The first feature in
Leeds versus Liverpool is one of the great fixtures of English football and this game on a sunny November lunchtime is perhaps one of the best meetings between the two.
Remember when Leeds dared to dream that they could be a legitimate force in the top division in England? The glory days of Revie, Bremner and Giles were long gone but a combination of David O’Leary, Peter Ridsdale and a pot of gold at one time threatened to take Leeds to the promised land once more.
Of course looking back now that obviously did not happen and it is unlikely it ever will. Indeed it could be a long time before we even seen Leeds at the top level again. Yet for a couple of glorious years before it all when wrong Leeds were the most dynamic, vibrant club in the top flight with exciting youth products like Alan Smith and Ian Harte meshed with expensive imports like Mark Viduka and Olivier Dacourt. It had not yet reached silly season, we were still a while way from them paying £8m for Seth Johnson.
On this particular mid-autumn day they faced a Liverpool side who would end the season as triple cup winners under the guidance of Gerard Houllier. A good game could be expected – we got that and a whole lot more. Going into the game Leeds’ injury list meant they were a disappointing 10th in the table whilst the excellent form of Liverpool had sky-rocketed them up to 3rd place. Past history was also not on Leeds’ side as they had won just one of the past eleven meetings between the two. Furthermore the last time they had beaten the Reds at Elland Road was August 1995 where this happened.
Leeds’ aforementioned list of casualties meant that they were without the likes on Harry Kewell, Nigel Martyn, Danny Mills, Lucas Radebe, Michael Duberry and Michael Bridges. In fact their treatment table was that full that they could only name four substitutes on their bench. Mark Viduka and Alan Smith started in attack with the untested Jacob Burns in midfield. Liverpool on the other hand were in good health and had future Leeds player Robbie Fowler and Steven Gerrard before his rise to main-man status both on the bench. Former Leeds great Gary McAllister was the focal point of a five-man midfield with Emile Heskey on his own up front.
Liverpool burst out of the blocks in the first half and scored as early as the 2nd minute. Patrik Berger curled in an inch-perfect free-kick and an unmarked Sami Hyypia rose high and simply nodded the ball into the net. Things went from bad to worse for United as influential centre-back Jonathan Woodgate limped off with barely 20 minutes gone. He was replaced by New Zealander Danny Hay, an unknown quantity at this level. It seemed that Liverpool were going to run away with the game when they doubled their advantage soon after. This time McAllister proved a thorn in his ex-team’s side as his free-kick from the left was powered home by left-back Christian Ziege. Leeds were in disarray. The natives grew restless.
Then out of nowhere Leeds pulled a goal back and suddenly the game got interesting. Alan Smith’s hard work and industry paid off as he charged down Ziege’s weak clearance. The ball fell to the Australian Viduka who lifted the ball over the advancing Sander Westerveld with aplomb. Despite this Liverpool could and should have been out of site but for some valiant keeping from Paul Robinson keeping Leeds in the game. Robinson was only just starting to make a name for himself and he furthered his glowing reputation with a brilliant save from Emile Heskey’s bullet header.
Leeds ended the half the stronger with a long range effort from Olivier Dacourt producing a fine save from the in-form Westerveld. The match was starting to heat up and with Berger and Ziege both booked by David Elleray and Lee Bowyer lucky to stay on the pitch after a particularly nasty challenge on Heskey. A free-kick by Ian Harte almost drew Leeds level but his goal-bound effort was cleared by McAllister. Leeds went into half-time behind but with the bit firmly between their teeth.
Indeed it was only two minutes after the restart that they found themselves level. A brilliant run and cross from the right by Gary Kelly was expertly headed home by Viduka. Liverpool were rocking and Smith should have edged Leeds in front but somehow miscued in front of goal allowing Jamie Carragher to nip in and clear. It was a golden chance and Leeds were made to pay as Liverpool took the lead once again.
Berger was once more the architect as his left-wing cross found it’s way into the path of his fellow countryman Vladimir Smicer who collected the ball and stroked it into the far corner of the goal. Leeds was up against it once more.
Houllier attempted to take the sting out of the game and threw on Fowler and Gerrard for the tired McAllister and Danny Murphy. It had the opposite effect however as Leeds found themselves galvanized and put in a gargantuan effort to change the course of the game. Viduka scored arguably the goal of the game to tie the scores level at three apiece. He was found by Dacourt’s through-ball and after some twisting and turning the Kop defenders were on the floor and the ball was in the net. Viduka had a hat trick but he was not finished yet. Dacourt was involved once again as his shot rebounded to Viduka who ignored calls for offside and chipped the ball over the desperate Westerveld to win the game in dramatic fashion for the Yorkshire club.
Leeds: Robinson, Kelly, Harte, Woodgate (Hay), Matteo, Bowyer, Bakke, Dacourt, Burns, Smith, Viduka.
Subs: Jones, Milosevic, Evans.
Liverpool: Westerveld, Carragher, Ziege, Babbel, Hyypia, Smicer, Murphy (Fowler), McAllister (Gerrard), Hamann, Berger, Heskey.
Subs: Henchoz, Arphexad, Barmby.
It was a game that showed the best of Leeds at that time. Yes they gambled with finances and this ultimately has proven their downfall. However there were occasions when they got it right on the pitch and that led to great occasions like this and their European adventures. Two weeks prior to this game they had drawn one-all with the mighty Barcelona. Four days after they overcame Liverpool they came away with a creditable draw against Milan at the San Siro.
They ended the season in 4th place and as Champions League semi finalists, three years later they were relegated and have been in free-fall ever since. They are the ultimate scare story for teams looking to break the monopoly of the top four, overreach if you dare but beware of the consequences. To quote Echo and The Bunnymen “Nothing Ever Lasts Forever.”