Manchester United 2 Leeds United 1
A LATE lapse in concentration from an otherwise resolute Leeds United defence gifted Manchester United the points in a hard-fought Pennines derby last night.
With the scores level at 1-1 following a rousing second-half revival from Terry Venables's men, the visitors were undone by a quick free-kick from David Beckham which caught the back line floundering and found the head of match-winner Mikael Silvestre.
It was tough on a patched-up Leeds side who, after falling behind to a first-half own goal from Lucas Radebe, had battled back boldly with a header from Mark Viduka and then looked more than capable of holding on in a game which lacked quality but oozed passion.
Venables, without Harry Kewell, Jason Wilcox, Michael Duberry, Dominic Matteo and Gary Kelly, among others, had been forced into something of a reshuffle as he welcomed back Nicky Barmby and Viduka in attack, deployed Alan Smith on the right side of midfield and Spaniard Raul Bravo on the left either side of Paul Okon and Seth Johnson.
Veteran Radebe lined up alongside Teddy Lucic in the heart of defence, flanked by Danny Mills and Ian Harte.
Sir Alex Ferguson also made changes to his side. However, his were more by design than necessity with Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville both rested on the
The home side still boasted Roy Keane, Juan Sebastian Veron, Paul Scholes, Ruud Van Nistelrooy and, of course, former Leeds captain Rio Ferdinand.
The central defender, who crossed the Pennines for 30m in the summer, was booed upon his every touch by the travelling band of Yorkshire supporters but still put in the kind of performance which vindicated his price-tag.
His move sparked the mass Leeds United exodus which has stripped Venables of so many top-quality players and many feared a game against the old enemy from Lancashire could be something of an embarrassing mis-match.
However, in spite of being vastly out-played for much of the opening 45 minutes, Venables's side staged a resurgent second-half display which should have earned them a more than deserved point.
Up against it from the start, they were behind in the 20th minute as Beckham broke down the right flank and flashed over a low cross to the edge of the six-yard box where Butt met the ball with a powerful diving header.
Robinson made a good block to deny his England colleague but the rebound struck Radebe on the knee and ricocheted unluckily back over the line.
Leeds had rarely been out of their half to that point but could have been on level terms by the half-hour mark as Smith produced an inspirational turn 25 yards from goal and unleashed a left-foot effort which looked destined for the top corner until Fabien Barthez acrobatically tipped it over the bar.
Leeds improved markedly after the break as Smith was moved further up the field to link with Viduka and both Barmby and Johnson started to get some kind of a grip on the midfield.
The departure of Veron through injury certainly helped the visitors and they made full use of the extra space created by the Argentinian's absence.
It took them until the 64th minute, however, to find the equaliser that their second-half enterprise had deserved.
Smith won a free-kick on the right corner of the Manchester penalty box and when Harte whipped over a deep cross, it was met by a powerful header from Viduka which gave the floundering Barthez no chance.
A draw would have been just reward for Leeds, but with only 11 minutes remaining they were caught out by Beckham's quick free-kick and Silvestre stooped to break Yorkshire hearts.
Manchester United: Barthez; O'Shea, Ferdinand, Keane, Silvestre; Beckham, Butt, Veron (Neville P 55), Fortune (Giggs 63); Van Nistelrooy (Neville G 90), Scholes.
Leeds United: Robinson; Mills, Radebe, Lucic, Harte; Smith, Okon, Johnson, Bravo (McPhail 84); Viduka, Barmby (Milner 84).
Referee: G Poll (Tring).