months spent as overwhelming favourites to win the League title,
Don Revie's Leeds United
saw their form collapse over the space of six short weeks in February
and March 1974. In that time a confident and purposeful fighting
force degenerated into a dispirited rabble that was struggling
to see from where its next win was coming.
A shock FA Cup exit at the hands of Second
Division Bristol City on 19 February was just the prelude
to Stoke City's destruction of a 29-game
unbeaten League run; subsequently Liverpool, Burnley and West
Ham United inflicted three defeats in succession, by a goal aggregate
of 2-8, to bring March to a desperate end. United's advantage
over Liverpool was now four scant points, with the Merseysiders
having three games in hand.
After the 4-1 defeat at home to Burnley
on 23 March, Barry Foster reported in the Yorkshire Post:
"The chips are down, there is no room for manoeuvre, no more room
for disastrous displays like the one against Burnley on Saturday
which represented Leeds United's heaviest home League defeat since
returning to the First Division ten years ago. If Leeds are going
to take the title that looked as good as theirs just over a month
ago when they were nine points clear at the top, then the dithering
will have to stop and they will have to go out and play like champions
- just as they did for the first five months of the season… And
the ragged way in which Leeds eventually fell to Burnley did not
leave the more discerning of their followers in the 39,335 crowd
with hope of a quick return to top form."
A week later, the Times' Tom German wrote: "There must
now be serious doubts whether Leeds United are capable of winning
the Football League championship. Their 3-1 defeat at West Ham
on Saturday was final proof that the decline which set in a few
weeks ago is not a temporary ailment. Leeds, with only six matches
left, are now in the position of having to rely on Liverpool being
too exhausted by their other commitments to make up the necessary
points. It seems a forlorn hope in view of Liverpool's present
"At the end of Saturday's first half Leeds seemed to be well
on the way to one of those clinically efficient victories for
which they have become renowned. A typically well thought out
goal, involving Bremner placing a short corner for Giles to flick
the ball up for Clarke to head in, had given them an interval
lead, and there seemed no reason why they should not hold on to
back to top
"Then Best, who had caused some worry to the Leeds defence earlier,
finally managed to get past McQueen and Reaney to shoot past Harvey.
The goal could not have come at a better time, for West Ham were
showing increasing signs of frustration at the way things were
"Leeds' deterioration began shortly afterwards when Clarke lobbed
the ball over Day's head into the net. The linesman had his flag
up for offside in advance. Yet Clarke stumped around in anger,
obviously nettled by the referee's decision to allow, then refuse,
a goal, and the incident seemed to affect the rest of the team.
Certainly, when Robson headed West Ham into the lead they had
a thoroughly demoralised lot.
"In the old days Leeds would have responded well to the challenge.
This time their play became more and more desperate, and the number
of fouls increased until Brooking scored West Ham's third goal
near the end to complete their misery.
"It is sad to say of Leeds that they are looking more and more
like an ordinary team, and that Bremner, still one of the finest
players in Europe, is becoming increasingly like the captain,
not perhaps of a sinking ship, but of one which has lost its way."
That crushing defeat left United six games with which to rescue
their season. Liverpool's strong run of form had finally put them
in a position where they could overtake Leeds under their own
steam. Revie's surface demeanour was at the same time sanguine
and optimistic: "I had the feeling that we turned the corner at
Upton Park. We gave one of our best performances of the season,
particularly in the first half, and we had only ourselves to blame
for the goals we conceded."
Rob Bagchi and Paul Rogerson in The Unforgiven: "It was
a shrewd observation, but Revie was taking no chances. Paul Madeley
and Norman Hunter were withdrawn from an England international
against Portugal, much to the chagrin of Alf Ramsey. The FA claimed
they had not been notified in time that the players were injured.
Suspiciously, both men returned for the visit of Derby."
Old rivals Derby County offered Revie little in the way of potential
respite in the Elland Road clash on 6 April. The Rams were no
longer under the colourful management of the acerbic Brian Clough,
but the appointment of Dave Mackay had revived their fortunes.
Derby's inspirational former skipper had presided over a run of
two defeats in 17 games that saw them ascend to third place in
the table, though they were ten points behind United.
Their record at Elland Road was brittle, but Mackay was upbeat,
warning, "Derby are playing better than at any time since 1972,
Leeds havc something of an inferiority complex because of missing
out on so many trophies in the final weeks of the season, and
I think we can win."
