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When Leeds were crowned the final winners of the ‘old’ First Division in 1992, the point at which the title was won seems obvious. That unforgettable April afternoon at Bramall Lane, when Rod Wallace scored the decisive goal in a 3-2 victory, has gone down as Leeds United’s most famous day of modern times. However, the reality is that the title was won and lost on a fixture computer, and it has always been thus for title races which have gone to the wire.
This is especially true for those that believe in the power of form, and a good start. Had Leeds faced an away game on the opening day of 1991/92, at Manchester United or Liverpool for instance, rather than a home match with Nottingham Forest, an opening day defeat could have knocked team confidence and precipitated a poor run thereafter, depriving Leeds of what remains the club’s last top-flight title.
Leeds wrap up the title in 1992.
With the release of the fixtures on 21 June looming ever closer, those who plan to start betting on Leeds to go up will be studying match previews and tips to more accurately gauge the Whites’ chances of success, with many looking to use free bets when backing the side following years of struggle. Back in 1990, those chances appeared remote, but in the true spirit of fixture release day, Marching On Together looks at a classic opener that began a two-year journey to stardom for Leeds.
Fairclough gets the party started
A sweltering Goodison Park awaited newly-promoted Leeds on the first day of the 1990/91 First Division campaign. The Yorkshiremen – resplendent in an all-yellow kit – took just six minutes to go in front. A throw-in, nearly level with the Gwladys Street End corner flag, eluded all that attempted to reach it, but an unmarked Chris Fairclough managed to head home at the near post.
The second goal saw more comedic defending from Everton. A long punt downfield from John Lukic was pounced upon by Imre Varadi, who then collided with Neville Southall. Boyhood Evertonian Gary Speed was first to the loose ball, prodding it into the corner for what remains the last time Leeds held a two-goal advantage in a league match at Everton.
Leeds destroy Everton in August 1990 on returning to the top flight.
Half-time brought about the bizarre sight of Southall slumped against one of his Park End goalposts, with the veteran likely having taken exception to Colin Harvey’s half-time team talk. It got even better for Leeds soon after the restart, with a cross from David Batty finding Lee Chapman, who saw his shot parried by Southall into the path of Varadi for 3-0.
Two late goals for Everton could not faze Leeds, although the Merseysiders finished in the ascendancy and threatened an equaliser on several occasions. The victory was a vital one in terms of reinventing the club after three decades of notoriety on the terraces, which culminated in the infamous ‘invasion’ of Bournemouth on the final weekend of the previous season.
Now, the people of Leeds had a team that could mix it with a member of what was then considered the traditional ‘big five’. That belief would be further vindicated in a 0-0 draw with Manchester United just three days later. Although the effects of that strong start were not immediately apparent, Leeds would go on a strong unbeaten run after Christmas, and it ultimately provided a platform for the events of the following season.