The Rollercoaster Ride

After the sacking of Howard Wilkinson in 1996, Leeds United underwent a period of managerial changes that significantly shaped the club's fortunes. George Graham took charge and led Leeds to a respectable mid-table finish in the 1996-97 season. However Spurs and the lure came calling and Graham left the club. David O'Leary then took the managerial reins, ushering in a period of excitement known as "O'Leary's Babes." Under his guidance, Leeds achieved remarkable success, finishing third in the Premier League in the 1999-2000 season and reaching the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup. The 2000-2001 season saw Leeds qualify for the UEFA Champions League, reaching the semi-finals, but financial mismanagement caught up with the club. The sale of key players and heavy debts led to a downward spiral, culminating in relegation from the Premier League in 2004, marking the end of an era for Leeds United.

Original content by Tony Hill (OzWhite), reproduced here for posterity.

Leeds United 1996-97 - Back Row: Lee Sharpe, David Wetherall, Mark Jackson, Richard Jobson, Brian Deane, Mark Beeney, Tony Yeboah, Nigel Martyn, Rob Bowman, Paul Beesley, Andy Couzens. Middle Row: Geoff Ladley (Physio), Mick Hennigan (Coach), Rod Wallace, Mark Tinkler, Ian Harte, John Pemberton, Mark Ford, Jason Blunt,Lucas Radebe, Harry Kewell, David Williams (Coach). Front Row: Gary Kelly, Tony Dorigo, Carlton Palmer, Bill Fotherby (Director), Howard Wilkinson (Manager), Ian Rush, Andy Gray, Lee Bowyer.

1996-1997 Season

Chairman Leslie Silver had long been worried by having to fund the losses and willingly accepted an offer from The Caspian Group to take over Leeds United. The new owners made £12 million available to Wilkinson in his efforts to bring success back. He immediately broke the British record for a teenager when he bought the talented Lee Bowyer from Charlton Athletic for £2.6 million. He next solved another weakness when he splashed £2.4 million on Crystal Palace’s custodian Nigel Martyn. With Liverpool scoring legend Ian Rush also arriving on a free, he thought he had solved the club’s major defects. Unfortunately the departure of his two midfield tyros, Welsh International Gary Speed, who left to join Everton for £3.4 million, and Scotland regular and Captain Gary McAllister, who joined Gordon Strachan at Coventry City for £3 million, left a hole which was never effectively filled. Lee Sharpe crossed the Pennines from Manchester United, for £4.5 million, having lost his left-wing spot to Ryan Giggs. There was also the arrival of Mark Hateley on temporary loan from Queens Park Rangers as cover for the injured forwards.

United kicked off the new season with Nigel Martyn; Gary Kelly, Richard Jobson, Lucas Radebe, Andy Couzens; Lee Bowyer, Mark Ford, Carlton Palmer, Lee Sharpe; Brian Deane , Ian Rush; Ian Harte came off the bench and scored after replacing Brian Deane, Mark Tinkler replaced Andy Couzens, and David Wetherall replaced Lucas Radebe as United made their permissible substitutions leaving Rod Wallace and Mark Beeney unused on the bench. They drew 3-3 with Lee Bowyer making a scoring debut. A home defeat to Sheffield Wednesday, 0-2, was followed by single goal victories at home to Wimbledon and away at Blackburn Rovers. Surprisingly, they were in 6th spot after a bland start to the season in which they struggled for goals. This heralded the arrival of Manchester United at Elland Road and they departed with a 4-0 victory leaving Leeds thoroughly outplayed and demoralised in the way they had capitulated without shame or reasonable struggle and to the boos and shouts of derision from the fans. It was the end for Wilkinson as he was sacked.

It was a sad end for the Manager who had done so much for the club in founding a Youth policy and giving Youth Coaches Paul Hart and Eddie Gray full backing in their nurturing. It had produced a wealth of talent and had already brought one FA Youth Cup and the talented young players already at the club were soon to add a second and many went on to become the backbone of the club’s later success. He had, of course, turned Leeds from a poor Second Division team into the Champions of that Division, established them in the top flight, before taking the Championship in their second year in the top Division. He lifted the Charity Shield, took them into Europe and a Wembley Final. Despite his perceived mistakes, he had left Leeds United with welcome additions to the honours board, and in much better position than when he arrived.

The man to replace Wilkinson was George Graham, the man who transformed Arsenal from serial underachievers into one of the dominant teams of the late eighties and early nineties. They won 2 League Titles, two League Cups, an FA Cup and the European Cup-Winners Cup in his eight year stay. In February 1995, he was sacked by Arsenal and received a one year ban from the FA for receiving illegal payments from a Norwegian Football Agent. His Arsenal success had been built around a strong defence and the term ‘1-0 to the Arsenal’ typified his and Arsenal’s style. It came as little surprise when he followed the same tried and true system with Leeds United. He had inherited a long injury list but his reign got off to a perfect start with Andy Couzens scoring in the first minute at Coventry City. Unfortunately Noel Whelan got the winner, as Gordon Strachan’s men won 2-1.

There was a 2-2 away draw with Third Division strugglers Darlington in the League Cup 2nd Round followed by a 2-0 home victory. It earned them a home tie with Aston Villa in Round Three, but these were the only goals United scored in September which saw 0-1 losses at home to Newcastle United and at Leicester City as United fell to 17th. The drought was broken with a pair for Rod Wallace as United downed struggling Nottingham Forest 2-0, but Aston Villa beat United twice in 4 days 2-0 at Villa Park in the League and 2-1 at Elland Road in the League Cup, which was followed by a 3-0 thrashing at Arsenal. There was a welcome 3-0 home win over relegation candidates Sunderland and a 2-0 home defeat to Liverpool before United were able to see further success and a welcome move up the ladder to 12th, with 2-0 wins at cellar dwellers Southampton and at home to Chelsea, in which Ian Rush scored his first goal in his 16th game for the club.

After a 0-0 draw at Middlesbrough, Graham bought utility player Gunnar Halle from Oldham Athletic for £400,000 and he debuted in another 0-0 draw at home to Tottenham Hotspur. Another 0-0 draw at Everton gave a hat-trick of bore draws, but the expected pattern was emerging and the points were being accumulated and the fans, while bored senseless, took solace in the mid-table position it ensured. The safe feeling was broken as Coventry City won 3-1 at Elland Road on Boxing Day and there were further losses 1-0 at Old Trafford to see out the Old Year while the New Year was heralded by a 3-0 defeat at Newcastle United. Fortunately this was only temporary as United hit a solid seam of good results. In the League there was a 3-0 victory over Leicester City, in which Ian Rush got his second and third goal and new £1 million signing Robert Molenaar debuted. Then there was a 2-0 win at West Ham United followed by two 0-0 home draws with Derby County and Arsenal, before a 4-0 loss to Liverpool at Anfield brought a temporary stutter. Interspersed with those results was some success in the FA Cup when, after a 2-2 draw at Crystal Palace, United won the Third Round Replay 1-0 to set up a meeting with the high-flying Arsenal at Highbury. Much to everyone’s surprise, Rod Wallace’s goal gave United victory and with a home draw with Division One side Portsmouth there were visions of Wembley. Unfortunately there was a 3-2 defeat despite Lee Bowyer scoring twice.

Tony Yeboah had only made sporadic appearances, mostly from the bench, but he was up front, with Ian Rush in midfield, as United recommenced their good run with a 1-0 victory at Sunderland, followed by wins over West Ham United and Everton at home by the same score, as they climbed to 9th. He didn’t score, but after a 0-0 draw at home to Southampton, he threw his shirt in the direction of George Graham, after being substituted in the 0-1 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur. It was his last game for Leeds. A 2-2 draw at Sheffield Wednesday saw the signing of Winger Pierre Laurent from Bastia for £250,000 and Striker Derek Lilley from Greenock Morton for £500,000 and both debuted in the 0-0 home draw with Blackburn Rovers. There was a 2-0 defeat at Wimbledon before the season petered out to a boring conclusion with four successive draws 1-1 at Nottingham Forest, 0-0 at home to Aston Villa, 0-0 at Chelsea and 1-1 at home to Middlesbrough, which saw their relegation.

In the League Brian Deane and Lee Sharpe were joint top scorers with 5, and Goalkeeper Nigel Martyn was Player of the Year, which sums up everything. 15 at home and 13 away in 38 games saw 28 goals earn 46 points as United finished 11th. Nigel Martyn 37, Kelly and Rush 34, and Bowyer 32 were the only players to record more than 30 games and there was a reasonable case to say that injuries had played their part and inhibited Graham’s selections, but others doubt whether it would have changed Graham’s overall strategy.

There was one bright spot on the horizon. While George was grinding out the results with boring defence, Paul Hart had been producing an attacking high quality Youth Team. It was part of a fine legacy left by Wilko. Players such as Harry Kewell, Jonathan Woodgate, Paul Robinson, Matthew Jones, Alan Maybury and Stephen McPhail all international stars of the future had shone while winning the FA Youth Cup for the second time as Crystal Palace were beaten 2-1 at Elland Road, with goals from Wesley Boyle and Matthew Jones and 3-1 on aggregate, with Lee Matthews scoring the winner in the away leg, in the final. The Leeds team was: Robinson; Maybury, Kewell; Dixon, Woodgate, Lynch; McPhail, Boyle, Matthews, Jones and Knarvik; with Wright, Quinn and Evans unused subs for the home leg, while Wright got 20 minutes as he substituted for Jones in the second clash. Regular Tony Hackworth missed the finals.

1996-1997 Season Division Pos (Pts)
FA Cup
Lg Cup
Europe
Other
Season Details Premier League 11 (46)
R5
R3
-
-

Alfie Haaland and Harry Kewell celebrate Lee Bowyer’s winner in a dramatic 4-3 victory over Derby County in November 1997.

1997-1998 Season

In the latter part of the previous season George Graham had let Paul Beesley depart to Manchester City for £500,000 and Mark Tinker to York City for £85,000 and given frees to John McClelland and Rob Bowman. He now started to get rid of Wilko signings in earnest. There were free transfers for Tony Dorigo to AC Torino, Ian Rush to Newcastle United and John Pemberton to Crewe Alexandra. Mark Ford left for Burnley for £250,000, Andy Couzens went to Carlisle United for £100,000, while Brian Deane returned to Sheffield United for £1.5 million and Carlton Palmer left for Southampton for £1 million. He was able to offload Tony Yeboah to Hamburg for £900,000, while Tomas Brolin was encouraged to leave on loan to FC Zurich, Parma and then Crystal Palace. He also let his own signing, Pierre Laurent, return to Bastia in March for a tidy profit at £500,000.

