Leicester stopper in big demand

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 April, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 April, 1998, 12:00am

AMONG life's little complexities is the problem of the dedicated underdog who finds himself in danger of becoming an upperdog. It can be an unsettling thing. Consider Matt Elliott.

Elliott, the Leicester central defender who seems certain to make it to the World Cup finals with Scotland in his 30th year, was a natural-born underdog with Charlton, Torquay, Scunthorpe and Oxford until Martin O'Neill saw a hint of the upperdog in him.

At a time when most players begin to think what life after football holds for them, Elliott is playing so well that a number of better off Premier League clubs, including Liverpool, are said to believe that his late developing career could be taken even further.

Even if, as O'Neill insists, Liverpool's interest is nothing more than foundless speculation they must still have been impressed by Elliott's form when the clubs drew 0-0 at Filbert Street in January.

Liverpool have made some progress in attempting to strike a balance between possession and directness but their best efforts were thwarted by Elliott's timely interventions, none better than a tackle that denied Michael Owen.

Accepting an opportunity to get forward allowed for by Leicester's defensive system, Elliott also came close to scoring with a low right-foot drive that passed only inches wide.

Elliott's advancement since joining Leicester may suggest that there are better players around in the lower leagues than people imagine ? a fact constantly being hammered home by O'Neill both verbally and through his acquisitions ? but it also says something about claims that are made for the Premier League. Plenty of effort and excitement but where is the quality they are always going on about? Elliott certainly posses the quality and the fact that he was pressed into service by Scotland coach Craig Brown so quickly after it was revealed that the player had a Scottish grannie speaks volumes for his future.

Brown, never a man to heap praise for the sake of praise, is fulsome in his admiration of the new recruit.

'Matt Elliott is a real find for Scotland and his value to the squad will be immense. He is a big guy but unlike most tall defenders, he is incredibly good on the ground,' Brown said.

'He gets in tackles, is very quick and can go forward well. He has also notched a goal or two in his time which is another plus.

'When we played him alongside Colin Hendry against Denmark it was the first time the two had performed together. Despite the defeat, the unit looked solid and this now gives us another defensive option.' Elliott has been taken aback by his international elevation and said: 'I didn't really believe it at first when I heard that Scotland wanted to cap me. I thought it was a joke being played by the Leicester lads when they found out I had a Scottish grandparent.

'When I realised it was a genuine request I jumped at the chance. I still can't believe I might be going to play in the World Cup.

'Things have changed a lot since Martin O'Neill took a chance on me.' The World Cup berth, if achieved, could prompt many clubs to join Liverpool in the queue for Elliott's signature, although not if Martin O'Neill has anything to do with it.