really would have been a shock of epic proportions if they had beaten Arsenal's Invincibles.

Telford pulled of a couple of genuinely world-class saves to pour scorn on the theory (often perpetuated by myself) that all women keepers are rubbish.

One was a fine fingertip save from Jayne Ludlow's curling effort and the other an amazing reaction stop that somehow diverted Karen Carney's fierce strike onto the bar and away to safety.

She also made countless superb blocks, and a nervy moment with her kicking aside, was truly outstanding.

If she is England's third choice then on this performance the national team is in very safe hands.

But even Telford was powerless to prevent the Londoners claiming the win they so richly deserved.

In Kelly Smith Arsenal had the true star of the show: superb technical ability, wonderful awareness, a commendable workrate, superb balance and I dare say a left foot as sweet as anything that has graced the City Ground in many a moon.

It was Arsenal's attacking England trio of Smith and Karens Carney and Yankey who did most of the damage.

Wingers Yankey and Carney are pacy, direct and full of running and typical old-school wingers. They always look like they are on the verge of something wonderful but often just lack the final pass or composure in front of goal.

But that's where the peerless Smith comes in. Once she hooked Arsenal into the lead early in the second half, the game was as good as over.

Two further goals from Ludlow and Lianne Sanderson followed in the next six minutes and at 3-0 it just seemed like Abbie was going to be able to brush up on her basic maths skills as she kept tally of the red goals.

To Leeds' credit they scored a great goal of their own to make it interesting.

The impressive Jessica Clarke reacted smartly to instinctively head home after a stunning long-range curler from the excellent Sue Smith came back off the woodwork.

The only other serious goal threat from Leeds came when they had the ball in the net in the first half.

That gave me the inevitable opportunity to explain the offside rule.

But Daddy, why did she choose to take all her clothes off?
Abbie Phillips

"Daddy was that a goal?...Why not?"

"No sweetheart," I explained fearing a four-hour conversation on the why's and wherefore's of the offside law.

To be fair it would probably only make sense to a six-year old.

"You're only interfering if you directly influence the play," I could have said with the authority of someone who is a qualified referee but is still very confused by the whole issue.

"So sometimes it's okay to stand in front of the goalkeeper and block his or her view but other times it's not. It depends on what day of the week it is and who the referee is - and which teams are playing - or something like that.

"Also it seems if you are called Radhi Jaidi and play for Birmingham then you are allowed to do star jumps in front of the goalkeeper and stand directly in the keeper's view from a free-kick and that's deemed okay," I could have added.

And that would have cleared that up.

Thankfully she seemed happy with the fact it was a foul and the accepting mind of one so young did not seek further clarification on the brilliantly simple "you're not allowed to do it as it's naughty".

When the match finished and the Arsenal celebrations began, Abbie moved onto her final round of questions.

"Why are they bouncing up and down?" she asked.

In-depth explanations on the laws of physics and gravitational pull was never my strongpoint but thankfully she meant the Arsenal players not the streaker.

"Well they've won the Cup sweetheart, they're enjoying their win - that's what it's all about," I said.

So game over, Cup won and lost, fireworks fired, a bumper crowd richly entertained and almost everyone seems happy.

But what sort of impression did the beautiful game make on my darling daughter. Could I be looking at a future England star?

Did she drift away to the land of nod last night dreaming of Kelly Smith's lethal left foot or the inspiring goalkeeping display? I doubt it, but I think she's hooked.

"Hello Abbie, did you have fun?", asked Mummy.

"Guess what Mummy, there was a nudey lady who ran on the pitch. And I had two ice creams. And there was a goal and it was offside and...can I go again?"

As for Daddy, I enjoyed a thoroughly entertaining and sportingly contested (if a little one-sided) football match, that was refreshingly honest, laden with chances, good play, good players and plenty of goalmouth action and excitement.

Abbie's interest and the fact there were so many like her at the game, shows women's football is a sport that is growing.

My eldest daughter, like thousands of other little girls around the country, is also taking part in properly organised training sessions while the top-notch players are pushing the standards onwards and upwards.

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Faye White's Arsenal proved too strong

The likes of Kelly Smith are taking the sport onto the next level and inspiring the next generation.

As well as staging the Cup final, Nottingham took the opportunity to hold a weekend of women's football activities with various training sessions and competitions all centred around the match.

Previous star performers like Marieanne Spacey and current England coach Hope Powell will no doubt be thrilled at the progress being made.

Hopefully more sides will begin to challenge Arsenal so that future finals are equally as entertaining but a little closer and players like Smith, Carney, Telford and many others on show are the norm rather than the exception in the domestic game.

I'll happily go again next year - especially if Forest get the nod to stage the final for a third successive year - and I'll probably take my youngest daughter too.

And obviously I was not influenced in any way by the nudey lady or the ice creams.



Last update on 5/8/2008
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