He started bringing in his own players. Scottish International left-back, David Robertson, came from Glasgow Rangers for £500,000; £3.25 million landed David Hopkin from Crystal Palace, while Norwegian International Utility player, Alf-Inge Haaland cost £1.6 million, as decided by the FA tribunal, when he left Nottingham Forest. He went to Portugal to pick up midfielder Bruno Ribeiro for £500,000 from Vitoria Setubal and to Boavista, where Dutch striker Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink cost £2 million.

For George Graham and his new assistant David O’Leary it was a welcome to their old team as the new season commenced with a visit from the highly credentialed Arsenal. There was a debut goal for Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbank as United drew 1-1. The line-up was: Martyn; Kelly, Robertson; Hopkin, Radebe, Wetherall; Bowyer Halle Hasselbaink Wallace and Ribeiro. Haaland came on for Hopkin, and Kewell for Ribeiro, while Beeney, Lilley and Molenaar were unused on the bench. After a fine 3-1 victory at Sheffield Wednesday there were three consecutive defeats and no goals scored in the process. Crystal Palace and Liverpool both left Elland Road 2-0 victors while there was a 1-0 defeat at Aston Villa as United slipped to 14th.

There was a goal feast at Blackburn Rovers, who had been previously been undefeated and early season table-toppers. With just over half-an-hour gone the score was 4-3 to United, as they showed a refreshing attacking ability, but unbelievably there were no further goals. After his goal on debut, Hasselbaink had not added to his tally, but Rod Wallace was on form having already beaten his previous seasons tally with four. While Hasselbaink was not scoring in the League he was on target in the League Cup, scoring in both legs, as Leeds beat Second Division Bristol City 3-1 at home and 4-3 on aggregate in the two-legged Second Round and United progressed further with a 3-1 win at First Division strugglers, Stoke City.

After a 1-0 home loss to Leicester City, there was also a return to form in the League and a 2-0 win at Southampton was followed by a David Wetherall winner against leaders and previously unbeaten Manchester United as Leeds surged into 6th place and Manchester lost their leadership to Arsenal. There was a 0-0 draw at Coventry City before an emphatic 4-1 defeat of Newcastle United at Elland Road. There was a disputed penalty, lone goal defeat, at Wimbledon before United again picked up the momentum winning by the only goal at Tottenham Hotspur and 4-3 at home to Derby County to take them into 4th spot. The Derby County win was remarkable as on the half hour Derby led 3-0. However, United roared back with goals from Hopkin and Kewell, before Hasselbaink finally broke his league goal drought from the spot with less than ten minutes to go and Elland Road shook to the rafters as Lee Bowyer thundered home the winner on the final whistle.

First Division cellar-dwellers Reading, surprisingly triumphed 3-2 at Elland Road in the Fourth Round to end United’s interest in the League Cup for another season. In the League United kept their 4th spot with a 3-1 home win over West Ham United, with a brace for Hasselbaink, before they survived another nail-biter to come from behind to win 3-2 at Barnsley. Goalless draws at home to Everton and at Chelsea were followed by a 2-0 home victory over Bolton Wanderers as Boxing Day brought a trip to fellow challengers Liverpool, and a 3-1 defeat. Hasselbaink was again in target in a 1-1 home draw with Aston Villa and in the 1-2 reversal at Arsenal, but another 2-1 defeat at home to Sheffield Wednesday saw United drop to 7th.

There were easy home victories in the FA Cup as First Division Oxford United were dumped 4-0 and Second Division Grimsby Town succumbed 2-0. In the Fifth Round there was again First Division opposition as Birmingham City were beaten 3-2 and with more First Division challengers, in the form of Wolverhampton Wanderers, in the 6th Round it seemed as though Wembley was beckoning. United were outplayed and could not score. They lost 1-0 with Hasselbaink missing a last minute penalty.

In the League there were a couple of unexpected 1-0 reversals, at Leicester City and at home to Southampton, as £1.3 million Austrian International Martin Hiden debuted at right back, and a 1-1 draw at Newcastle United saw United slump to 8th. Happily, they bounced back with another rich seam of form. A Harry Kewell goal got the points at Tottenham Hotspur, Blackburn were hammered 4-0 at Elland Road, then United gave Derby County a football lesson to score a 5-0 away win, before inexplicably going down 3-0 away to West Ham United. Two home wins, 2-1 over Barnsley and 3-1 over Chelsea, followed as United climbed back to 4th.

Hasselbaink had recently been scoring heavily since his penalty spot aberration in the Cup and was on the mark again as Leeds won 3-2 at Bolton Wanderers to get United back onto winning ways after a 2-0 defeat at Everton. There were two more from him in a 3-3 draw at home to Coventry City, in a match which also featured a hat-trick by future United player Darren Huckerby. The season tapered off with a 3-0 defeat at Manchester United and a 1-1 home draw with Wimbledon as United held on to 5th spot and qualification for the UEFA Cup with 59 points.

In stark contrast to the previous season United had scored 57 goals in the league, with Hasselbank leading the way with 16 and 22 in all, while Rod Wallace also contributed 10. The season had seen the emergence of spearhead Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Harry Kewell’s dazzling skills on the left flank, the defensive qualities of Lucas Radebe and the increasing influence of Lee Bowyer in midfield. There was also the promise of the emergence of several younger players as the Youth Cup winning team formed the basis of the Reserves winning the Pontins’ League for the first time in over 60 years.

1997-1998 Season Division Pos (Pts)
FA Cup
Lg Cup
Europe
Other
Season Details Premier League 5 (59)
QF
R4
-
-

UEFA Cup 3rd Round 1st Leg at AS Roma 20th October 1998 - Back Row: Bruno Ribeiro, Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink, David Hopkin, Nigel Martyn, Robert Molenaar, Martin Hiden. Front Row: Stephen McPhail, Lee Bowyer, Gunnar Halle, Harry Kewell, Lucas Radebe.

1998-1999 Season

In the close season Nigel Martyn (England), Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (Holland), Gunnar Halle (Norway), Martin Hiden (Austria) and Lucas Radebe (South Africa) all represented their countries in the World Cup and there had been rumours of George Graham’s unrest and his yearning for a return to the capital. He had not been inactive in the transfer market having added full-back Danny Granville, from Chelsea for £1.6 million, and Dutch striker Clyde Wijnhard, for £1.5 million, while out-of-contract Rod Wallace joined Glasgow Rangers on a free. During the season Lee Sharpe and several others were loaned out. There was bad news on the injury front with Right-Back regular Gary Kelly ruled out for the season with a shin problem.

There was a slow steady start to the new season with a 0-0 draw at Middlesbrough. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink returned to the side at the expense of Sharpe and scored the only goal of the game at home to Blackburn Rovers. Bowyer’s goal earned United a point at Wimbledon before a 3-0 home win over Southampton saw United head the League for the first time since their Championship season. It was short-lived, however, as three consecutive draws saw United in 5th position. Goalless draws at Everton and at home to Aston Villa were followed by a 3-3 draw at Tottenham Hotspur in ironically George Graham’s last game in charge. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink had given United a one goal advantage over Maritimo in the first leg of the UEFA Cup as George Graham finally got his wish and returned to London after an approach from Tottenham Hotspur. Leeds was duly compensated by Tottenham Hotspur for the breaking of George Graham’s contract which still had almost three years to run.

So George Graham, who had pulled Leeds back on to an even keel, departed and after Leicester City had repelled a determined bid for Martin O’Neill, United turned to Graham’s deputy, David O’Leary, to continue the good work started by Graham. In the impasse which followed Graham’s departure, Leeds placed David O’Leary and Eddie Gray in temporary charge and they had initial success as United progressed to the next round of the UEFA Cup with an exciting victory in Maritimo, on penalties, after extra–time had seen the teams locked in an aggregate draw. Ironically their first League game was against Martin O’Neill’s Leicester City at Elland Road, who triumphed 1-0, but the Directors showed their faith in O’Leary and Gray as they were appointed Manager and Assistant-Manager respectively.

O’Leary immediately rang the changes and gave youth a chance. There were full debuts, away at Nottingham Forest, for Jonathan Woodgate and Danny Granville. The latter let himself, and the team, down badly by getting sent off, leaving a ten-man United to battle for an hour, and with a tactical reshuffle Stephen McPhail was substituted as United hung on for a 1-1 draw. Goals were proving hard to come by and, after stout resistance, Leeds lost by the only goal at Roma in the UEFA Cup Round 2 First Leg. This was followed by being held scoreless in a home draw with Chelsea. A Kewell goal at home to Bradford City saw United through to Round 4 in the League Cup. But, after a 2-2 draw away to Derby County, United had slipped to 10th in the League before their European dreams ended as Roma held them scoreless at Elland Road.

Despite losing 2-1 to Leicester City in the 4th Round League Cup tie, United embarked on a series of impressive performances. There was a 2-1 home victory over Sheffield Wednesday before Alan Smith came on as substitute at Liverpool and scored with his first kick in senior football and two more from Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink saw a famous 3-1 victory over Liverpool at Anfield. Charlton Athletic was put to the sword 4-1 at home then Manchester United was given the fright of their lives at Old Trafford before scraping home 3-2. Impressive home wins by 4-0 against West Ham United and Coventry City 2-0, saw United up to 3rd in the ladder. David Batty, having been re-signed from Newcastle United for £4.4 million, had his first game back in United colours in the latter, but suffered an injury which saw him side-lined for several months.

Indifferent form in the League saw a 3-1 defeat at high-flying Arsenal, a 3-0 away win at Newcastle United, a 2-2 home draw at home to Wimbledon, a 1-0 reversal at Blackburn Rovers, a 2-0 home win over Middlesbrough, followed by losses by 3-0 at Southampton and 1-0 at home to Newcastle United as United slipped to 6th.

In the FA Cup, United had been drawn at Non-League Rushden & Diamonds and survived a torrid encounter drawing 0-0 and after going behind 1-0 at Elland Road went through 3-1 with two goals from Alan Smith, who came on as substitute for Clyde Wijnhard, and one from Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. The 4th Round saw a trip to the South Coast and Fratton Park, to face First Division Portsmouth, who they duly scuttled 5-1 to set up a 5th Round encounter with George Graham’s Tottenham Hotspur. George had the last laugh as they went through 2-0 in the replay after a 1-1 draw at Elland Road.

