Forget Tiger Woods, Was Leeds v Southampton the greatest sporting comeback ever?

17 Apr 2019 06:45 am, by YorkshireSquare

Forget Tiger Woods winning the Masters (His first major since 2008) this weekend. A far more impressive sporting comback was Leeds United's stunning 4-3 away win against Southampton three years earlier. When people talk about the greatest comebacks ever, this will rank with the best. To be dead and buried at 3-0 at half time then rise like Lazarus was a miracle indeed. Its significance to Leeds went deeper than that. It showed that fighting spirit and determination can affect matches. It turned around the whole attitude of Leeds United from a bedraggled inconsistent outfit, seemingly going nowhere in another season of mediocrity into a phoenix rising from the ashes of total destruction. In twenty minutes, it gave the team the belief that they could perform consistently at that level and proved a springboard for the resurgence of their push towards regaining their Premiership status.

For seventy minutes Leeds were truly awful and clearly second best to an outfit that had totally dominated the first half and were good value for their 3-0 lead. Marian Pahars, returning after long–term injury, gave Southampton a well deserved lead after twenty-seven minutes in a move straight from the training ground, when scoring from close range. Nigel Quashie, who dominated the midfield for over an hour, made it 2-0 after teenage sensation Theo Walcott had tied Matthew Kilgallon in knots. The third came on the stroke of half-time, when Dan Harding got himself into a panic, after Matt Oakley’s header caught him out and the defender inexplicably blocked it with his hands. The referee was left with no alternative than to point to the spot. Nigel Quashie made no mistake with the penalty kick just on half time.

Half-time saw vital changes take place as the reason for Southampton’s first half dominance was disrupted. Their midfield of Matt Oakley, Nigel Quashie, Dennis Wise and Marian Pahars had so dominated, that they were able to pour forward at will through an almost non-existent Leeds engine-room, to exert pressure on an overworked defence. Marian Pahars was replaced by Neil McCann, after running out of steam and Tomasz Hajto and Ricardo Fuller replaced Claus Lundekvam and Dennis Wise, causing Southampton to lose their total dominance. Still there was no sign of things to come as Neil Sullivan was twice called upon to make stunning saves to keep United from total capitulation.

After sixty-seven minutes United made the move that was to be the catalyst for the game being turned on its head. The ineffective Frazer Richardson was withdrawn and David Healy came on and instructed to push up front. His arrival gave United what they had been lacking. He provided inventiveness; and Liam Miller suddenly came to life and became a major influence on the game. Even when the never-say-die Paul Butler headed home a Gary Kelly cross with nineteen minutes to go, it appeared to be no more than a consolation goal. “We’re going to win 4-3,” chanted the travelling faithful, more in jest than any firm belief.

Six minutes later the tireless Robbie Blake got his reward as David Healy set him up for the second goal. It gave United thoughts of salvaging a draw. Danny Higginbotham, whose confidence had severely wilted in the United onslaught, gave Leeds that chance when he handled a David Healy shot and the Irish International made no mistake from the spot after eighty-four minutes.

It was 3-3 and still six minutes left, the great escape had happened and United would have had every reason to be happy with a draw. Not likely! They just kept on attacking as Southampton defended desperately. Rod Hulse unselfishly laid the ball back into the path of the onrushing Liam Miller and the loan player celebrated his second match by firing the ball unerringly into the Southampton net to make it 4-3 in the eighty-sixth minute. The comeback was complete, and the Southampton players looked to the heavens for inspiration while the Leeds players celebrated as if they had won the World Cup.

How does the Southampton victory rank in your greatest LUFC combacks? Perhaps the 2-1 victory over Bristol Rovers to clinch promotion ranks higher? Or Vidukas magnificent four against Liverpool? Or even this seasons exploits against Blackburn or Villa?

In memory of Liam Miller
13 February 1981 to 9 February 2018