Geoffrey Green previewed the clash for the Times. "Although
Leeds are drifting - almost rudderless, it would seem with three
successive defeats behind them - their supporters may take some
encouragement from three little (yet maybe vital) facts - Leeds
have got the points, Liverpool have yet to pick them up; Leeds
possess the better goal average; Liverpool, beginning today, must
face a finishing run of nine fixtures in 24 days. That will test
their physical and mental stamina to the Nth degree. It is a fascinating
"The two Leeds men, Hunter and Madeley, who were unable to join
England in Portugal during midweek, are reported fit, as is Bates,
who last appeared in December before undergoing a cartilage operation.
Having lost their confidence and rhythm, much
of the old Leeds hardness has returned to their game. The leopard,
it appears, when cornered has not changed its spots.
"Today is a critical moment for everyone who has helped to keep
Leeds in the foreground for the past ten seasons. Another defeat
now and their demolition could be complete. This has happened
before in both League and Cup and it is hard to put one's finger
on the precise reason for it. Don Revie, the manager, has won
universal acclaim for lifting the club from the shadows and making
them a power in the land. But maybe it is he who lacks something
at a crisis.
back to top
"Certainly Derby County, who are keen to secure a place in Europe
again next season, will be giving nothing away. Even though McFarland
is unlikely to be fit for centre-half, men like Nish, Rioch, Todd,
Gemmill, Davies, Hector and company could take a bit of silencing."
If United were to regain the championship that Revie coveted
so jealously, it was essential that they not only resisted Derby's
strike threat but were able to rediscover their own prowess in
front of goal. They would have to do so in the absence of their
normal strike duo, Mick Jones (knee injury) and Allan Clarke (suspended).
Revie's solution was to deploy Billy Bremner alongside Joe Jordan,
choosing to leave Yorath, Giles and Madeley to patrol midfield
with Peter Lorimer recalled on the right flank after being rested
against West Ham.
Lorimer had been struggling for form, without a First Division
goal from open play since his hat trick against Birmingham on
8 September. But he had earned a reputation as a thorn in Derby's
flesh, having scored ten times in his previous ten appearances
against the Rams, and Don Revie had no hesitation in recalling
him when the chips were down.
A crowd of almost 38,000 packed into Elland Road, along with
the television cameras, to see whether United could banish their
title jitters. With only four points from the previous seven games,
another slip up might well be terminal.
Kicking off from the Elland Road end with the sun behind them,
Derby were quickly onto the front foot, Paul Madeley happy to
relieve the pressure with a pass back to David Harvey.
Norman Hunter's fine crossfield pass almost got United away but
Giles' flick to Bremner was intercepted and the move petered out.
After these initial hints, the first genuine opportunity of the
contest came from a Derby free kick on the edge of the Leeds area
and Harvey had to be alert to turn David Nish's long floating
ball over the United bar.
Gordon McQueen had been closely shadowing Derby striker Roger
Davies thus far, but when the lanky striker managed to work himself
some space it was defensive colleague Hunter who was on hand to
block his shot.
At the Derby end, Joe Jordan rose imperiously to lay the ball
Terry Yorath following a Lorimer free kick. Unfortunately, the
Welshman's effort was tame and failed to trouble Derby keeper
Wrexham referee John Williamson had a quiet word with Bremner
after the United skipper sent Davies crashing to the turf. The
incident was a sign of the home eleven's fierce determination;
they were desperate for the goal that would settle their nerves
and the breakthrough duly came after seventeen minutes,the lovel
move a tribute to the quick thinking of Bremner and Lorimer.
When the ball was thrown deep into the United half for the lone
Davies to chase, McQueen ended the threat with a quick intervention.
The centre-half then fed Trevor Cherry, who passed back to Norman
Hunter. Looking up to see what was on, the United hard man flighted
the ball for an unchallenged Joe Jordan to cleverly cushion a
header sideways to Bremner, 35 yards out.
The Leeds captain had spotted a defensive gap and swept the ball
on instantly with an inch-perfect chip. As it dropped just into
the area, Lorimer, racing through the inside-left channel, beat
Rioch and, as the back four appealed vainly for offside, clipped
a cool left-footed lob over the advancing Boulton and just under
the bar to open the scoring.