United now hit a rich vein of results and all round performances, which saw seven consecutive League victories. A Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink double saw United win at Aston Villa before Willem Korsten, who had arrived on loan from Vitesse Arnhem for the rest of the season, got the only goal at home to Everton. Kewell and Smith gave United revenge by 2-1 over Martin O’Neill’s Leicester City and revenge was also extracted over George Graham’s Tottenham Hotspur, as the same players scored without reply in the home league encounter. Sheffield Wednesday were the next victims, 2-0 at Hillsborough before two emphatic home victories 4-1 over Derby County and 3-1 over Nottingham Forest, saw United equal their best-ever run of victories, a feat only achieved by Don Revie’s 73-74 Championship winning team.

Manchester United now led with 64 followed closely by Arsenal on 60, while Chelsea, with a game in hand, had 59 compared to United’s 57, with the rest of the League at least 10 points adrift. So with only seven games remaining for three of the top four, it was wide open, especially as United had still to play the other three, albeit Arsenal and Manchester United at home and Chelsea away.

United still maintained their unbeaten run but dropped valuable points with three consecutive draws, 0-0 at home to Liverpool and 1-1 at Charlton Athletic and, unluckily, at home to Manchester United, which effectively ended Leeds’ championship hopes. It saw the table Arsenal 69, Manchester United 68, Chelsea 65 and United 60. Manchester United had a game in hand of the others who had played 34. There was a 5-1 hammering for West Ham United at Upton Park, in a game which saw them reduced to 8 men before United were pipped for third place, and European Cup qualification, by a 1-0 loss to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge which also saw the end of their ten game unbeaten run.

United’s influence on the destination of the Championship had not ended and they greeted Arsenal to Elland Road with the visitors and Manchester United level on points with 75 and just two games remaining. Alex Ferguson’s dreams were answered and a last minute Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink goal gave Leeds victory and presented the title to Manchester United. United duly wrapped up the season with a meaningless 2-2 draw at Coventry City to finish 4th with 67 points. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink led the league scorers with 18, and 20 in all.

Harry Kewell had played in all League games but started in 36 of them, and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink also had 36 starts. Bowyer 35, Martyn and Harte 34, Hopkins 32 and Radebe 29 were all regulars, while Jonathan Woodgate, Danny Granville, Stephen McPhail, Alan Smith, Paul Robinson, and Matthew Jones joined Kewell and Harte as under 23 players given a start in the Premiership by O’Leary. The future was looking extremely bright as United were again in Europe and harboured serious thoughts of European Champions League qualification, not to mention Premiership Championship aspirations.

1998-1999 Season Division Pos (Pts)
FA Cup
Lg Cup
Europe
Other
Season Details Premier League 4 (67)
R5
R4
UC (R2)
-

EUFA Semi-Final First Leg 6th April 2000 - Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate walk out of the tunnel at the Ali Sami Yen stadium.

1999-2000 Season

Lee Sharpe had departed to Bradford City the previous March for £250,000, and was joined in the close-season by Gunnar Halle for £200,000 and David Wetherall for £1.4 million, while Clyde Wijnhard cost Huddersfield Town £750,000, and Derek Lilley left on loan, but by far the biggest shock was the departure of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink to Athletico Madrid for £12 million, after the club refused to meet his wage demands and his threat of going on strike should his transfer demands not be met. Willem Korsten had departed for Tottenham Hotspur at the end of his loan spell, as it appeared George Graham had put one over David O’Leary and United, but, as luck would have it, his career was blighted by injury and he soon had to give the game away. There was a huge outlay on incoming players, Right-back Danny Mills came from Charlton Athletic for £4.37 million, promising young Norwegian Midfielder Eirik Bakke cost £1.75 million from Songdal, Central Defender Michael Duberry arrived from Chelsea for £4.5 million, Striker Michael Bridges came from Sunderland for £5.6 million, all meeting the O’Leary criteria of being young and promising.

The season kicked off with high expectations on both home and European fronts. Martyn; Mills, Harte; Batty, Woodgate, Radebe; Bowyer, Hopkin, Smith, Bridges, and Kewell started at home against expected strugglers Derby County and McPhail substituted for Smith, while Haaland, Hiden, Duberry and Robinson remained on the bench unused, as both teams failed to score and United lost two points rather than gaining one. Michael Bridges gave notice of his arrival by scoring a hat-trick at Southampton, as United swamped the home team 3-0, but a 2-0 loss to Manchester United at Old Trafford was not the start Darren Huckerby, the new £4 million buy from Coventry City, would have liked. A 2-1 home win over newly promoted Sunderland was followed by a 2-1 home loss to championship rivals Liverpool and United were not looking good in 7th position.

As was their want, United set off on one of their runs of form which had become a feature of their recent and future capabilities. A visit to old foe George Graham saw them win 2-1 and another visit to Coventry City saw a 4-3 victory. Two consecutive home wins over Middlesbrough, by 2-0, and Newcastle United, 3-2, saw United ease in to second spot as the goals complimented United’s attacking style. A 2-1 victory at Watford saw United go top and there they remained with a 2-0 home win over Sheffield Wednesday and an exciting 4-4 draw at Everton, which United looked to have won, and an Ian Harte goal gave Leeds full points at home to West Ham United. Their impressive run came to an end 2-0 at Wimbledon as did their present tenure of top spot.

Due to the Balkan crisis United had travelled to neutral Heerenveen in Holland rather than Partizan Belgrade and returned triumphant 3-1, in the First Leg of the First Round of the UEFA Cup, and with a home win, courtesy of a Darren Huckerby goal, went through 4-1 on aggregate. Locomotiv Moscow was easily disposed of with a 7-1 aggregate in the Second Round as United won 4-1 at home and 3-0 away. Spartak Moscow proved harder foes winning 2-1 in Moscow, while a Lucas Radebe goal in the home leg was sufficient to send United through on the away goals rule.

In the League Cup a Danny Mills goal saw United through the home Third Round game with Blackburn Rovers before a defeat by Leicester City in a penalty shoot-out, after the game was still goalless after extra time, saw United go out.

In the League United had two successive home wins, 2-1 against Bradford City and 1-0 over Southampton, which was sufficient to see them back in top spot. Away wins at Derby County, by an Ian Harte penalty, and a brilliant performance at Chelsea, where Stephen McPhail got a rare double strike without reply, maintained the hold on top spot. Even though a 2-1 home victory over LeicesterCity was followed by a 2-0 loss at Arsenal and a surprise 2-1 loss at home to Aston Villa, to welcome in the new millennium, United were not dislodged, still being in top spot at the end of January.

The FA Cup had started in December with United progressing past the Third Round 2-0 against First Division strugglers Port Vale but United supporters were asking “how good can this get?” as they triumphed 5-2 at First Division high-fliers Manchester City in another breath-taking display, but a Benito Carboni hat-trick was enough to end United’s hopes, 3-2 at Aston Villa, in the Fifth Round.

Bruno Ribeiro had left for Sheffield United for £500,000 in November and O’Leary went to Blackburn Rovers and parted with a cheque for £3 million to bring Jason Wilcox to Leeds. This released Harry Kewell to play up front and Wilcox played his part so well that he was soon back in the England team and Kewell scored in six consecutive games in March, one short of the club record jointly held by Peter Lorimer and John McCole.

In February United had relinquished top spot after a 3-1 defeat at Anfield but remained second to leaders Manchester United, with whom they had broken away from the pursuing pack. A Kewell goal brought a home win over Tottenham Hotspur in an unpleasant game. The much anticipated visit of Manchester United saw the visitors surprisingly drop Beckham. An Andy Cole goal, early in the second half, gave them a single goal win, despite Leeds three-times hitting the woodwork, and they departed with a six point advantage. Leeds still gave it their all and beat Coventry City at home 3-0, Bradford City 2-1 at Valley Parade and Wimbledon 4-1 at Elland Road, and while comfortably in second spot, failed to make any impression on Manchester United.

The games were now coming thick and fast as Europe had finished their winter break and this brought revenge over Roma in the 4th Round when an Harry Kewell home strike was the only goal of the Round and this time it was Leeds who progressed by the single goal. Slavia Prague proved easier opposition in the Quarter-Final with United winning 3-0 at Elland Road to progress 4-2 on aggregate to set up a Semi-Final Tie with Galatasary and the promise of a possible all-English Final with Arsenal as the prize. A visit to Leicester City brought a 2-1 defeat and after 30 games the position was Manchester United 67, Leeds United 60, Liverpool 56, Arsenal 54, Chelsea 52.

A defeat by Chelsea 1-0 at Elland Road was followed by the journey to the hostile surroundings of Istanbul and the intimidating atmosphere of the Ali Sami Yen Stadium where unfriendly banners such as “Welcome to Hell” were normal.

On the eve of the match two Leeds Supporters, Kevin Speight and Christopher Loftus had been stabbed to death and despite that, the match went ahead with no one minute’s silence in respect of the deaths, and no black armbands worn by the home team. As the Leeds players went into a team huddle, the Leeds supporters turned their backs and held their own one minute’s silence. The Leeds players had emerged into the cauldron, protected by large shields carried by the many riot police, clearly intimidated by the events and went in at half-time two goals in arrears. But while they improved somewhat in the second half with Bridges, Kewell and McPhail all going close, somehow the result did not seem important. There had been much controversy over whether the game should have proceeded at all, with Galatasary seemingly intent on winning the tie any way they could by refusing to postpone the match and then asking for the return leg to be played on neutral territory.

Against this backdrop, it came as no surprise that the United season was all downhill from that point. Three days later a visit to Aston Villa brought a 1-0 loss and a flower bedecked Elland Road saw floral tributes from Arsenal followed by a minute’s silence. Arsenal rendered a 4-0 defeat to the seemingly disinterested United, who had Ian Harte needlessly sent-off, as they dropped to 4th place.

A small group of dignitaries, protected by an anti-terrorists guard, were the only support for Galatasary, as the second leg was played out the following Thursday night. Not unsurprisingly the Galatasary fans had been banned to avoid any chance of a re-occurrence of the Istanbul events. Galatasary took the lead from the penalty spot and, despite Eirik Bakke scoring twice, United could only manage a 2-2 draw and went out. Galatasary went on to win the Cup defeating Arsenal on a penalty shoot-out in the Final.

