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The BBC's John Murray reports
"Leeds inflicted only a second home defeat of the season on Sunderland"
 real 28k

Leeds manager David O'Leary
"I never even contemplated dropping Bowyer and Woodgate"
 real 28k

Sunday, 23 January, 2000, 19:37 GMT
Leeds move clear at top

Jason Wilcox opens his account for Leeds


Sunderland 1-2 Leeds

Leeds staked their claim for title glory as they put their off-field problems to one side and registered an impressive victory at high-flying Sunderland.

The Premiership front-runners stretched their lead to four points and sent a timely message to Manchester United and Arsenal - who meet on Monday - that the championship is no two-horse race.


Michael Bridges scores the second for Leeds
But for Sunderland, who are normally so strong at the Stadium of Light, the defeat is a major blow to their own Champions' League hopes.

Much of the pre-match build-up had been overshadowed by non-footballing matters, with Leeds players Jonathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer questioned by police over an alleged assault in Leeds city centre.

The pair were given the public backing of manager David O'Leary when they were included in the Leeds starting line-up.

But it was two other visiting players, Jason Wilcox and Michael Bridges, who stole the headlines for all the right reasons.


Match facts
24: Wilcox blasts the opening goal for Leeds
50: Bridges swoops to make it 2-0
52: Phillips throws Sunderland a liefline
Wilcox fired Leeds in front with a fine individual strike in the first half.

And Bridges, who was given a hostile reception on his return to his former club, effectively settled matters at the start of the second half.

Sunderland's prolific goalscorer Kevin Phillips, who was deprived of his injured strike partner Niall Quinn, made a game of it - but the home side could find no back despite a late rally.

Wilcox makes mark

There was little to separate the teams in a scrappy opening spell, but Sunderland created the first genuine chances in a closely-fought contest.


McPhail takes evasive action as Phillips slides in
Kevin Kilbane flashed a shot just past the post after breaking from midfield, and Leeds keeper Nigel Martyn produced a stunning one-handed save low to his left to keep out a Phillips shot from Gavin McCann's cross.

But it was Leeds who went in front as Sunderland's defence was caught flat-footed in the 24th minute.

Bridges pounced on a loose ball to flick it out to Wilcox and the former Blackburn man beat home keeper Sorensen with an emphatic 25-yard strike.



The commotion of the past week has all been forgotten. We're all professionals and we're just getting on with the job.
Michael Bridges
Once they were in front the visitors, with Harry Kewell at his inspirational best, took control of proceedings.

Kewell saw a curling shot drift wide after a trademark run down the left.

Then in first half injury time the Australian should have scored, but instead headed wide after Michael Bridge's chip had found him unmarked in a glorious position.

Bridges haunts Sunderland

Leeds went further ahead at the start of the first half, as Wilcox turned from goalscorer to goal-maker with an instrumental role in a stunning move.

When Wilcox found himself in space on the Leeds left, he sent over a fizzing cross and Bridges produced a perfect late run into the area to volley home from close range.


Wilcox celebrates putting the visitors ahead
But within two minutes Sunderland were back in the match - and this time it was the turn of the Leeds defence to commit a costly mistake.

Woodgate did little to endear himself further with Leeds supporters when he was caught in possession by Phillips, who lashed a low shot across Martyn and into the far corner of the net for his 20th goal of the season.

Suddenly the Wearsiders had a new lease of life. Leeds' nerves became increasingly frayed during one particular goalmouth scramble when Phillips failed to capitalise on more defensive uncertainty, while the same player headed just wide with 15 minutes to go.

Sunderland continued to battle on, but in the absence of Quinn they lacked the invention needed to break down the United defence.

Teams:

Sunderland: Sorensen, Williams, Butler, Bould, Gray, Kilbane, Rae, Roy, McCann, Schwarz, Phillips.
Subs: Craddock, Marriott, Oster, Reddy, Holloway.

Leeds: Martyn, Kelly, Woodgate, Duberry, Harte, Wilcox, Bakke, Bowyer, McPhail, Bridges, Kewell.
Subs: Haaland, Huckerby, Robinson, Mills, Jones.

Referee: P Jones (Loughborough)

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See also:
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Man Utd talks to start
15 Jan 00 |  FA Carling Premiership
Gunners keep up the chase
28 Dec 99 |  FA Carling Premiership
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Links to other FA Carling Premiership stories are at the foot of the page.