Marching on Together: Leeds United’s 500
Reigning league champions in the inaugural Premier League season, European semi-finalists, implosion and relegation, a new king to the rescue. It’s been an eventful 500 games in the Premier League for Leeds United. Here we look back over some of the most important matches they’ve played.
Leeds United 5-0 Tottenham Hotspur (August 25, 1992)
Leeds entered the inaugural 1992-93 Premier League season as reigning top-flight champions for the first time since 1974. Back then, they began the campaign with the turbulent, and now film-depicted, 44-day reign of Brian Clough. His charismatic, maverick nature often stood him apart from the vast majority of English football managers of the era.
In 1992, Leeds had another maverick in Frenchman Eric Cantona, who less than a year prior had retired from football following a French Football Federation ban for throwing a ball at a referee.
He was coaxed back into football by Gérard Houllier and Michel Platini, who had worked with Cantona for the French national side, and he spent time on trial with Sheffield Wednesday before Leeds manager Howard Wilkinson was alerted to his availability before snapping him up. With Leeds chasing the league title, he made 15 appearances to earn himself his third top-flight winners medal in four seasons, having won French title with Marseille in both 1989 and 1991.
Cantona started the 1992-93 season in incredible form, scoring a hat-trick against Liverpool at Wembley in the Charity Shield, becoming the first player to score a hat trick in the Charity Shield since Tommy Taylor in 1957. He then scored and assisted in Leeds’ first three league games before Spurs’ visit to Elland Road.
The Frenchman then wrote himself into the Premier League history books by scoring its first-ever hat trick – his only treble in the competition. There wouldn’t be another French hat trick scorer in the Premier League for just over six years, until Nicolas Anelka ended the drought in 1999 for Arsenal versus Leicester.
The forward’s two hat-tricks in August 1992 meant that he was the first Leeds player to do this since the great John Charles in August 1953. His goals were the second, third and fourth goals of the match, with Rod Wallace scoring the first and Cantona deftly assisting a Lee Chapman strike for the fifth. His popularity among Leeds fans couldn’t have been higher.
But it wouldn’t last. By the time Cantona had played his last game for Leeds in November, they’d won four of 15 league games and been knocked out of the Champions League qualifiers by Rangers and the League Cup by Watford.
The club’s hierarchy contacted Manchester United about full-back Denis Irwin and were knocked back, but they were more forthcoming when their rivals countered by asking about Cantona’s availability. He duly crossed the Pennines for little more than £1m and went on to win the Premier League title in 1992-93, 1993-94, 1995-96 and 1996-97. For Leeds, they ended the inaugural season in 17th, narrowly avoiding relegation and becoming the first reigning champions to fail to win a single away game.
Leeds United 3-1 Manchester United (December 24, 1995)
Christmas Day football has a tradition going back to the Victorian era and was last played in the English top-flight in 1965. However, there have only ever been three top-flight games played on Christmas Eve.
Back in 1966, Liverpool and Leeds picked up 2-1 wins at Chelsea and Newcastle respectively, and Christmas Eve football made a return for the last time 29 years later.
Leeds hosted Manchester United, looking for consecutive home league wins against their rivals for the first time since 1969. Their fans got a perfect Christmas present.
For only the fifth time in their top-flight history, Leeds secured three wins from three to start the 1995-96 league season. Although form had dropped off slightly, they still found themselves Much of this early season belief had come via the muscular boot of Tony Yeboah.
Leeds’ form had waned following a perfect three wins to start the campaign, but with nine-goal Yeboah in their ranks, they knew they could trouble any side.
Yeboah had scored eight times in the first eight league games of 1995-96, the most by a Leeds player in the first eight matches of a top-flight season for 57 years. Two of his strikes in this run of games are often considered among the greatest goals in Premier League history. In a 2004 poll to find the greatest Leeds goals of all-time, Yeboah’s goals against Liverpool and Wimbledon placed first and fourth respectively. However, by this game he had recorded just one goal in nine league appearances – his worst run of form in a Leeds shirt.
The Whites started brightly, scoring the opening goal from the penalty spot after Nicky Butt had handled in the box. Gary McAllister stepped up and scored his ninth and final penalty for Leeds in the 7th minute, still the earliest penalty goal that Manchester United have ever conceded in the competition.
Despite an equaliser soon after via Andrew Cole, Leeds retook the lead on 37 minutes. Yeboah capitalised on a Paul Parker mistake to run from just inside the opposition half. The assist came from Tomas Brolin, a £4.5m signing who would only start 20 games for the club but whose first two assists both came in this game. His second assist and Leeds’ third goal was exquisitely chipped into Brian Deane, to help the Yorkshire side become the first and last winners of a Premier League game on Christmas Eve.
Leeds failed to capitalise on the euphoria of this result, although they did reach the League Cup final before losing 3-0 to Aston Villa. Had only results between Christmas and the end of the season counted, Leeds would have finished 19th and relegated with only just four wins and 14 goals in 20 games. Ultimately, they finished 13th.