The draw had stopped United from losing seven on the trot and they picked up their home campaign with a 2-2 draw at Newcastle after being ahead 2-0. A 3-0 win at Sheffield Wednesday, featuring a superb Harry Kewell goal, was followed by a 3-1 home win over Watford to send United back into third spot and in contention for the third Champions League berth. The table read Manchester United played 37 points 88, Arsenal played 36 points 72, both virtually assured of the top two places with Liverpool played 37 and Leeds United played 36 both on 67, with Liverpool ahead on goal difference as Leeds went into their match in hand at home to Everton. In the encounter Leeds finished with 10 men and Everton 9 men and with another 7 bookings, but it was a reflection on the poor refereeing rather than any bad intent of the players. The game finished in a 1-1 draw as Bridges’ opener was equalised by Nicky Barmby. A win would have left United needing only a draw at West Ham United in the final game to assure third spot.

Liverpool had to visit Bradford City, who seemed doomed to relegation unless they could pull off a win. David Wetherall was United’s saviour as he got the Bradford City winner and stopped Liverpool from claiming third spot while saving his own team from relegation. United drew 0-0 to finish third on 69 points, two more than Liverpool and dreams of the prospect of games with the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Lazio and Juventus!

Michael Bridges had been a huge success in the striker’s role with 19 league goals and 21 in all, while Harry Kewell, who had risen to super star status being voted PFA Young Footballer of the year, had 10 league goals and 17 overall. Martyn was ever-present, Kewell had 36 appearances, Harte 33, Woodgate and Bridges 32, Bowyer and Radebe 31, were the regulars, as United looked back on a satisfactory season which had an almost perfect end after being almost ruined by tragedy.

1999-2000 Season Division Pos (Pts)
FA Cup
Lg Cup
Europe
Other
Season Details Premier League 3 (69)
R5
R4
UC (SF)
-

Anderlecht, 21st February 2001, Champions League - Back Row: Dom Matteo, Rio Ferdinand, Danny Mills, Nigel Martyn, Ian Harte, Erik Baake. Front Row: Mark Viduka, Olivier Dacourt, Lucas Radebe, David Batty, Alan Smith.

2000-2001 Season

This was the defining season in recent LUFC History. It was the season that could have, and should have, been the watershed for the future of the LUFC dynasty. It had all the ingredients for success, a young vibrant and entertaining squad, a couple of old heads and the ability to win week in and week out and withstand the pressures of success. The clubs massive fan base, packed Elland Road to the rafters and followed their heroes to the ends of the earth. They cheered on their heroes on the field. They cheered the coach and staff. They gave not only David O’Leary, but Peter Ridsdale, the idea that he was a popular leader who, so long as he gave them what they wanted, could live his and their dream. Hindsight is a marvellous thing, but there were knowledgeable people who could see through the veneer of success, but for now, LUFC were on the crest of a wave and all were enjoying the ride with no thought of failure and what it might entail.

In came quality French midfielder Olivier Dacourt from Lens for £7.2 million and the prolific Australian Marksman Mark Viduka from Glasgow Celtic for £6.5 million, while versatile defender Dominic Matteo was bought from Liverpool for £4.2 million, although his transfer was not finalised for several weeks due to fitness concerns. £18 million was not a lot of money compared to others in the close season market when you consider that, Chelsea had spent £30 million and Liverpool close to £50 million. Figo had gone for £37.7 million, Crespo for £35.5 million, Overmars and Petit for £30 million and Batistuta £22.5 million! The question was could LUFC afford it, together with the salaries demanded by those players, a subject on which there was remarkable silence. Encouraged by the success of Eirik Bakke, United had put in a bid of £4 million for his friend and Norwegian compatriot John Arne Riise. His club, Monaco, valued him at £6 million and the impasse was never broken.

O’Leary continued ridding LUFC of George Graham purchases. Martin Hiden returned to Salzburg and his native Austria for £500,000, the popular Alf-Inge Haaland joined Manchester City for £2.8 million, while David Hopkin and Robert Molenaar (five months later) moved to neighbours Bradford City for £2.5 million and £400,000 respectively, to swell the ever growing former LUFC contingent at those clubs. So, over £6 million had been recouped in transfer fees.

There was a feast of goals in pre-season friendlies, with Viduka, Bridges, Smith and Harte prominent, as 24 goals were scored and 8 conceded in winning all 6 games, against mixed opposition, but it honed their skills for European Championship Qualifying Round against the highly-rated German side TSV 1860 Munich.

With Harry Kewell and Jason Wilcox sidelined by lengthy injuries, United lined up with Martyn; Kelly, Duberry, Radebe, Harte; Bakke, Dacourt, Bowyer; Smith, Viduka, Bridges; with Mills replacing Bridges late on and Huckerby, McMaster, Molenaar, Gareth Evans, Hackworth and Robinson being unused on the bench. Goals from Alan Smith and an Ian Harte penalty was enough to give United a slender 2-1 advantage after the home leg, which was marred by the unwarranted sending off of Bakke and Dacourt for the home team and Ned Zelic for Munich, and were all unavailable for the return leg. A monument to incompetent, over officious refereeing!

Before the return leg United had a little matter of the Premier League to consider! They kicked off with a visit from their final home match opponents of the previous season, and former collegues of new signing Olivier Dacourt, Everton. They lined up with: Martyn; Kelly, Radebe, Woodgate, Harte; Bakke, Dacourt, Bowyer; Bridges, Viduka, Smith. Mills and Huckerby replaced Bakke and Bridges ten minutes from the end, while Robinson, Gareth Evans and Molenaar remained unused on the bench. In front of a capacity crowd ‘Man of the Match’ Alan Smith grabbed a brace as United kicked off with a 2-0 win.

Peter Ridsdale announced a new and improved six year contract had been negotiated with David O’Leary to compliment the recently signed improved contracts of players Nigel Martyn, Gary Kelly, Ian Harte and Stephen McPhail. O’Leary’s Management skills needed to rival those of a conjuror as Kewell, Wilcox, McPhail and Matthew Jones were all injured, as well as the long-term David Batty, and Bakke and Dacourt were suspended! Of the usual midfield only the effervescent Lee Bowyer was available.

He solved his conundrum by playing Matt Jones, although unfit, and using Full-Back Danny Mills and Michael Duberry, and pushing Gary Kelly and Lucas Radebe into midfield as United fielded: Martyn; Kelly, Woodgate, Duberry, Harte; Bowyer, Jones, Radebe, Mills; Smith, Viduka. To his credit Matt Jones stayed on for 75 minutes before giving way to Gareth Evans and Bridges, Huckerby, Molenaar, McMaster, Hackworth and Robinson all kept the bench warm for the entire game. Some brilliant work from Viduka and Smith resulted in the latter getting the only goal of the game and Nigel Martyn was rightly named man of the match, as United opened the door to untold riches and a minimum £10 million for games with FC Barcelona, AC Milan and Besiktas in the in Group H. The so called “Group of Death” for obvious reasons!

It was back to the EPL and a visit to the Riverside, where goals from Bowyer and the in-form Smith ensured a 2-1 victory over Middlesbrough. It was at great cost, as Woodgate and Bakke both sustained injuries which left them sidelined for several weeks. Alf-Inge Haaland was welcomed back to Elland Road by another capacity crowd, but they were less than pleased when he and his new club, Manchester City, departed with maximum points as United dropped to 4 th place. A goal-less daw at Coventry City was followed by another unexpected reversal, 2-1 at home to Ipswich Town, for who Jermaine Wright scored the winner and was acclaimed ‘Man of the Match’! United were booed off by sections of the crowd as United’s injury worries deepened and the games came thick and fast.

Between the two games a depleted United team were thrown into the cauldron of the Nou Camp and no one was surprised when FC Barcelona triumphed 4-0 as United fought to the death much to the anger of the top ‘Barca’ players who expected them to lie down meekly rather than tackle like tigers despite being totally outclassed and outplayed. Martyn; Kelly, Duberry, Radebe, Mills; Bowyer, Dacourt, McPhail, Harte; Bridges, Smith; were the run on XI with Tony Hackworth and Danny Hay replacing McPhail and Radebe late in the game while Huckerby, Jones, Evans, Jacob Burns and Robinson remained paid spectators.

Bakke and Matteo replaced the injured Radebe and McPhail as United were overwhelming underdogs at home to AC Milan a week later at Elland Road. Without Kewell, Wilcox, Woodgate, Batty, Radebe, McPhail, all injured and Viduka on International duty, the hotch-potch misfits took on the might of AC Milan, who had been 4-1 first game winners over Besiktas. In the driving rain at Elland Road, United took to it like ducks to water while AC Milan certainly had their enthusiasm dampened. Their galaxy of super-stars were out-fought and out-thought, with Bowyer getting a last gasp winner courtesy of a speculation shot which Brazilian keeper Dada allowed into the net. It was a night of shocks as Besiktas beat Barcelona 3-0 and all teams were locked on 3 points.

There was a 1-1 draw at Derby County, as United slid down to 10th but back on ECL duty United responded magnificently with a 6-0 annihilation of Besiktas at Elland Road with Bowyer (2), Viduka, Matteo, Bakke and Huckerby on the scoresheet in an almost faultless display, to head the Group from AC Milan who had won 2-0 at Barcelona. United were narrow but deserved winners, 4-3, over George Graham’s Tottenham Hotspur in the next game at Elland Road which thrilled the crowd. Viduka and Smith both bagged a pair each as United moved up to 8th.

There was no International call up for Woodgate and Bowyer who were to face court on an assault charge. It was a case with dramatic repercussions for the players and the club, and which dogged the club and often provided the newspaper headlines rather than the team’s feats in the next year or so.

The International break was a welcome relief for United but they were still bedevilled by more injuries and Jacob Burns was given a debut for the stricken Olivier Dacourt, as Charlton Athletic were the third newly-promoted team to arrive at Elland Road and hoped to win just like their predecessors. There was more misfortune for United as keeper Nigel Martyn suffered a groin injury after 20 minutes and had to be replaced by Paul Robinson. Few could have known that he would be out for over 20 games and that Robinson would perform so brilliantly in his absence. Robinson made several spectacular saves to hold Charlton at bay and two goals from Viduka, one with an audacious back-heel, and one from Alan Smith saw United triumph 3-1 to move into 4th spot. They soon plummeted back to 9th with a 3-0 hiding at Old Trafford but, with a patched up squad of Robinson; Kelly, Woodgate, Hay, Matteo; Burns, Bowyer, Jones, McPhail; Viduka, Smith; there was little wonder! Huckerby replaced Smith late on and Milosevic, Molenaar, Evans, and Hackworth remained unused, thankfully!

