printer friendly version
For Leeds United, the shiny nugget of automatic promotion had
been something of a forlorn hope through most of the 2005/06
season. The early season sprints of Reading and Sheffield
United had taken them well clear of the chasing pack and built
enough of a cushion to more or less guarantee a Premiership place.
Nervy jitters had dogged the Blades from the middle of January
and Leeds had been inexorably hauling them in until their own
late collapse had seen them capture just nine points from the
last ten games. That sentenced United to the lottery of the Championship
play offs and pitched them against a dogged Preston North End
outfit. The Deepdale team had secured 26 points from their own
final ten matches and were the division's form team. They had
ended the season with the best defensive record in the Championship
and when they defeated Leeds 2-0 in the closing contest at Deepdale
on Sunday, April 30, they climbed above United into fourth spot,
giving them home advantage in the decisive second leg.
Leeds boss Kevin Blackwell had sent out what amounted to a reserve
side in that League encounter, keeping his powder dry for the
bigger test to come.
But when young North End striker David Nugent scored a brilliant
individual goal in the Elland Road first leg on Friday May 5,
it looked like all Blackwell's strategies would come to nought.
Nugent made the breakthrough in the 48th minute, taking on and
beating virtually the entire United defence with his pace and
back to top
Happily, Eddie Lewis dug United out of a hole with a wonderfully
free kick with 16 minutes left and the teams would start on level
terms at Deepdale with away goals having no benefit under the
play off rules.
The pairing of the two clubs was given added spice by Blackwell's
habitual raids on Deepdale - in the two years he had been in charge,
former North End favourites David Healy, Eddie Lewis and Richard
Cresswell had all crossed the Pennines to throw their lot in with
United. Sean Gregan, another Preston old boy, had arrived at Elland
Road by courtesy of West Bromwich Albion.
The reaction of North End boss Billy Davies and his staff at
the end of the match at Elland Road showed how much the result
meant to them. The little Scot said afterwards: "It's a tremendous
result for us, we can ask for no more, we've come here, done the
job. It now swings towards our favour and with our hostile crowd,
the onus is on us to finish the job off at Deepdale. We didn't
play as well as we can on Friday, but we will perform better tonight.
Confidence is high, but when you lose only six of 46 matches then
confidence should be high."
Kevin Blackwell would reveal later how he used the Preston reaction
to fire up his troops for the second leg at Deepdale on the Monday
He set out with Rob Hulse spearheading a 4-5-1 formation that
was designed to frustrate and contain Preston. If the Lancastrians
thought that the hardest part of the job had been done in Yorkshire
they soon realised they were in for a battle royal on the fifth
anniversary of United's Champions League semi final clash with
Billy Davies picked a team with four recognised strikers - Nugent,
Danny Dichio, Brett Ormerod (who had spent time on loan at Elland
Road in 2004) and the veteran
Marcus Stewart, recalled from a loan spell at Bristol City. After
ten minutes, one of them was being stretchered off.
Irish midfielder Jonathan Douglas hustled Brett Ormerod as he
ran in from the left flank and tackled him fiercely. It looked
a foul, but the real damage was done when Ormerod caught his foot
in the turf and broke a fibia. Davies retained his attacking approach
by bringing on Simon Whaley as substitute.
The incident ignited the flames of simmering tension between
the two sets of players; it was clear that everyone was well fired
up for the occasion and we soon saw a spate of nasty running battles.
Referee Mike Thorpe seemed content to let the players take the
law into their own hands early on and ill feeling often boiled
over. Sean Gregan and Danny Dichio were at each other's throats
throughout, while David Nugent and Matthew Kilgallon seemed to
believe their main responsibility was winding each other up. A
challenge by Eddie Lewis on Claude Davis left the Preston centre-back
requiring treatment and the partisan home crowd baying their rage.
back to top
It was 24 minutes before we saw a shot - Frazer Richardson's
dipping half-volley from 20 yards was theatrically caught by Preston
keeper Carlo Nash.