Yeboah, meanwhile, only managed five goals in 20 more competitive appearances for the club, three of those coming against lower-league sides in the cup. The cult hero born on the sixth day of the sixth month in 1966 departed two years later with 66 appearances in a white shirt.
Derby County 3-3 Leeds United (August 17, 1996)
It was a summer of change at Leeds in 1996. The experienced trio of Gary Speed, Gary McAllister and John Lukic departed with acombined 1,038 appearances, to be replaced by Lee Bowyer, Lee Sharpe and goalkeeper Nigel Martyn. Less successful was another signing, Ian Rush, signing on a free from Liverpool where he’d scored 346 competitive goals and was the club’s record goalscorer. He managed 0.008% of that Liverpool total for Leeds (3 in 42 games).
Never has an opening day result given more of a false impression of the season that was to follow for Leeds:
- Six goals scored in the game – none of their next 37 Premier League games featured any more than four.
- Three away goals scored by Leeds – they only scored 10 in their other 18 away games that season.
- Leeds’ first goal was an own goal – they wouldn’t benefit from an own goal again in 14 months of Premier League action.
Derby 3-3 Leeds was as exciting as it got for the Whites in the 1996-97 season, in game one of 38.
Derby’s Danish defender Jacob Laursen opened the scoring with an own goal. Laursen would go on to score another own goal versus them in 1998, becoming one of just two players to score multiple OGs in the Premier League against Leeds, along with Mark Venus.
The came the Harte-attack. At 18 years, 352 days old, Ian Harte gave Leeds United a 2-0 lead and became their youngest opening day scorer in league football since Tommy Wright in 1984.
The game should have been done and dusted. Leeds hadn’t dropped any points in the Premier League having led by two or more goals since December 1994. But Derby had other ideas.
Dean Sturridge pulled a goal back in the 77th minute, and one minute later they were level. Substitute Paul Simpson scored just three minutes after coming off the bench, capitalising on a Leeds error immediately from kick-off.
But wait. More drama. In the 85th minute Leeds retook the lead, with debutant Lee Bowyer becoming the second teenager scorer for them in the match. This is only the second occasion that Leeds have had two teenagers score in a top-flight game, after Peter Lorimer and Terry Hibbitt against Nottingham Forest in 1966.
Bowyer had also assisted Ian Harte’s goal, meaning he remains one of 16 players in Premier League history to score and assist on their debut with only Marcus Rashford to do so at a younger age.
To complete the drama, Sturridge added his second goal of the game to make it 3-3 with two minutes remaining.
Five goals being scored in the final 20 minutes of a match seems unusual, because it is. This was the first of only five games to witness as many goals in the 70th minute or later.
9.1% of goals scored in Leeds’ Premier League games that season arrived in this match. Game one of the season saw six goals, the other 37 combined produced 60. No club has seen a higher proportion of goals in matches produced on the opening matchday of a season in Premier League history.
For the Whites, they went on to score just 25 more goals in 1996-97. Their 28 goal tally is the joint-lowest by any team to avoid relegation, a record shared with Yorkshire rivals Huddersfield United, who did the same in 2017-18. Nine games ended 0-0 – a ticket for a Leeds match was hardly hot property this season.
Somehow, Leeds still finished 11th. This remains the highest a team has finished in a league season with 38+ games played when scoring as few goals.
Leeds United 4-3 Liverpool (November 4, 2000)
Mark Viduka four, Liverpool three: the day the Australian further etched himself into Leeds United and Premier League history.
Viduka became the first player to score four times for Leeds in over 30 years, since the great Allan Clarke in 1971, and the first player to do this against Liverpool since Jimmy Greaves for Spurs in 1963 – decent company.
Not remembered by many, but this game started at the unusual time of 11.30am. Perhaps the confusing kick off time was the reason behind the barmy 90 minutes that played out, but this match will be remembered as one of the most exciting in the history of the Premier League.
This game matched the excitement of the Leeds United side of this time. The 2000-01 season saw a remarkable run to the Champions League semi-finals and ended with a fourth-place finish in the Premier League. But it was such a young, raw team.
At the time, the Whites had only named two starting XIs younger than this in a Premier League fixture. With an average age of 23 years and 185 days, it remains their fifth-youngest starting XI in the history of the competition. This game was youth against experience. Youth won.
Liverpool’s 11 players boasted a combined 1436 appearances between them in the Premier League, not far off being double that of a youthful Leeds team (831). Jamie Carragher (22) and Steven Gerrard (20) were the two youngest players in the Reds’ side this day – two loyal servants who went on to make the most Premier League appearances for the club without appearing for anybody else in the competition.
Leeds found themselves behind in the game, twice. Trailing 2-0 and 3-2, they recovered thanks to Viduka. He was unplayable, dancing around Liverpool players at will and providing both the equaliser and the winner within a two-minute spell of magic. The winner will forever be etched in the minds of Leeds’ fans, as the striker delicately chipped the ball over Sander Westerveld, leaving a despairing Carragher in the back of the net alongside the ball.