In between the two encounters United had to endure the away encounter with Besiktas in Turkey and came away with a 0-0 result which virtually ensured passage to the next round. It came at the cost of a serious injury to Michael Bridges which ended his season. United could now boast the following team: Martyn; Mills, Duberry, Radebe, Harte; Batty, Bakke, Dacourt, Wilcox; Bridges and Kewell, but all of them were confined to the treatment room! Despite all the absentees, Barcelona were put under severe pressure at Elland Road and Lee Bowyer gave United an early lead, and thanks to an outstanding display from Robinson, ably backed up by Woodgate, United clung to that lead until ‘Barca’ equalised 4 ½ minutes into stoppage time! A win would have meant that United were certain qualifiers for the next round, but they still had to go to the San Siro knowing a draw would see them through.

After the heady cocktail of the ECL, a miserable rainy day in West Yorkshire was poor beer for United. A Valley Parade visit to relegation candidates Bradford City was never going to be easy and always a potential banana skin. A Viduka goal equalized a Stan Collymore debut overhead spectacular and left United in 10th spot and knowing there was a lot of work to be done to bring their domestic season on a par with their ECL performances. With Stephen McPhail now joining Michael Bridges in casualty for the rest of the season, United needed their present walking wounded to make quick recoveries to bolster their flagging fortunes. Two days later they were brought back to reality when beaten 3-2, after extra-time, at Prenton Park by First Division cellar-dwellers, Tranmere Rovers. It looked like two goals from Darren Huckerby, would be enough but the home scored three unanswered goals to gain a shock win. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise as United did not need too many extra games with such a fragile squad.

High–flyers Liverpool arrived at Elland Road in 3rd spot and looking to take advantage of United’s injury woes and over-worked players. Poor defending ensured that they were given every encouragement as they took a 2-0 lead after only 17 minutes. It was to be the day of the V-Bomber, as Mark Viduka, who had returned refreshed and in good form from International duty, turned on a display of awesome power and delicate skill. He reduced the arrears with a clinical finish after Alan Smith had pressurised the Liverpool defence into error and, after half-time, scored the equaliser with a powerful header. Liverpool restored their advantage on the hour but the Duke was at his delicate best as he bamboozled several defenders before beating the keeper with a low angled shot to claim his hat-trick. The fans had hardly finished their acclaim when he broke away to lob the keeper and get his and Leeds’ fourth to clinch victory and move United up to 7th and Liverpool down to 4th!

On a high, the battle-weary troops headed for the San Siro and the showdown with AC Milan. There was an unconfirmed rumour that Barcelona had offered Milan a £1.6 million bonus if they could beat United and give themselves a chance of qualifying if they could beat Besiktas at the Nou Camp. They must have winced when Shevchenko missed from the spot and choked on their Paella when Dominic Matteo headed in a Lee Bowyer corner to give United the lead just on half time. It certainly silenced the 52,000 crowd and the Pizza, Lasagne and Chianti sales dipped remarkably as they sat through the half-time break in stunned disbelief! AC Milan equalised on 68 minutes but resolute defence saw no change to the score-line and, although Barcelona won 5-0, it was of no consequence and United and AC Milan progressed to the next round at their expense. Real Madrid, Anderlecht and Lazio awaited them in Stage 2. Another Group of Death, with United again outsiders and praying for the return of their absent stars.

A Mark Viduka goal earned United a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea before a surprise home defeat at the hands of West Ham United saw United slip to 10th spot. It was to be Rio Ferdinand’s last game for that club and he arrived in a blaze of publicity and was paraded before the Elland Road faithful, ahead of the Arsenal home game, after a record £18 million fee had been paid for him. With Paul Robinson and Alan Smith both also included in the England squad for the friendly with Italy not all was gloom and at last there seemed some light on the horizon. A Dacourt goal gave United all three points against the high-flying Arsenal.

On Ferdinand’s debut, the Leeds defence leaked goals for LeicesterCity to win 3-1 at Filbert Street. After the home team had scored three before 30 minutes had elapsed, some wondered at the wisdom of such a high investment. The election to replace the flat back-four with the three man Woodgate, Ferdinand and Radebe, saw O’Leary concede his mistake, but not publicly, by taking off Woodgate for Wilcox before half-time. It came unstuck when Radebe was unluckily sent off for two bookable offences and with Kewell replacing Matt Jones on the hour mark United started to look dangerous. A goal from Viduka, a Dacourt shot which hit the upright and a bad miss by Kewell could have meant a point which would not have been deserved.

Prior to the Arsenal game United’s bare-bones squad had been outclassed by Real Madrid and well beaten 2-0, but after the Leicester game they were able to travel to Lazio with something resembling a first-team squad and record a famous victory courtesy of an Alan Smith goal after a sublime Viduka back-heel had set him up. 6,000 United fans had made the trip and they returned home delirious at the result, which left Lazio in bottom place and pointless. A trip to the Dell saw a bad tempered affair in which a Southampton player was dismissed, but the ten men were able to hang on to win 1-0. United further bolstered their ranks with a loan signing of Robbie Keane from Inter Milan for the rest of the season. He was however precluded from appearing in the ECL.

Robert Molenaar had gone and Young Welsh International Matthew Jones was sold to Leicester City for £3.25 million and the now surplus to requirements Darren Huckerby was another to join the ex-LUFC clan at Manchester City for £3.4 million. The ever-popular David Batty had made it back to the reserves and got the cheer of the day as he came on for a cameo appearance, as substitute, late in the 2-0 home victory over Sunderland. Keane was not so fortunate on his substitute debut in the 2-1 home loss to Aston Villa which resulted in United now dropping back to 12th spot.

For the Boxing Day clash at Newcastle United were able to field the following team: Robinson; Kelly, Woodgate, Ferdinand, Matteo; Bakke, Bowyer, Dacourt, Kewell; Viduka, Smith. Batty and Keane were substituted for Bakke and Kewell, with Mills Radebe and Martyn also on the bench if necessary and with Harte and Wilcox both near full-fitness, the squad was now back to strength for the big push to make up the lost ground in the EPL and to really shake up the big boys of the ECL. For the short-term, the game at Newcastle was lost 2-1. Keane scored from the spot to get a point from the 1-1 home draw with Middlesbrough. There were two more for Keane and one each from Bowyer and Bakke, which saw United victorious 4-0 at Maine Road over Manchester City. This was followed by a shock 3-1 defeat to Newcastle United, despite another goal from Keane, and it saw Leeds in 13th position, but the cohesion and teamwork was being to show.

They had also beaten Barnsley, albeit very unconvincingly, thanks to a Viduka goal in the Third Round of the FA Cup, before Liverpool extracted revenge for their league loss by knocking them out 2-0 in the Fourth Round at Elland Road. So with no distractions they were free to concentrate on their twin assault on the EPL and ECL. In the league they laid the bogey of Aston Villa at Villa Park 2-1. Robbie Keane punished his former team Coventry City with the only goal at Elland Road. He was again on target as United won 2-1 at Ipswich Town. Olivier Dacourt made a scoring return to Goodison Park, where Ian Harte also scored, in the 2-2 draw with Everton. Derby County held United scoreless at Elland Road as United’s unbeaten run had seen them quickly elevated to 5th position on the ladder.

Although Robbie Keane was scoring regularly in the league he was not eligible to play in the ECL, having already played in the competition for Inter Milan, but the ever improving Rio Ferdinand was available for the first time as United faced a potentially hard fixture with a home tie with Anderlecht. The 6’8” striker Jan Koller and the smaller but speedy Tomasz Radzinski were expected to test Rio and his fellow defenders to the limit and indeed the signs were ominous as, after having the majority of possession, they went behind in the 65th minute. However, thanks to late goals from Ian Harte, from a 25yd free-kick, and Lee Bowyer, who crowned a superb display, when he collected a fine through ball from Alan Smith to beat the keeper and give United a deserved 2-1 victory.

Bowyer, Woodgate, Hackworth and Duberry were all involved in the “Mill Hill assault” court case which required their daily attendance and on the day of the Anderlecht game Bowyer made the 60 mile dash from the hearings at Hull to put in a star performance. He seemed unaffected by the case and despite the obvious problems he soldiered on unperturbed. His co-accused Jonathan Woodgate was a pale shadow of his former self, having lost a lot of weight and was unfit to play for the rest of the season.

United had put themselves in the drivers seat and were now clear second to Real Madrid in the group, but they had the daunting task of the visit to the fortress of the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium. Anderlecht reigned supreme at the venue and boasted a 100% record in Europe, winning all 20 games played there, including a win over Manchester United. There were claims from the Belgian coach that United had been “lucky” and “arrogant” in their Elland Road victory, and there were several disparaging remarks about Leeds players and Mark Viduka in particular.

Having been dismissed from the FA Cup, United had the luxury of a free weekend and they were well able to prepare for the return leg without distraction. The reported utterings of the Anderlecht coach were a good incentive to rebuke those remarks and United smashed their feelings of invincibility with a superb display of attacking football. Smith scored twice in the first half with a classic Mark Viduka header sandwiched in between, as both returned to goal-scoring form and broke their recent drought. The United defence held firm until the 75th minute when Koller managed to get on the score sheet, but the home team were never in the hunt and a push on Mark Viduka allowed Ian Harte to complete the scoring from the spot and secure a memorable victory and another LUFC highlight in their impressive European campaign. It ensured that they and Real Madrid were through to the quarter finals of the EPL, even though both still had two games left to play.

No doubt George Graham was hoping to catch United in a tired or benevolent mood for their visit to White Hart Lane, especially as Tottenham Hotspur were enjoying a good run of form and were unbeaten since the turn of the year. They had gone nine games without defeat, the only EPL team unbeaten at home and having kept six consecutive clean sheets. As they showed at Anderlecht, United are no respecters of reputations, and records are only there to be broken! Rio even gave his cousin Les a free gift on the half hour mark, but an Ian Harte penalty before the break was a prelude to Lee Bowyer getting the winner soon after the start of the second half, to break Tottenham’s hearts and all three records disappeared in one fell swoop, as United made it seven without defeat since the FA Cup reversal.

