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In May 2001, Leeds United
were to be found battling it out with Spain's Valencia for a place
in the Champions League final - in November 2004, a 1-0 defeat
against Ipswich Town left the West Yorkshire club languishing
in the lower reaches of England's second tier - how the mighty
Their on field decline was accelerated by a major financial implosion
as Peter Ridsdale's well documented gamble on being able to sustain
regular Champions League football left the club with a disastrous
£100m debt burden. Relegation
from the Premiership in May 2004 made wholesale player departures
an inevitability and manager Kevin Blackwell knew the summer would
bring the need for massive change.
Blackwell: "Twenty-seven players have gone since the end of last
season. In June I sat in this office and looked at that board.
I had two players, Gary Kelly and Michael Duberry. Doncaster Rovers
have the record for having 30 debutants the year they went bust
and the fireman and the cat played. We've already had 23. The
amount of players who've turned up to training with suitcases
because they were living out of hotels - it was like a bloody
"The full extent of the financial mess is only now coming home
to roost. Everyone said the debt was £100m, but I think it was
more like £120m. Black holes have appeared left, right and centre.
One Monday, James Milner was the new face of Leeds, on the Thursday
a bill came out of nowhere and on Friday he went to Newcastle."
Many critics had predicted that Leeds would slump to a second
successive relegation and early season results were not promising.
The defeat at Ipswich was the seventh in 18 games, although the
recent arrivals of right winger John Oster and Northern Ireland's
record goalscorer David Healy had pepped up the attack. Even veteran
target man Brian Deane had got on the score sheet after labouring
unproductively for most of the season.
36-year-old Deane had returned to Elland Road in a shock deal
during the summer after his contract ended at West Ham. The Leeds-born
striker had first moved to his hometown club in a £2.9m deal in
1993 after making his name at Sheffield United. After 32 goals
in 138 League games, George Graham sold Deane back to his former
club in 1997 and he went on to play for Benfica, Middlesbrough
and Leicester before joining the Hammers.
Blackwell signed Deane with the intention of using him primarily
as a second half substitute, but the dismal form of Julian Joachim
and Michael Ricketts meant that the striker became a regular choice.
However, it was October before he ended his goal drought, in a
Carling Cup defeat against Portsmouth.
Blackwell had pursued Healy, a former Manchester United forward,
for weeks before managing to secure him in a £650,000 deal from
Preston North End, while Welsh international Oster was recruited
on loan from Sunderland.
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United had actually done quite well at Ipswich and were a little
unlucky to return to Yorkshire without a point. They had performed
even more splendidly in their previous away game,
emerging 4-2 winners from a trip to Preston North End. Deane opened
the scoring, Healy grabbed a brace on his return to his old club
and Oster impressed everyone with a sparkling debut. Teenager
Simon Walton was the other scorer.
That game signalled a remarkable upturn in United's fortunes,
as Leeds stormed into a three-goal lead at the interval with some
sharp football, inspired by the clever movement of Oster and Healy.
The win came on the back of four straight defeats, the last of
which, by 2-1 at home to Burnley, had been particularly depressing.
Midfielder Sean Gregan: "The fans have been fantastic this season
but they turned against us at Burnley and they were right to do
so. It would be nice to put together a performance and first and
foremost a result for them to cheer about. The only way is up
from the Burnley game because that's about as bad a game I've
been involved in in my career."