Knowing exactly how important the goal was to their cause, United
players celebrated ecstatically, led by an exuberantly waving
Lorimer, who acknowledged afterwards that "It came at just the
right time for the team."
back to top
There was no surrender yet from Derby, striker Jeff Bourne lashing
in a fearsome shot which brought Harvey to his knees to palm it
round the post. But United's confidence was burgeoning with Giles,
Madeley and Yorath taking a grip in midfield.
Jordan threatened twice, a fine Davies tackle being necessary
when he bore down on goal and then a long ball from Yorath sending
him speeding past Nish's desperate attempted tackle, though the
Scottish target man spoilt his fine work by misfiring wildly.
Derby, while having to withstand concerted United pressure, were
living up to Dave Mackay's pre-match vow that his team would play
an attacking game. Rams midfielder Bruce Rioch, a £200,000 buy
from Aston Villa, was creating regular openings but it was his
defensive colleague Colin Todd who put Davies in on goal, though
the lanky striker shot hopelessly wide.
When Bremner clashed in midfield with Scotland colleague Archie
Gemmill, the referee awarded a free kick to Derby. McQueen headed
it away in commanding style when it came into the United box.
Bremner went close to increasing United's lead on the stroke
of half time, but they
had to be satisfied with a single goal advantage at the break,
though it was well-merited.
Derby were quickly onto the offensive when play restarted, but
Harvey ended the threat, coming out quickly to dispossess Davies.
United refused to sit back on their lead and McQueen looked dangerous
when he set off on a strong 60-yard run. Unfortunately, the move
fizzled out as the defender's control let him down when the ball
ran badly and Derby keeper Boulton gathered.
Bourne shot wide when the Rams had a turn at the other end and
then McQueen shepherded Hector into no man's land, earning the
goal kick. The Whites' defence gave clear evidence of its resilience
under pressure and any momentum that Derby could develop was interrupted
as petty refereeing resulted in the game becoming scrappy, much
to the frustration of the home crowd.
Around the hour mark, Hunter was left limping after a melee in
the United goalmouth. He struggled on for a minute or two but
then admitted defeat and slumped to the turf in obvious pain.
After receiving treatment, he was able to play on but did so under
Rioch and Gemmill had taken a degree of control in midfield and
Bourne, Davies and Hector threatened Harvey's goal as Derby strove
valiantly to get back on terms. Davies had United's defence in
a tangle before the ball was scrambled away for a corner and Harvey
showed excellent judgement when he darted to the edge of his penalty
area to collect at the feet of Hector.
United, though, managed to create some breathing space after
69 minutes when Bremner made it 2-0.
Cherry's free kick from just inside the Derby half on the left
dropped invitingly to the edge of the box. Jordan could not get
to it, but Nish's header was poor and only succeeded in teeing
things up for United. Billy Bremner, anticipating smartly, ran
around the dropping ball and was in perfect position to slide
coolly home from 15 yards. His accurate strike slipped comfortably
below the diving Boulton and nestled beautifully into the corner
of the net.
It was a masterly goal, and the gleeful United skipper lay there
to receive the acclaim of his team mates.
On the touchline, Don Revie beckoned Terry Yorath to his side
to give instructions, demanding that United protect their hard-won
advantage; there was to be no collapse this time, demanded Revie,
recalling the disappointment of February's defeat at Stoke.
back to top
With no option other than to go for goals,
Derby immediately sent on Alan Hinton as substitute for Rioch;
the switch almost brought immediate dividends when Hinton's free
kick was headed just wide by Bourne. However, United resolutely
safeguarded their clean sheet. With McQueen and the limping Hunter
oozing steely defiance, they ran down the clock to secure a much-needed
victory, just their second since 9 February. The relief in the
stadium was palpable at the final whistle.
Geoffrey Green in the Times: "With three successive League
defeats behind them, Leeds United's match against Derby County
at Elland Road on Saturday was crucial. Another loss and their
season - splendidly fashioned without a defeat in the championship
until the end of February - may well have been laid to ashes at
their feet. But they beat Derby 2-0 and, in the nick of time,
may have halted their slide.
"Where once the white sails of Leeds were set fair for the title,
the skipper's eyes scanning only the far horizon ahead, the crew
are now having to look two ways at once, forwards and backwards,
as the Liverpool charge grows closer.