United were in fine form for the midday Battle of the Roses with perennial adversaries Manchester United at Elland Road. Referee Barber had what is known as a “stinker” and the antics of the French keeper Barthez should have seen him disappear down the tunnel for an early shower. He had been under pressure several times from Harte’s searching high balls from corners and set pieces. After Harte had challenged him to a high ball and the ball was cleared, Barthez kicked Harte right in front of the referee’s nose. It should have been instant dismissal for a deliberate kick, but Barber took the easy option and limited his punishment to a yellow card. Barthez brilliantly saved the penalty, much to the annoyance of everyone at Elland Road, with the exception of the Manchester contingent! Justice had not been done. Leeds had the most of the play but just couldn’t score and after Martyn failed to hold on to a shot from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Chadwick had the easiest of tasks to put it in the empty net. The Manchester goal seemed to lead a charmed life and Barthez certainly rode his luck, but finally a Mark Viduka header equalised with six minutes to go.

In the dying moments United had the ball in the net again, thanks to an own goal by Wes Brown. It should have been a winner but once again Referee Barber came to the rescue of the Lancastrians when he allowed his linesman’s view that Viduka had momentarily strayed offside in the build up to over-rule his own. There had been no transgression and the goal should have stood. Wes Brown knew he had scored an own goal and the Manchester body language said it all. It was two points lost that had no effect on the championship destination but it proved to be the points that would have ensured United’s qualification for the ECL and another season of Euro-riches!

If United felt hard done by, due to Barber’s inadequacies it was nothing in comparison to the ludicrous decision they had to endure at the Bernabeu a few days later! Mark Viduka had got behind the Real Madrid defence to cross for Alan Smith to gleefully open the scoring after only six minutes. Then in the next minute a Luis Figo cross was blatantly handled into the net by Raul, and like the other famous “Hand of God” incident only served to lower that person’s esteem and show the world that he was a cheat and a fraud. To the referees credit, after seeing a TV replay, he apologised to Leeds in their dressing room, but the damage was done and Raul should have owned up to his cheating and not deceived the referee. Fortunately, unlike the Manchester incident, it had no lasting effect on the future of LUFC. However Raul, after first admitting his cheating, later changed his mind and stuck to his lie. The Spanish press were on the side of LUFC and were totally embarrassed by the bad sportsmanship, so much so, that the UEFA imposed a £7,500 fine on Raul, but in true UEFA fashion subsequently withdrew it!

United gave an excellent display of fine attacking football and Real realised that they were now playing the “First Team” unlike the “ Reserves” that had been a pushover at Elland Road. After being forced to accept the referee’s decision on the equaliser, they had another bit of misfortune just before half time when Martyn appeared to have a Figo low cross well covered, only to see it hit a divot and bounce over his body! Still United bounced back and a fine Viduka downward header ten minutes into the second half gave them a well deserved equaliser. A draw would have been a fair result but Raul headed home a Figo cross on the hour to give Real victory rather than an equaliser.

The Lazio visit to Elland Road had no bearing on anything and the two sides fielded under-strength teams as both had a heavy domestic league games coming up. Lazio left seven of their stars at home while United took the chance to give Kewell and Batty a full game to ensure their match-fitness was up to scratch after long layoffs, while Robinson, Wilcox, Burns, Maybury, Kelly and Mills were also in the squad for experience or to get match practice. The game turned out to be very exciting and ended in a thrilling 3-3 draw. Ravenelli gave Lazio the lead but Lee Bowyer equalised to make him joint leading scorer in the competition. Ravenelli then conned the referee into a penalty, with an exaggerated dive. Jason Wilcox equalised with a stunning volley from an Ian Harte pass, and Harte again delivered the cross for Viduka to head United into the lead. Nedved caught Maybury in an horrendous knee high challenge which was missed by the referee in the build up to Lazio’s last minute equaliser. There were fears that the leg had been broken but fortunately this was not the case.

United had been drawn in the same half of the draw as Bayern Munich, Valencia and Deportivo La Coruna, thus avoiding Arsenal, Manchester United, Galatasaray and Real Madrid. The news filtered through that Deportivo la Coruna was to be their next opponents as they prepared for their trip to the Valley to take on Charlton Athletic. Charlton were flying high and had an impressive home record only losing once in the season and already having beaten Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea. They were also undefeated since Boxing Day. Mark Viduka gave United the lead after only 11 seconds, the second fastest EPL goal ever! Charlton equalised after barely 20 minutes but Harry Kewell split the Charlton defence to lay on a chance for Alan Smith to restore the lead early in the second half. With Lee Bowyer and Danny Mills returning to play against their former club, the game was quite spiteful and the almost waterlogged pitch saw many clashes between committed opponents. Charlton Manager Alan Curbishley maintained that Viduka, Batty and Mills were lucky to see out the ninety minutes, but with eight bookings, five for the visitors, it was clear not all were angels! United hung on to survive a penalty appeal in time added on to win 2-1 and maintain 5th place, and had time to regroup for their visit to the Stadium of Light a fortnight later.

Both teams wore black-armbands as a sign of respect for the death of David Rocastle, at the early age of 33, but they showed scant respect for each other and Alan Smith gave us one of his “the good, the bad and the ugly” performances, as he gave United the lead with a classic header, but then proceeded to antagonise everyone around, and it came as no surprise to anyone when he was red-carded in the 71st minute. Dacourt had dislocated his shoulder and had to be replaced by the not-quite-fit Bakke in the 7th minute while the brave Radebe came into the game carrying an injury and had to be replaced by Kelly at half-time. They could have done without being reduced to 10 men and in a spiteful match hung on gallantly until Viduka put the game beyond Sunderland’s reach in the last minute. The 2-0 victory saw United elevated to 3rd position with a trip to Anfield and a virtual play off for third place in a fortnight’s time.

Before the Anfield clash there were a few other matters to settle. There was a little matter of an ECL quarter-final, which saw the first leg at Elland Road. The Deportivo Coach had said how pleased he was to have drawn the weakest team in the competition. He was made to eat his words in no uncertain fashion as the crowd chanted “3-0 to the weakest team” as United turned on an awesome display. All the goals came from set pieces but such was United’s dominance that it was a surprise it was only 3-0. An Ian Harte special with a free-kick from 25yds gave United a slender half-time lead, but the Deportivo goal had lead a charmed life. Kewell laid back a corner to Ian Harte whose perfect cross was headed home by Alan Smith. In the 67th minute United got their deserved three goal cushion as an Ian Harte corner was headed home by Rio Ferdinand for his first goal for the club and the icing on the cake for his faultless performance on the night.

An unambitious Southampton were the next visitors to Elland Road and were soon behind to a piece of Kewell genius, as after being slipped the ball by Keane 25 yards out, his shot was as straight as an arrow for him to score his first goal of an injury–hit season, but with a little more accuracy and time he could have had an hat-trick The same could have been said for Keane, as he scored with a fine chip in the 71st minute, but if he could have avoided the offside flags, he also would have tripled his contribution. The 2-0 win consolidated 3rd place and they now had 28 points from the last 13 games and a further 3 wins, a draw and an unlucky loss to Real Madrid in the ECL, in the same period.

For the Good Friday Anfield showdown United fielded their strongest possible team: Martyn; Mills, Ferdinand, Matteo (for the injured Radebe), Harte; Bowyer, Batty, Dacourt, Kewell; Smith, Viduka; with a bench of Robinson, Kelly, Bakke, Wilcox and Keane. They tore into Liverpool from the off and it came as no surprise when Ferdinand rose unchallenged to power home a forceful header from an Ian Harte corner with only four minutes gone. Smith and Kewell were the subject of a real buffeting from the home defence, but Kewell had the last laugh when he tormented a retreating defence to lay on a simple tap in for Bowyer to increase United’s lead. Rarely had Liverpool been so outplayed and they went in at half-time lucky to be only two goals in arrears. Half-time changes, and no doubt a heated pep-talk, saw Liverpool claw their way back into the game with a fine Steven Gerrard goal, nine minutes into the second half. But he had been pushing his luck all afternoon and just one too many misjudged tackles saw him carded for the second time and he was dismissed after 71 minutes. United could have increased their lead but good defending and poor options thwarted them, but they had a perfectly good goal disallowed after Viduka and Keane broke two on one, unfortunately, after Viduka had netted, it was disallowed for a ludicrous offside. Their run continued, third place was consolidated and the return leg with Deportivo awaited them.

Deportivo had come back from a 3 goal deficit in previous games and had recently achieved the feat in Europe in beating Paris St. Germaine. The Riazor Stadium was a place where opposition trod in trepidation and not surprisingly, urged on by the majority of the 34,500 spectators Deportivo threw everything but the kitchen sink at United. On the night Deportivo were ahead from the spot after only eight minutes but United held out until the 73rd minute before conceding again. After that Viduka brought out a spectacular save from the Spanish Keeper and Deportivo were reduced to speculative shots from distance as United held firm. There were wholehearted efforts from Smith, Martyn, Harte and Dacourt and United progressed to the Semi-Finals to meet another Spanish club, Valencia, as England’s sole surviving representative. Bayern Munich met Real Madrid in the other Semi-Final.

United cruised to their ninth away league victory of the season, 2-0 at West Ham United, despite missing Smith (suspended) and Viduka (injured), and having David Batty sent off early in the second half. Robbie Keane gleefully put the ball into the roof of the net after good lead-up by Bowyer, Kewell and Harte, while Rio Ferdinand got his third goal in five games against his former club. However, United dropped to fourth position, as others played games in hand.

It was 33 points from the last 39 as United notched their sixth straight victory in a bad tempered clash with Chelsea. The game ensured that United would at least qualify for the UEFA Cup next season. Leeds were just too good for the most expensive side in the EPL, who clearly only had ambitions of taking away a point by keeping United goal-less. They almost achieved their objective before Robbie Keane scored his ninth of the season and Mark Viduka struck a volley of awesome power which other less gifted players could only dream of, as United scored the goals they deserved, albeit very late, and regained third spot. It was back to the ECL in midweek as United were held to a goal-less draw by Valencia at Elland Road in the first leg of the Semi-Final. The result clearly benefited the visitors but could have gone either way as both teams strived for victory. The immaculate Mendietta ruled the midfield but Mills and Martyn were equally impressive for United.