The same eleven players that featured at Preston were on duty
again at Ipswich, and the team was unchanged for a third successive
game as they welcomed Queens Park Rangers to Elland Road in November
Neil Sullivan, a former Scottish cap, had been in outstanding
form all season in goal, and Gary Kelly, Paul Butler, Clarke Carlisle
and Danny Pugh were starting to gel well in front of him. Simon
Walton, former Ipswich player Jermaine Wright and Sean Gregan
(who could boast extensive experience at this level with Preston
and West Brom) were a functional if prosaic midfield combination,
and that was exactly what football in the newly rebadged Coca
Cola Championship demanded. United were becoming nice and solid
as a unit and the arrival of Oster and Healy had allowed Kevin
Blackwell to successfully adopt a 4-3-3 formation with Deane as
the spearhead. The intelligence and flexibility of the two new
men allowed for things to switch to 4-5-1 or even 4-4-2 as the
circumstances demanded and gave United a sharper edge to their
QPR, having secured promotion in the spring under the management
of the eccentric and outspoken Ian Holloway, were making an excellent
fist of their return to the division. They were surprisingly well
placed in fifth, 12 points and 10 places ahead of Leeds, having
earlier been considered among the favourites for relegation.
Their best known players were fans' favourite Kevin Gallen and
the veteran Paul Furlong, whom Kevin Blackwell knew well from
his time with Neil Warnock at Sheffield United: "Paul is in an
absolutely rich vein in the twilight of his career. He is someone
we had at Sheffield United for a while and I know he is a great
professional. He had a string of injuries and literally had three
years taken out of his career. He went to Sheffield looking to
get games under his belt, showed good intelligent movement and
a good understanding but then he went and tore his thigh. In the
last two years he has regained his fitness, he is banging goals
in and we know he's going to be a major threat."
Rangers, fresh from a shock win over high flying Wigan Athletic,
started confidently and it looked like the game would reinforce
the points gap between the two teams when the Londoners took the
lead after just 97 seconds. Gallen fed former Wimbledon man Gareth
Ainsworth five yards outside the area. He brought the ball under
control and fooled Danny Pugh into coming inside before moving
wide to let fly from 20 yards out. His right footed drive screamed
into the top corner of the net with Neil Sullivan diving in vain.
It was a stunning goal, and you could sense the crowd readying
itself for another afternoon of disappointment and frustration.
Despite their recent improvement, United were still a brittle
force - lack of confidence often led to outright panic whenever
they conceded a goal. For once, however, Leeds responded calmly
to falling behind and they began playing with uncharacteristic
self assurance, confidently working their way back into the contest.
Two minutes after the goal, Clarke Carlisle came close to netting
against his old club after Deane nodded on Jermaine Wright's
free kick but QPR defender Danny Shittu intercepted the ball in
the nick of time. Wright then tried to lob keeper Chris Day, but
saw his shot tipped over, before Deane wasted a chance after doing
the difficult part by pulling down a cross from Danny Pugh.
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Such profligacy was symbolic of United's season so far, but this
time it did not prove too expensive, and served merely as an appetiser
for an astonishing feast of sharp shooting as Leeds swept the
challenge of Rangers aside.
The Whites were on level terms after nine minutes with a classy
goal. Gary Kelly, who was a threat all afternoon with his surging
forays down the right flank, launched the ball optimistically
for Deane to back head on. Healy saw the chance before anyone
and, without breaking stride, the Irishman chipped exquisitely
on the half volley from the edge of the area. He left goalkeeper
Day stranded with as precise a lob as you could wish to see, registering
his third goal in five games for the club.
Within seconds, Rangers left-back Matthew Rose was forced off
with a hamstring injury, to be replaced by Gino Padula, as Leeds
assumed control of proceedings.
After 13 minutes, United took the lead. Kelly took a throw on
the right and found Walton, who clipped the ball into the area.
A weak clearance from George Santos was picked up by Kelly who
chipped forward to Walton. The teenager cushioned the pass and
backheeled the ball sweetly into the area to cut out two defenders
and give Wright acres of room. He surged forward and sent a low
ball arcing invitingly to the far post for a diving Brian Deane
to clip home left footed.
Wright's form had been an enormous disappointment to Leeds fans
since his move from Ipswich, but the arrival of Oster seemed to
spark a revival in his form. He had done well at Preston and was
making an even stronger contribution here, adding a third goal
himself in the 23rd minute.