"Though they won, understandably this was not the Leeds of early
season. The old command and flair came only in fleeting spasms,
almost shyly; much of their former confidence and accuracy seemed
blunted at times. Yet they were good enough to beat a good side
also intent on returning to Europe and clearly not disposed to
do anyone any favours.
"However, men like Hunter, Reaney, McQueen and even Giles too
often gave the ball away gratuitously on a day when one could
hear the nerve ends of the Leeds players and their supporters
twanging in the spring sunshine. But, with this psychological
gap bridged, they should feel better.
"In spite of all the tension, it was a flowing match, with Derby
playing a full part and amply suggesting that they will be a major
force next season. But for the unfortunate hiatus earlier, when
they lost six matches and their former manager, Brian Clough,
they might well have been going for the title at this moment.
"Derby made one thing clear. They have discarded their safety
first methods away from home. The arrival of the stylish Rioch
from Aston Villa has given their midfield work a new creative
dimension and, until he limped from the scene midway through the
second half, he and the little Gemmill, in particular, watched
closely by William Ormond, the Scotland manager, may find himself
in their World Cup party.
"The delicate footwork of Davies and the drive of Hector up front,
together with the authority of Todd
at the back, added to a Derby challenge that could have unseated
a worried foe. But Leeds survived two anxious periods in the opening
quarter of an hour of each half, finally to emerge with heads
"What first ironed out their wrinkles was a goal in the 17th
minute as good as any they have scored all season. A long clearance
by Hunter, a flicked header by Jordan, Bremner's perfect first
time chip over the Derby defence, and Lorimer, going at express
speed, lobbed the ball beyond the advancing Boulton. It was Bremner's
characteristic brushstroke that really made the picture.
back to top
"Employed as target man and central striker at Jordan's side
in the absence of Clarke and Jones, Bremner's presence was missed
in midfield. But since he made the first goal, and scored the
second 20 minutes from the end with a searing volley after Nish
had misheaded a free kick from Cherry, on balance the bold decision
showed an important profit."
Alan Dunn in the Guardian: "Leeds United's current anxiety
is apparent and natural and their nerve ends were exposed starkly
at the start of their match against Derby County at Elland Road
on Saturday. Had Derby scored an early goal, Leeds might well
have cracked under the strain. Instead it was Leeds who scored
after quarter of an hour and from then on they began to relax
and build their confidence anew and by the end they were much
more like the Leeds of old.
"The fact that it was Derby, third in the table, who they had
beaten added enormously to their sense of satisfaction, for Derby
played with considerable grace, intelligence and spirit and could
well feel disappointed at having not even a goal to show for their
attractive labours. Gemmill maintained a high level of enthusiasm
throughout; Davies made constructive use of the through passes
and his lazy dribbles confused even Hunter on occasion, and Rioch
and Todd were sharp in midfield, with Nish prepared to come through.
It all looked good but almost inevitably fell short of expectation
in the goal area.
"In a sense Derby are typical of many teams in their lack of
a man greedy or selfish enough to take the ball through himself
willy nilly and accept the responsibility of shooting. Too often
Hector, Davies, Bourne and Gemmill worked into a possible shooting
position then looked for someone to pass to - and the ball was
inevitably worked back even into the Derby territory for fear
of one man failing with a shot.
"Even so, Derby had their chances, as when a free kick from Nish
troubled Harvey, who also dived stunningly to save a drive from
Bourne, and in the last minute Hector had a shot rebound from
a post. Leeds in contrast had fewer chances yet made the most
"Lorimer scored the first, lobbing the ball over Boulton after
Bremner had changed the direction of the attack in feeding on
Jordan's pass. Bremner, persistently annoying the defenders but
otherwise not always at ease in his temporary role as striker,
got the second by being in close attendance when Nish's attempted
headed clearance of a free kick came down to him and he swept
the ball home unceremoniously.
"Injuries and suspension had of course robbed Leeds of Jones
and Clarke in attack, where Jordan and Lorimer were not too effective.
Madeley was always toweringly calm and Hunter a formidable barrier
- in fact the defence as a whole played soundly - but on the day
individuals counted less than the need for a collective raising
of the spirits. And on that count alone Leeds could be well
Mike Casey in the Yorkshire Evening Post: "Although in
recent seasons Leeds United have blossomed into one of Europe's
most attractive sides, the club's reputation has been built mainly
on their tremendous team spirit. Any team seeking success in that
soccer rat race which is the overcrowded, fiercely competitive
English First Division must have that priceless asset.