One could hardly have wished for a harder game to be sandwiched between two ECL Semi-Finals legs than a trip to face Arsenal at Highbury. But that was the fate that faced United! The Gunners used ever trick, both foul and fair, to gain the ascendency and took the lead 15 minutes in and double their lead a similar distance into the second half. The Gunners were by far the better team in the first half and deserved their lead but United were made of sterner stuff and they hit back immediately with a brilliant Ian Harte free-kick which left Seaman gazing at the bulge in the net. From there on Arsenal hung on for grim death as the yellow cards mounted and Keown was fortunate that the referee was the only person at Highbury not to see his elbow on Viduka. Even the myopic Wenge saw the incident and was moved to comment;” Viduka is a very physical player and made Keown nervous!” The whole Arsenal team and staff were nervous as the woodwork and desperate defence stopped United from getting the equaliser. The loss cost United fourth spot and ensured Arsenal’s qualification for the ECL.

A Capacity 53,000 crammed the Mestalla Stadium for a night that was always going to end in tears, unfortunately for United they were tears of Sorrow and not Joy. Deprived of the services of talisman Lee Bowyer, United again were subjected to a Mendietta master class and as early as the third minute he had Martyn at full stretch. It was also he that provided the inch perfect cross when Sanchez scored with a diving header. United appealed in vain that a hand was involved. They fought back manfully and went close on occasions but just the single goal separated the two teams at half-time with United knowing that an equaliser would see them through. Against the meanest defence in Europe it was never going to be easy, but three minutes into the second half a great 25 yards shot from Sanchez tilted the game in Valencia’s favour and five minutes later Mendietta put it beyond doubt to cap a fine display. To United’s disgrace Alan Smith brutally assaulted a Valencia defender and got a red card for an act of total stupidity, and even more impetuous and irresponsible as it happened in injury time. So United left Valencia in disgrace rather than triumph.

Going in to the final games United could still qualify for the ECL, but the Highbury defeat had left their fate out of their own hands. Manchester United 80 points from 36 games and Arsenal 69 from 36 were assured of a place and it was left to Liverpool 66 from 37, Ipswich Town 65 from 37 and United 62 from 36 to battle it out for the remaining spot.With Liverpool, 28+ to 14+, having a superior goal difference it made United’s task even more difficult. When United entertained the already relegated Bradford City, they did not want to die wondering and hit the beleaguered Bantams for six, and were already 5-1 up at half time.

Viduka, Harte, Bakke, Smith and Kewell were already on the score sheet but only Lee Bowyer was added in the second half after Leeds had threatened to wipe out the goal difference required to overtake Liverpool! It was exhibition stuff by United with Bakke, Kewell, Dacourt and Mills outstanding and Bradford City even started fighting amongst themselves in frustration. The win took United back to fourth and much now hinged on Liverpool’s visit to Charlton and United’s final home encounter with LeicesterCity.

As in the previous season United and Liverpool found themselves locked in a do or die situation on the last day of the season, but this year there were no desperate relegation haunted neighbours to give them a hand. After being totally out of contention for ECL qualification at Christmas, and lesser teams would have been dead and buried, it was a super-human effort for United to claw their way back in the week by week struggle. There had been many fine victories, particularly away from home, but except for early season poor form, particularly at home, or had United been able to pick from strength in those early games, they would have been champions. The Court case, the pressure from ECL participation, and even a dodgy offside decision could be used as blame or excuse.

Whereas last season they fell apart after being eliminated from Europe, this season they remained strong and resolute, and so it was that they saw off the dogged resistance from Leicester City. Harry Kewell robbed a Leicester defender to lay on the first for Alan Smith, but the visitors were back on level terms five minutes later. A brilliant move involving Kewell, Bakke and Smith resulted in the ball reaching Viduka who twisted and turned before rifling home a low shot, which hit the post. Minutes later the same player again hit the woodwork after fine play by Dacourt. Finally Ian Harte curled a free-kick past the keeper to give United a deserved lead and Smith put the icing on the cake with his second and United’s third goal. Charlton had held Liverpool until the second half and at half-time there had been hope of another last day cause for celebration, but Liverpool ran out 4-0 victors and took the vital third place.

Injuries had cost United dearly but while they were able to plug the gaps adequately after Christmas there were too many barebones XI’s prior to that. Only Bowyer, Dacourt and Viduka played more than 30 games!

2000-2001 Season Division Pos (Pts)
FA Cup
Lg Cup
Europe
Other
Season Details Premier League 4 (68)
R4
R3
CL (SF)
-

PSV Eindhoven, 21st February 2002, UEFA Cup Fourth Round: Danny Mills, Erik Baake, Dom Matteo, Alan Smith.

2001-2002 Season

In the close season United had taken up the option on Robbie Keane and he officially parted company with Inter-Milan and joined United. This was O’Leary’s only move in the incoming transfer market, but he allowed several young players to leave. Warren Feeney joined Bournemouth; Kevin Dixon went to Barnsley, Danny Hay to Walsall and Gareth Evans to Huddersfield Town, all on free transfers. Damien Lynch and Wesley Boyle were both also released, while there was £120,000 from Notts County for Tony Hackworth and £150,000 for Alan Maybury from Hearts. With Michael Bridges and Lucas Radebe out for the season, those players apart, United hoped to pick from strength. They started well favoured to give Arsenal and Manchester United a run for their money for the championship and certainly favourites to gain at least one of the four ECL places now on offer.

Once again United had a dream set of pre-season friendlies against varying opposition, winning all 7 games with a goal tally of 37 for and 2 conceded, with all strikers scoring heavily. So United had oiled their machine well and it was in good working order. The team for the opening home game with Southampton was: Martyn; Mills, Ferdinand, Matteo, Harte; Bowyer, Batty, Dacourt, Kewell; Keane, Viduka. Bakke replaced Batty and Smith replaced Keane midway through the second half, while Woodgate Kelly and Milosevic were unused. While Kewell tormented the Southampton defence mercilessly, resulting in a yellow and a red card for professional fouls on him, United could not score until Alan Smith arrived on the scene. He rectified matters only minutes after his appearance, and he and Bakke seemed to be the catalyst for the United victory, as Smith laid on the opener for Bowyer and was on hand to lash home a Ferdinand flick on, while Bakke installed life into the midfield.

Smith and Bakke kept their places in the run on XI, as the same squad was retained for the grudge match with Arsenal, the team whose victory in the corresponding fixture last season had cost United their place in the ECL. There was a lot of ill-feeling carried over from the last encounter and, indeed, it would be easier to name the players who were not booked rather than those who were! The game was played at a blistering pace and first Arsenal dominated, while Leeds hung on with Martyn making some fine saves. The referee took the names of Bakke, Dacourt, Bowyer and Mills within 10 minutes, but the quick thinking Ian Harte curled a free-kick around the wall, as Arsenal failed to get organised in time. It gave United the lead, albeit against the run of play, but soon afterwards Wiltord scored with a diving header to bring the score level. The half finished with Viduka causing the Arsenal defence to panic as he twice went close. Alan Smith hobbled off at half-time and instead of the expected Keane replacement, David Batty was brought on to bolster the midfield. It was an inspired move as Arsenal now had to concede the midfield and United got on top. Viduka, who always creates problems for the Arsenal rearguard, latched onto a ball from Kewell, left Adams for dead, and then struck a rocket shot from 18 yards to beat Seaman conclusively. It gave United the lead they never lost. The referee then produced a flurry of yellow cards as Henry, Coles and Pires all saw yellow and before long Viduka followed. Worse was to follow as Bowyer got a red, after a second yellow, for an innocuous tackle. Mills soon followed after also being yellow carded for a second time for unsporting behaviour after kicking the ball against a prone Cole. Woodgate came on for Kewell and Kelly for Bakke to bolster the defence, but Matteo and Ferdinand had been colossal and United held on for a famous victory and second place.

Goal-less draws at West Ham United and at home to Bolton Wanderers followed as United’s scoring power seemed to disappear, but they roared back for Keane and Mills to score at the Valley in a 2-0 victory which sent United top. While it was gratifying to see United looking down on the challengers, they had not really dominated any game so far and were not playing the free flowing football that made them such an entertaining team to watch in the run in to the previous season. This was apparent when, instead of beating minnows Maritimo in the UEFA Cup, United left Madeira goal-less and defeated but expecting to reverse the 1-0 deficit at Elland Road.

Harry Kewell, who had blown hot and cold since his return from injury in the New Year, was back to his devastating best against a determined Derby County at Elland Road. Bakke had given United an early lead, but it was Kewell who late in the game took the game by the scruff of the neck. Firstly he took a ball from Bowyer to hit both posts with a venomous cross shot as the ball finally nestled in the back of the net. He then rose majestically to head home a Bowyer cross which gave the keeper no chance. The 3-0 victory maintained United in top spot. Coincidentally the United financial results to 30th June 2001 were published which showed a loss of over £7 million and net debts of over £35 million and details of a loan of £60 million which had consolidated previous debt and funded the purchase of players in September 2000. United were top of the league so who cared!

A crowd of 38,125 were on hand to cheer United to victory in the second leg of the UEFA Cup against Maritimo at Elland Road. It was an almost carnival atmosphere as United showed they meant business. Batty played an excellent through ball to Keane in the 20th minute and he showed his class to control it and then produce a perfect strike to beat the keeper easily. Then Viduka latched onto a perfect through ball from Ferdinand to cross immaculately for fellow Australian Harry Kewell to rise at the far post to head home. It was all over when Keane found Kewell and on the left edge of the box and, after the keeper could not handle his low drive, the ever-alert Bakke was on hand to side-foot the ball home.

Once again United were winners without impressing at Portman Road where United remained unbeaten and made it 17 from 21 to stay top. Ipswich had taken the lead but they were too reliant on their offside trap. It was a goal of quality that brought United level when a deft cushioned pass from Kewell was perfectly flighted for Keane to control, draw the keeper and slot the ball in the corner of the net. Kewell was again prominent in the winner as he cut inside and sent a low cross for Viduka to do the honours, but Venus beat him to it and in his desperation could only put the ball in his own net. Keane and Kewell were again in devastating form as United annihilated Leicester City 6-0 at Filbert Street in the League Cup. Kewell simply tore Leicester apart with his speed and trickery, scoring the fifth, while Keane gave a perfect display of the art of goal-scoring and poacher instinct to register a well deserved hat-trick. Bakke and Viduka got the other goals, while there was a welcome return, and an impeccable performance, by Woodgate, who stood in for the injured Matteo.

