SHERIDAN DICTATES: LEEDS UNITED NOSTALGIA

 

Leeds United 2

Sterland, Strachan

Leicester City 1

McAllister

Att: 32,597

Team:

Day

Sterland

Beglin

Jones (Batty, 75')

Fairclough

Haddock

Strachan

Kamara

Chapman

Davison (Varadi, 59')

Speed



 

MEMORY MATCH

LEEDS UNITED 2 LEICESTER CITY 1

28th APRIL 1990

A new feature recalling memorable games from the past.

The 1980s were tough in northern England. A Prime minister despised by many, set about and eventually succeeded in destroying the traditional industries, while in the football world, Leeds United had limped through a dark decade against the dismal backdrop of the second tier despite the best efforts of legends Eddie Gray and Billy Bremner who had both occupied the managerial hot seat.

Chairman, Leslie Silver and his board of Directors had changed their approach when searching for Bremner’s successor and Howard Wilkinson, appointed in mid-October 1988, was transforming the clubs fortunes. In the summer of 1989 he had been backed in the transfer market like no other Leeds manager before him and his decision to resign from his post at Sheffield Wednesday, drop down a league and move across Yorkshire, looked like it was about to be justified.

The 1989/90 season was coming to a tense conclusion. Leeds United, historically, had never done things the easy way and despite just one win in the previous seven games, they were clinging on to top spot in the Second Division. 

It was the afternoon of the 28th of April 1990 and fans descended on LS11 in their droves. The second highest home crowd of a never-to-be-forgotten, pulsating season paid their way through the turnstiles for the final home game and the vast majority of the 32,597 spectators demanded three points. Elland Road was bouncing, expectation levels were at their highest since the glorious days of Don Revie’s ‘Super Leeds’ side and to many, a new generation, this was ground breaking stuff. A heartbreaking play-off final defeat three years earlier was the closest Leeds had come to achieving promotion since the club fell from grace in 1982 under the stewardship of Allan Clarke.

On the previous Wednesday night, struggling Barnsley had become the first team to inflict a home league defeat on Leeds in over 12 months. Not since Crystal Palace left Elland Road on the 5th of April 1989 had any visitors returned home with all three points.

Against Barnsley, the players looked anything but promotion contenders. The performance was weary and nervy. Afterwards a few players were heavily criticised, none more than goalkeeper Mervyn Day but for the visit of Leicester City, who had beaten Leeds 4-3 in a thriller at Filbert Street earlier in the season, Wilkinson made just one change – replacing Carl Shutt with Bobby Davison in the attack.

Leeds started brightly and took the lead after just 13 minutes when popular right-back, Mel Sterland, who’s brother-in-law lined up for the opposition, powered home a superb strike in front of an adoring Gelderd End.

However, in typical Leeds fashion, despite creating a host of chances, the Whites failed to build on the one goal advantage. Martin Hodge in the Leicester goal was having a blinder, he saved his side on many occasions and Wilko’s men left the field at the interval wondering how the score remained at 1-0.

The second half was going to be a long 45 minutes. Sheffield United who had been Leeds’ main challengers in the promotion race throughout the season were a point behind but had played a game less – they were 2-1 up at Bournemouth and with Newcastle United hot on the heels of the two Yorkshire clubs, victory for Leeds was absolutely vital.

A 1-0 lead, no matter who the opposition are, is always precarious and so it proved when Gary McAllister, Leicester’s influential, sought after, soon to be Leeds midfielder, fired home a stunning strike, in off the post, past Mervyn Day to level the scores. A spattering of Leicester fans celebrated in a small section on Lowfields Road but an eerie silence drowned out their cheers. Just minutes later, McAllister set his sights again but was denied by a superb save from Day. Elland Road was stunned and Leeds United desperately needed someone to step up and lift the troops.

In the clubs golden era under Don Revie, a flame haired Scotsman would often come up with last gasp goals in vital games and the current regime had its own flame haired Scotsman in Gordon Strachan who had been written off by many and condemned to footballs scrap heap when he left Manchester United to sign for Leeds on transfer deadline day in March 1989.

Strachan had been the star of the show throughout the season. He was the clubs leading scorer with 17 goals and had started every league game, defying his so-called veteran status.

A packed South Stand was trying to suck the ball into the goal every time Leeds attacked and the clock was ticking down. There was less than six minutes left when Mel Sterland hurled a throw-in into Leicester’s penalty area. The ball was headed away despite the best efforts of Lee Chapman and McAlllister, stood almost on the penalty spot, hooked the ball over his own head as the Foxes desperately tried to clear their lines.

The ball cannoned around and eventually fell to Strachan on the edge of the penalty area and with an almighty half-volley; he smashed the ball past Martin Hodge. Elland Road went ballistic. The noise was incredible as fans witnessed arguably one of the most important goals ever scored at the famous stadium.

John Helm, commentating for Yorkshire television screamed, “HAVE YOU EVER SEEN A BETTER GOAL? HAVE YOU EVER SEEN ONE BETTER TIMED?” That piece of commentary, which described the truly wonderful moment, would go down in the clubs history.

Strachan, running on pure adrenaline, made his way towards the fencing of the South Stand and pumped his fist with delight before being mobbed by his team mates. He looked on the verge of collapsing as he made his way back to his own half for the game to be re-started.

The noise had not reduced by the time the referee blew his whistle to signal the end of the game. The atmosphere that day was the best I have ever witnessed in over 35 years of going to Elland Road and the noise went up another level when Vinnie Jones signalled that Leeds had done it due to the fact that Newcastle had failed to beat West Ham at St James Park. However, John Helm wasn’t so sure and warned, “Is that confirmed? Is that confirmed?”

Unfortunately, it wasn’t confirmed as a late Micky Quinn goal had earned the Geordies all three points and with Sheffield United winning 4-2 on the south-coast, the promotion battle would go to the final day.

The rest they say is history.

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