It was just Viduka’s eighth league appearance and he’d already scored 10 times. The only player to reach double figures in fewer Premier League games was Mick Quinn in the inaugural 1992-93 campaign. The Australian wasn’t finished there, scoring 59 times in 130 league appearances for the club – nearly a goal every other game. This was a sunny Saturday where he won the adoration of Leeds fans, a love that remains to this day.
Leeds United 2-0 Chelsea (December 28, 2002)
Elland Road can be a hard place to play at times. Winter days see darkness fall on the pitch by 4pm, the crowd carries a seemingly permanent angst as the moody sky is mirrored in the stands.
More often that not, this mood is lifted by the appearance of an academy product. Where the 29-year-old veteran gets jeered for over-hitting his cross, the youngster will get a round of applause for even the most menial completed task on the pitch.
James Milner had come off the bench to score his first-ever Premier League goal on Boxing Day 2002. Aged just 16 years and 356 days old, he’d broken Wayne Rooney’s record from just two months earlier as the youngest Premier League scorer. Two days later, he was at it again.
Chelsea were the visitors to Leeds in the final game for both sides in 2002 and just like at Sunderland, Milner had to make an unexpected first-half substitute appearance due to injury. Just like at Sunderland, he made headlines.
Chelsea were riding high in second, just four points behind Arsenal and unbeaten in 11 league matches. They shouldn’t have been derailed by a young teenager, just 122 minutes of Premier League under his belt, but they were.
Milner entered the pitch to replace an injured Harry Kewell just moments after Jonathan Woodgate had opened the scoring. On the stroke of half time, just 15 minutes after coming on, Milner ramped up the delirium.
Drifting in from the left wing, the teenager star collected a pass from Eirik Bakke, chopped past Marcel Desailly on the edge of the box and curled a strike into the far corner, just out of Ed de Goey’s reach.
Two goals in two days for Milner. To this day, his exploits over the course of a few days still account for half of all the Premier League goals scored by 16-year-olds.
Milner only went on to play 48 times in the competition for Leeds, a tally that would have undoubtedly been much higher hadn’t the club suffered relegation in his second season as a professional in 2003-04, forcing a move to Newcastle United.
With 19 Premier League seasons to his name and 561 appearances in the competition, Milner is the fifth-most featured player in the history of the competition but every story starts somewhere and this match in December 2002 was it.
Liverpool 4-3 Leeds United (September 12, 2020)
It was a long wait.
Sixteen years after losing 1-0 to Chelsea in May 2004, Leeds United made their return to the top-flight. Yes, a defeat in a selection of memorable Leeds United Premier League matches, but this game was important.
Sixteen years. 5,964 days between that Chelsea match and this daunting trip to Anfield, never has one team had a longer gap between two Premier League fixtures.
Sixteen years. Sixteen years of relegations, promotions, financial struggles, points deductions, being a big fish in a small pond.
Marcelo Bielsa had made Leeds believe again. Narrowly missing out on a return in 2018-19 was forgotten with a title-winning campaign the following season. Leeds were back and ready to upset the applecart. What better challenge than to start away at the champions.
The Whites put in an excellent display and were unlucky to fall the wrong side of a seven-goal thriller. No opening matchday fixture has ever seen more goals and Leeds became the third newly promoted team to score three away at Anfield, the first in 18 years.
It took an exceptional personal performance from Mohamed Salah to stop Leeds, on this day. A hat-trick for the Egyptian was completed in the 88th minute after Leeds had wiped out their lead on three separate occasions. The winning goal came too late for them to recover, but the Premier League champions looked rattled by Bielsa’s Championship title-winners.
This match laid down a marker of what to expect from them in 2020-21. Write off Leeds United at your peril.
Manchester City 1-2 Leeds United (April 10, 2021)
Throw all the data out of the window. This game was a beautiful anomaly.
Leeds travelled to champions-elect Manchester City knowing that an unlikely win would seal a third consecutive Premier League victory, something they hadn’t achieved since January 2003.
Bielsa’s side had one shot in the opening 45 minutes, but they made it count. Stuart Dallas’ laser-guided effort zipping along the pitch before striking a post and bulging the net. They couldn’t, could they?
Liam Cooper was given his marching orders thanks to a VAR check just before half-time, and Leeds knew the onslaught would come after the break. It came, but they weathered it until the 76th minute. Ferran Torres grabbed the goal that was expected to begin the triumphant comeback. But it never came.
Instead, for the first time in the Premier League, Leeds scored a winning goal with just 10 men. It was Dallas again. The 90 minutes were up, but there was still time for the Northern Ireland international to race through and slot through the legs of Ederson in the City goal. Unbelievable.
Two shots, both from outside the area. Two goals.
Leeds hadn’t ever attempted fewer than five shots in a game under Bielsa before this win, while it was also the most shots ever faced by the side under the Argentine (29).
Smash and grab? Certainly. But Leeds didn’t care.