United had already had a goal disallowed six minutes earlier
with Deane in an offside position as he tapped home when Day spilled
a drive from Oster. It was only a temporary respite for QPR -
Butler's free kick from halfway was met by Deane on the left hand
corner of the area and he looped his header towards the penalty
spot. Defender George Santos misjudged his header, sending it
invitingly across the area. Wright was in space in the middle
and fired in a low shot. Keeper Day made a decent one handed stop
but Wright was not to be denied, following in to sidefoot the
ball home with ease.
The Rangers rearguard was shell shocked and seemed to have forgotten
even the basics of defending. Every time Leeds went forward they
looked dangerous, having the Londoners'
back four in a constant state of high anxiety. The Elland Road
crowd had learnt since 2001 to dampen down any expectations of
entertaining football, and this performance came as a real tonic.
It seemed, though, that United would settle for a comfortable
3-1 lead at the interval as things started to calm down.
There was more excitement to come, however, and the lead widened
in the three minutes before the break. The fourth goal was wonderfully
worked. Oster manufactured an opening with some canny play, fooling
the Rangers defence by facing infield and feinting to cut in from
the right. His disguised pass, played with the outside of his
boot, deftly sent Wright in behind the defence on the right. The
former Ipswich man slid another low ball across the area with
six Rangers defenders caught square in a line, but still leaving
space at the far post. Deane got there before his marker - this
time Marcus Bignot - to apply the required touch.
Leeds United's official website: "It was comedy defending by
the visitors and they were nearly punished again straight from
the kick-off when Leeds won back possession and Healy broke free,
but his shot was just tipped away by the keeper as the crowd were
off their seat ready to celebrate a fifth goal."
They didn't have long to wait, though, and Gary Kelly again
exploited the space down United's right flank. Two Rangers defenders
missed the ball, leaving Deane to chest it down before driving
home, completing his first hat trick for Leeds and the first for
any club in 12 years.
Ian Holloway had every right to go off the deep end at half time,
and he really tore a strip off his team. He also chose to use
both his remaining substitutions, Jamie Cureton and Kevin McLeod
for Marcus Bean and Lee Cook respectively, in an attempt to freshen
things up and bring a more solid approach. For a while, the manager's
actions seemed to stem the white tide, as Leeds settled back into
a long ball game. It was difficult to understand why United abandoned
their tactics of playing down the flanks after enjoying such success
with the strategy in the first half. Wright, Oster, Walton and
Kelly had exploited the space with gusto, using it to play in
killer balls that the Rangers defence simply could not handle.
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It was but a temporary aberration, though, and United stirred
themselves from their torpor after the hour.
They were awarded a dubious penalty in the 67th minute when Walton
threw himself to the ground after a marginal touch from a defender,
but Day saved Healy's placed penalty.
United fans had been chanting, "We want six," for a while and
eighteen minutes from time their pleas were answered. Danny Shittu
messed up yet another clearance in the area and the ball looped
up invitingly. Deane simply stood his ground and nodded the ball
into the net for his fourth goal, provoking massed cries of "Deano
The striker was withdrawn four minutes from time to allow him
to milk the applause of
adoring fans. Their cheers were as much in astonishment as in
admiration. The Sunday Times: "The orange-coated steward groaned
as he perused the team sheet a few minutes before kick-off. 'I
see the donkey's playing up front again,' he grunted, and no doubt
his opinion was shared by the majority of the crowd streaming
into Elland Road. It is fair to say that up to 3.13pm yesterday,
big Brian Deane's second spell leading the line for his hometown
club had not been going well. One League goal in 13 starts cannot
have been the return he had hoped for, but it is a fact that at
Championship level, every donkey - oh alright, big, awkward old-fashioned
British centre-forward - can still have his day, and yesterday
Kevin Blackwell: "I'm pleased for Brian Deane. His professionalism
is an example for all the young players at this club to follow.
This just shows what can be achieved when players get the right
service. Our wide men were excellent today.
