Leeds United AFC recorded a narrow 1-0 victory over Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC in their UEFA Cup second first-leg tie at Elland Road thanks to a late goal from striker Harry Kewell.
An even encounter was decided in the 81st minute when Australian Kewell broke the deadlock with a deflected volley from ten metres after neat approach work from Mark Viduka and Alan Smith.
Leeds made an edgy start and the fact that they were outnumbered in midfield did little to quell early defensive nerves. Hapoel, looking neat and tidy on the ball, created the first chance of the game on six minutes when the lively Pini Balili got behind the home defence, but the little striker failed to hoist his chip over the advancing Paul Robinson.
Barmby comes close
Hapoel continued to employ a swift counterattacking approach, leaving Leeds wary of pushing men forward from midfield. However, once Harry Kewell was given the freedom to roam across the frontline, space started to appear in the visitors' defence. Leeds almost took the lead in the 19th minute when Viduka's cross found Nick Barmby at the back post and the midfield player's acrobatic overhead kick hit the inside of the post.
Viduka's influence over proceedings continued to grow and the Australian international almost broke the deadlock in the 38th minute when his curling free-kick clipped the top of the crossbar, with Shavit Elimelech in the Hapoel goal stranded. Hapoel rallied in the closing stages of the first half and Toema should have made more of a volley from ten metres.
After the break Leeds manager Terry Venables moved Kewell out to his more familiar position on the left flank and the tactical change almost paid instant dividends as he sent a header straight at Elimelech. On 57 minutes, Harte saw his swerving free-kick hit the angle of the crossbar and post and it seemed it would not be the Yorkshire side's night until Kewell's late strike.
Hapoel coach Dror Kashtan paid tribut to Leeds's goalkeeper who put in a fine performance at Elland Road. "Paul Robinson deserves lot of credit as he pulled off some amazing saves," he said. "I'm still confident we can get a good result in Florence."
'In the balance'
Venables, meanwhile, was cautious about his side's prospects in the second leg, saying: "It is still in the balance but it is nice to get ahead and go there with a goal."