North End bounced back almost immediately when Graham Alexander's
corner was nodded back across goal by Brian O'Neil, but Dichio
fluffed his header. The burly striker was at even greater fault
six minutes before the break when he flashed another header badly
wide after meeting Tye Mears' cross from the right.
Shaun Derry was the first to see his name go into the referee's
book after 30 minutes for a lunge on Stewart. In the closing minutes
of the half, Kilgallon and Nugent joined him after a spiteful
kick and push on the edge of the penalty area. A less lenient
referee might have gone for more serious sanction.
As the official blew for half time, Deepdale and the surrounding
streets were plunged into darkness due to a sub station failure
that took 25 minutes to resolve. There were some worried looks
as time dragged by - neither camp wanted an abandonment and the
players struggled to stay match sharp.
Happily, the fault was eventually fixed and the teams came back
out for the restart at 9.10 with Preston bringing Patrick Agyemang
on for Marcus Stewart.
The delay had a greater impact on Preston than it did on United,
who came out with increased tempo and attacking intent. After
having Sean Gregan booked for blocking off a run by David Nugent
in the opening seconds
of the half, Leeds shocked North End with some concerted attacking,
and took the lead after 56 minutes.
United won a corner on the right, and, as Gary Kelly took it,
Shaun Derry was appealing for a foul after appearing to be obstructed.
The concentration of the Preston defence, the meanest in the Championship,
was disrupted and Rob Hulse had an acre of space to run into from
the back post and made the most of it. He rose to flick it perfectly
into the bottom left hand corner as Carlo Nash remained rooted
in the centre of the goal.
Seconds earlier the confident home crowd had been chanting, "We
are superior", but they were shocked to see their heroes concede
at Deepdale for the first time in 568 minutes.
The goal shattered North End's confidence and Leeds pressed home
their advantage just after the hour mark. They had continued to
threaten and Liam Miller touched the ball through a defender's
legs to Hulse on the left of the penalty area. He burst through
a non-existent challenge and held off Mawene to fire the ball
low across the six-yard box. Davis got a touch to the cross but
it reached Richardson in space at the far post, who had time to
trap and fire goalwards from six yards out. Nash reached the shot
but its pace took it underneath his body to give United a 2-0
That looked like it would be a decisive score, but North End
hopes were raised when Stephen Crainey was sent off after 69 minutes
for a second bookable offence. He had received his first caution
five minutes earlier for dissent and his second came for bringing
Nugent down on the way towards the area. Liam Miller was booked
for protesting the decision.
back to top
Sullivan pushed the resultant free kick by Paul McKenna wide
and then Kilgallon deflected a Nugent strike over the bar, but
Preston's urgency was getting the better of them.
Kevin Blackwell brought Richard Cresswell on for a tiring Hulse
after 78 minutes and he was booked rather harshly within a minute
of entering the fray.
Preston thought they had pulled one back when Tye Mears headed
home a Graham Alexander corner. The goal was disallowed after
the referee ruled that the corner had curled out of play before
reaching the far post.
It was then down to the far end and an ugly looking challenge
by Cresswell on keeper Nash. The striker had little choice other
than to go for the loose ball but left Nash with a broken cheekbone,
inspiring a mass brawl in the North End goal area. Strangely,
referee Thorpe chose to book Kelly and Douglas, letting Cresswell
off scot free. Arguably, Nash and Davis merited a caution for
their part in the conflict, and it was bizarre that United now
had eight men in the referee's book to just one from Preston.
The toll increased further when Cresswell did eventually fall
foul of the official as the game ticked into injury time. The
forward tussled with a North End defender and when the decision
went against him he allowed the ball to bounce away off his outstretched
foot in an ill advised attempt to kill some time. He protested
long and hard but Thorpe was adamant and left United clinging
on for six minutes of injury time with just nine men.