"I brought Brian here to play a specific role. Unfortunately
one or two things happened and I couldn't bring anybody else in
and Brian Deane has had to pick up the mantle and carry the load.
At his age I wanted to use him a little bit more sparingly but
he also put in a massive performance at Preston and when he played
we played. He played today and we played again.
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"People had a go at him last week for missing a chance against
Ipswich, but knowing what he has had to do here and what he's
had to carry, I can't moan at Deano. His attitude is fantastic
and what he brings to the youngsters here is professionalism.
Not only does he have to play, it's what he does off the pitch
as well that counts. Our youngsters have to learn from people
who have that work ethic."
Deane: "I've got a few match balls at home but this one takes
pride of place now. People see you get to a certain age and think
you are too old. But I have looked after myself and it is nice
to show people I still have this in my game. I have scored hat
tricks elsewhere but it's nice to come back here at this stage
of my career and show everybody that I still have it in the bag.
"People have always said I'm a big centre-forward but I haven't
played in that many teams where the ball is knocked up to me,
it's always been with movement and that suits me. We are starting
to put the ball in the right areas now, we are playing through
the midfield which helps and the goals were the fruit of what
we have been doing."
Unsurprisingly, Deane hogged the headlines for his goalscoring
masterclass, but the whole team had given an outstanding display
of attacking football. Paul Dews of the Yorkshire Evening Post
was keen to pay tribute to the target man's inspired colleagues:
"After building from the back and establishing a solid defence,
Blackwell has now been able to recruit a midfield and attack that
is capable of displaying the cutting edge that the club has lacked
for three years. In the current side there is quality in abundance
and, while consistency will be the key, Blackwell's side have
now strung three performances together where they looked lively,
inventive and, above all, creative.
"Quite rightly Deane will take the plaudits for his extraordinary
goal-scoring feat, but the other men on target, David Healy and
Jermaine Wright, also turned in high-quality performances. Healy's
finish for the opening goal was pure class and the Northern Ireland
international has that rare ability to put supporters bums on
the edge of seats when he has possession. Wright's goal was reward
for his tenacity. After struggling at Ipswich last weekend in
the face of a barrage from the home fans, he simply revelled in
the wide-open spaces of Elland Road on Saturday and, with his
neat touches and quick thinking, the Leeds fans saw him at his
"But there were a few unsung heroes out there who didn't manage
to join in the goal fest.
"In winger John Oster, Blackwell appears to have stumbled upon
a real gem. Despite being just 270 minutes into his Leeds career,
albeit on loan, the flying winger has made an unbelievable impression
and his presence has given United width and enabled Blackwell
to play with a three-pronged attack. Oster has that rare ability
to beat a man for pace and skill, and, on the evidence of his
first few games for the club, calls of 'sign him up' aren't too
"Simon Walton and Sean Gregan were also key men as Leeds battered
high-flying QPR into a painful submission. Walton is an intelligent
footballer who likes nothing more than pushing forward and causing
problems in the danger zone while Gregan, who has the responsibility
of sitting in front of the back four, is starting to show why
Blackwell chased him for three months. Gregan's role is easily
underplayed, but his ability to win the tackle and
break up play is invaluable and, now he has some serious forward
options, his ability to distribute in a positive manner is coming
to the fore.
"It would be unfair to omit the defence, and goalkeeper Neil
Sullivan, from the plaudits, but the truth is they had little
to do. Gary Kelly was the pick, simply because he was allowed
the space to attack and his delivery from the right flank was
reminiscent of the trip to Portsmouth three weeks ago when his
crossing caused all manner of problems.
"Complete team performances are rare, but this was just about
as good as it gets from a side."
It was certainly United's most outstanding performance for months
and brought immense cheer to the Elland Road crowd. They had remained
steadfastly loyal to the club despite suffering so badly during
the prolonged decline of the last three years. There was a new
spirit being shown by the players representing Leeds United and
this back to basics display had thrilled everybody who saw it,
hinting that the Whites might still have it in them to mount a
late promotion challenge.
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