"The willingness of United's players to run and work unselfishly
for one another was the main difference between two skilful teams
in an entertaining, hard-fought match with Derby County before
a 37,838 crowd at Elland Road, a match which brought Don Revie's
championship chasers two invaluable points with a 2-0 victory
and ended a dismal run of three successive defeats.
"Derby manager Dave Mackay, now happily in command of a team
which at last seems to have learned to live without their erstwhile
hero Brian Clough, is committed to bright, attacking football.
'It's the only way a small town like Derby can support a First
Division club,' he said. 'We have to attract support from a whole
"With the nippy, high-scoring Kevin Hector, who learned his soccer
with Leeds Schoolboys, the lanky and dangerous Roger Davies and
young Jeff Bourne spearheading his attack, and their fine midfield
partnership of £200,000 Bruce Rioch and the veteran Scot Archie
Gemmill supplying plenty of ammunition, Mackay's team is well-equipped
to play attacking football.
back to top
"Unhappily for them, United's back four - Paul Reaney, Gordon
McQueen, Trevor Cherry and Norman Hunter - operated with their
old deadly efficiency. Gone were the bouts of anxiety and hesitancy
which marred previous recent performances and cast clouds over
Elland Road title hopes.
"Derby's front runners were eager for the fight, quick to spot
openings and looked sharp enough to collect a few goals - provided
they could get their target lined up.
"But so well did Hunter and Co man the barricades, Derby's frustrated
strikers had only a handful of real chances. And each time the
alert, dependable David Harvey was equal to the challenge, although
even he must have been relieved when Hector's last minute shot
hit the post.
"United's attack, on the other hand, although lacking the suspended
Allan Clarke and injured Mick Jones, looked the more dangerous.
"Their three Scottish World Cup hopefuls, Peter Lorimer, Joe
Jordan and the versatile Billy Bremner, caused all sorts of trouble
for the visitors' defence and combined for the first goal after
17 minutes, which tore a hole in Derby's resistance.
"A splendid pass upfield by Hunter - who said he is only a ball
winner? - found Jordan's head. The ball was flicked on to Bremner,
who casually but devastatingly found the gap in the rearguard
for the quick-thinking Lorimer to pounce past leaden-footed defenders
and lob the ball over keeper Boulton's head into an empty net.
"Lorimer, who has never stopped trying during a difficult, demanding
but mostly unrewarding season for him, took the chance well and
now that he has ended a long goalless spell his confidence surely
must be restored.
"Incredibly, his last previous goal, other than from penalties
and a free kick, was
as long ago as September 8, when he scored three against Birmingham
at Elland Road.
"Bremner, tireless and skilful as ever, slapped in the other
goal - his 11th of the season - in the 69th minute at a time when
Derby threatened to force their way back into the game.
"The way he snapped up the chance was a fair imitation of that
lethal finisher, Allan Clarke, who was watching from the stand.
"The goals were superbly thought out and executed, but they should
not be allowed to overshadow the excellent, all-round work of
a United team which seems to have shaken off the self-doubt which
has proved so costly since they lost that splendid unbeaten record
at Stoke in late February.
"Johnny Giles, whose constructive performance did not look like
that of a man just back in the side after a length lay off, shone
in his midfield work with the trusty Paul Madeley and that willing
workhorse, Terry Yorath. Without their efforts Derby might not
have gone unrewarded."
The gap at the top remained unchanged that Saturday evening thanks
to Liverpool beating QPR 2-1 at Anfield; the Reds had to come
back from a goal down and needed a penalty and an own goal to
do the trick against a QPR eleven that battled fiercely to the
close but to no avail. However, the two points taken against Derby
were like life blood for United, reviving what had started to
seem a lost cause.
They were by no means home and dry and the next two games brought
disappointing goalless draws. Nevertheless, the Derby result represented
a turning point, ending United's dramatic slide. It was a sometimes
nervy affair, the players' spirit still fragile, but victory did
them the world of good, breathing new life into a faltering sprint
to the finish. A trumpeting message of defiance had been sent
across the Pennines to Bill Shankly's troops.
back to top