Cresswell said later: "I do not know what the referee was doing
for the first booking. He called me over and said 'Have I booked
you before?' I was
like 'Pardon? I have only just come on'. He said 'I obviously
have not booked you then, here is a yellow card'. I did not know
where he was coming from.
"I felt the second was harsh because he said I kicked the ball
Strangely, the heat had gone out of Preston's attack and they
struggled to manufacture an opportunity worthy of the name. As
the final whistle sounded, the United party and their fervent
supporters went into fits of ecstasy, celebrating their place
in the Millennium final.
There was a party on the pitch at the end of the game, going
on long into the night.
Kevin Blackwell: "I'm extremely proud. The lads were fantastic.
They showed true grit and determination to get through here. I
said before we had to be solid and strong and not try to make
too much of a game of it and we did that.
back to top
"Gary Kelly, who captained us here, was the only player I had
18 months ago. We've built a club that is one game from the Premier
League, and that's a magnificent achievement.
"It was a game that had everything. There was a power cut, delays,
goals disallowed, tackles, bookings and a referee that seemed
to lose his way right at the end. I wasn't sure we would have
players left the way he was going on. I was very sceptical about
the two refereeing appointments made for this semi-final, and
I made my feelings known to the powers that be at the time. These
games are too big for these kinds of officials. It annoys me that
nobody took any notice of what I said to them last week. This
is a £40m match and I don't understand why we should have a rabbit
in the car headlights in charge. The standard was up and down.
No one knew what was going on. Hefty challenges weren't getting
booked early on. Later you could get a yellow card for anything.
He could well have denied two players a massive opportunity to
play in the final with his display. I will have to have a look
at the bookings and think about appealing."
Blackwell also talked of the motivational tactics used to get
his men up for the game. After Billy Davies' touchline celebration
at Elland Road, Leeds required no greater motivation.
Memories of Davies celebrating in front of the away fans at Elland
Road on Friday night were etched into the players' minds, and
steps were taken to ensure they remained there.
Paul Dews in the Yorkshire Evening Post: "A simple note
pinned on the dressing room door provided the added inspiration
for Leeds United in their quest for promotion from the Coca Cola
Championship. The words 'Billy Davies - Job Done' were stuck up
on the wall on the inner sanctum at Deepdale on Monday evening
ahead of United's clash with Preston North End.
"While Davies was apparently angry that his post match comments
following Friday's first leg had been misinterpreted on this side
of the Pennines, the Leeds United management team were keen to
make sure all the players knew how the Scot had reacted to the
"Hull City boss Peter Taylor admitted last month that he had
done a similar trick for the visit of Leeds after United manager
Kevin Blackwell reportedly said his side had 'annihilated' the
Tigers earlier in the season.
"Never ones to miss a trick, Leeds used the same tactic to provide
an added source of inspiration for their own date with destiny.
"While the jubilant players never mentioned the dressing room
notice after Monday's success, the United squad were clearly still
bristling at events which had surrounded the two-legged play off
affair with the Lancashire side."
Sean Gregan: "To go there and win after what's been said in the
media from some quarters made it all the more satisfying. There
was a bit of an edge to it. I've got to be careful what I say
because I have got a lot of good memories of Preston and I don't
want to have a go because of the supporters there. And I don't
want to rub it in because we still have a big task ahead of us
in the final. But the way some of their players conducted themselves
in the tunnel and at the final whistle on Friday night ... all
I can say is that what goes around comes
"Preston were jumping up and down at Elland Road thinking they
were in the final, but we came here to prove otherwise," said
"To be at Leeds is tough, and why do I say that? Because every
game we play - whether it's someone like Brighton or Crewe away
- is a cup final. People ask me 'why didn't you win there?' and
I say because they are big cup final games and the players have
to get themselves up for them all the time. It is an emotional
roller coaster being at Leeds, and at this point the lads have
handled it exceptionally well."
back to top
printer friendly version