Having already beaten Arsenal, United started off their three match run of games against the potentially best credentialed ECL competitors, by being held to a 1-1 draw, as they outplayed Liverpool for the second game running at Anfield. It was two points lost rather than one gained, but Liverpool would have been more than happy with their point. Fowler, who had done nothing of note all game, suddenly produced a piece of magic to rattle the bar and Murphy was there to nod the rebound home. Earlier Harry Kewell had given United a deserved lead with a cross shot of quality and Dacourt was in impressive form to boss the midfield, but try as they might United could not get the winner. United seemed to have won their home leg of their UEFA Cup clash with Troyes emphatically, as after Viduka and Bowyer had both bagged a brace, United were cruising at 4-1. Unfortunately they allowed Troyes to score late on, with a goal that left the score 4-2, and the two away goals could be vital. United could yet rue their inaccuracy in front of goal, which was highlighted by Viduka getting in the way of a goal-bound header from Bakke, and generally wasting chances to post his hat-trick!

Seth Johnson was signed from Derby County for £7 million and took his place on the bench for United’s next game at home to Chelsea. There were several ugly scenes in the Elland Road clash, a terrible two footed tackle, by Graeme Le Saux on Danny Mills, was highlighted on the TV Monitor that showed the ball was the last thing on Le Saux’s mind. Incredibly he was only shown yellow. The incident took place just prior to the interval and O’Leary seemed to go berserk and was seen shouting and arguing with the referee as they disappeared down the tunnel. The referee, Paul Dirkin, obviously thought he had gone beyond the pale and banished him to the Director’s Box for the second half and reported him to the FA. Viduka had always been a threat and could easily have had a hat-trick but for the brilliance of fellow countryman Mark Bosnich in the Chelsea goal, who also thwarted a spectacular Harry Kewell volley. It had all the potential to be a high scoring game but at the other end Nigel Martyn was just as safe and spectacular in keeping the Chelsea hot-shots at bay. In the end both sides could have laid claim to victory, but a draw was probably a fair result and kept United at the top, undefeated and having conceded only three goals.>

A 67,555 capacity crowd were on hand at Old Trafford to see the old pretenders meet the young pretenders. For 88 minutes United looked as though they had conquered their Old Trafford hoodoo which had lasted since 1981. They had to weather an early storm as Manchester created several clear cut chances but Nigel Martyn was equal to the task. Leeds showed scant respect for their hosts and took the game to them with vigour and Viduka, Kewell and Keane all went close, as they gained the upper hand. Leeds were lucky not to be reduced to 10 men as Robbie Keane reacted strongly to a foul by Beckham and shoved him to the ground with a two handed push to the chest. He was fortunate only to receive yellow. It came as no surprise when United finally took the lead after 77 minutes as Viduka beat a flat footed Manchester defence to an Ian Harte low cross to shoot through Barthez’s legs. Unfortunately, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer came off the bench to score a last gasp equaliser and Martyn made a brilliant one-handed save from Van Nistelrooy to save a point for Leeds. The United defence, in which Matteo and Ferdinand shone, held on for Leeds to stay top and still undefeated.

Robbed of Ferdinand by injury and Woodgate and Bowyer by the on-going court case United travelled to France to play the second leg of their UEFA Cup tie against Troyes, who were urged on by their fanatical supporters to an almost famous victory. United had spurned so many chances in the first leg, conceded a vital late goal, and they were almost left to rue their generousity. Luckily they survived after almost going out on the away goal rule. An early goal had the home fans believing a shock victory was a strong possibility. Viduka kept up his recent goal-scoring form to equalize on the night and then United had a period of dominance without being able to take the lead, as Kewell volleyed a screamer, only for the referee to disallow it for an infringement by Keane in the build up. It was Troyes who took the lead as the ball was deflected into his own net by Matteo following a free-kick from 40yards out. The out of touch Kewell was substituted after picking up a calf injury and now United were lacking both first choice central defenders and wingers. Their plight was obvious as Duberry was left pedestrian as Troyes got their third on the night and went in front, on away goals, on aggregate. Troyes showed they were just as generous as United and fluffed several chances to go 4-1 up. United thanked their luck and produced a perfectly executed goal which Batty started 40 yards out with an inch perfect through ball for Viduka, who sent another inch perfect left-foot cross for Robbie Keane to head into an empty net. There was a brilliant save by Nigel Martyn as he risked life and limb to smother the ball at the feet of an onrushing Troyes attacker. Thankfully no extra-time was needed and United progressed to the next round, albeit very fortunately.

Ferdinand and Bowyer both returned for the home clash with Tottenham Hotspur, but the latter hobbled off after 40minutes to give a league debut to Seth Johnson from the bench. While United were clearly the better team they needed good luck to win through. Gus Poyet had stunned the Leeds crowd by heading the visitors ahead after 52 minutes but a few minutes later Ian Harte had equalised from a goal with more than a little luck attached to it. The Spurs keeper, Neil Sullivan, spilled his shot which then hit a post before being rebounding off the back of the keeper’s head and finished in the net. He was at fault again when he and defender Chris Perry dithered over a loose ball and Kewell nipped in to score the goal which gave United the three points and preserved their unbeaten record and top spot, in a game where Ferdinand and Dacourt shone brightest.

All records must come to an end, but it was surprisingly Sunderland who did it. On past record Sunderland had not beaten United in the top flight since 1980 and Leeds had come to see them as an away banker in their Roker Park days, and their two trips to the Stadium of Light had resulted in maximum points. However United were without Lee Bowyer, whose hamstring injury could see him side-lined for over a month, and Viduka and Kewell, both still on World Cup International duty with Australia. All three were missed but none more so than Bowyer and there were cries to buy the Australian Brett Emerton from Feyenord to fill the gaping hole. O’Leary changed from his trusted 4-4-2 formation to a diamond 4-3-1-2 with Bakke sitting behind the front two of Smith and Keane, and in front of Dacourt on the right, Batty in the middle and Seth Johnson on the left of midfield. Dominic Matteo had used the International break wisely and had a knee operation which surprisingly saw him take his place at the heart of the defence, the meanest in the league, only 13 days later. In 11 games this season United had let in only five goals and never conceded more than one goal in a game. It looked like that record was going to be preserved as the teams were scoreless at the interval, with Keane going closest for United, but it was Sunderland who took the lead two minutes into the second half. Martyn was at fault when he failed to hold a McAteer shot and Arca knock in the rebound. This stunned United and the tall Quinn chested down a cross for his strike partner Phillips to volley home. United were not done for, and Keane tested the Sunderland keeper but then was denied a penalty and booked by the referee for diving. TV replays showed it was a clear penalty. Seth Johnson, who had a fine debut, tested the keeper twice late on but it was not United’s day and they dropped to second place on goal difference to Liverpool who had a game in hand.

Nigel Martyn may have been at fault for Sunderland’s first goal, but he was the hero of the 2-1 away win over Grasshoppers of Zurich in the next round of the UEFA Cup. On an atrocious night, with driving icy rain and freezing wind, he may have been helpless to stop Grasshoppers taking an early lead but reeled off at least a dozen quality saves including saving a penalty and the follow up shot. It was Ian Harte who scored the equaliser with a typical curling free-kick after 75 minutes and Alan Smith, who had revelled in the waterlogged conditions, got the winner soon afterwards.A good win against the odds particularly as United were still without Viduka, Kewell, Bowyer and Seth Johnson.

Johnson was back for United but the other trio remained absent and Dacourt was rested, with Jason Wilcox slotting into left midfield for the visit of bogey-team Aston Villa. Villa had not lost a match at Elland Road since 1995 and it looked to have changed as United dominated the opening play and Smith put them in front, after 17 minutes, following good work by Robbie Keane. But just after the half hour mark it all went wrong for Smith and Leeds as he was red-carded for an elbow to the ribs of Alpay, who did an impersonation of a dying swan to con the referee. Within minutes Seth Johnson picked up his fifth booking of the season and will be suspended. So United were left with 10 men for an hour and another who knew he was skating on thin ice, and with Kachloul equalising soon after with a spectacular volley it looked all uphill. Smith’s red card seemed harsh treatment as Hendrie clashed with Mills and on regaining their feet Hendrie foolishly raised his hands and pushed Mills in the face. Mills fell like a sack of potatoes but to everyone’s surprise the referee only showed yellow. The Villa Manager immediately substituted Hendrie to cash in on their good luck. After that the game deteriorated and the weak referee lost control as the tackles got worse and niggles developed amongst the players. Villa seemed to lose ambition and settled for a draw despite their numerical superiority, as they could not pierce the Matteo/Ferdinand rearguard. Gradually United took control of midfield and were unlucky no to get the winner, as Ferdinand headed against a post in injury time. They maintained second spot despite only having won one of the last six league games.

United had signed Robbie Fowler from Liverpool for £11 million, but was not available for the League (Worthington) Cup home clash with Chelsea. The mud and bad conditions of Zurich and playing for an hour with ten men against Villa seemed to take its toll. This, combined with Seth Johnson being cup-tied and Kewell, Viduka, Woodgate and Bowyer were still absent, could be the excuse for their latest defeat. The defeat was probably a blessing in disguise, as while the League Cup is an avenue to Europe, United could do without fixture congestions as they still fought on several fronts. It was more of a worry that, having been restricted to three outfield players on the bench, all had to be used as Matteo limped off with ankle ligament damage, McPhail was stretchered off after an horrendous challenge had left him with a scar from groin to ankle, and Bakke was taken off with knee ligament damage. United never got going and Chelsea deserved their 2-0 win.

At Fulham, United gave a debut to Robbie Fowler and welcomed back Kewell and Viduka. There was no Dominic Matteo, which involved Mills switching to central defence and Gary Kelly coming in at right back. No Eirik Bakke, which meant Alan Smith dropping back into midfield, alongside Batty, Johnson and Kewell, with Keane and Dacourt waiting their chance from the bench. It was a poor Leeds performance against a team who were always going to be hard to beat and it looked like a point gained rather than two lost, as neither team bothered the scorers and United slipped to third on the ladder.

A moment of magic from Harry Kewell secured United’s place in the last 16 of the UEFA Cup, as once again they failed to show anything like their best form. The mercurial Australian lit up an otherwise dull encounter with a stunning individual effort, which saw him race fully 70 yards before clipping the ball into the Zurich net, to give a glimpse of why he is considered one of the most gifted and most wanted players in Europe. Another brilliant effort saw a 25 yard shot crash against the bar as he gave his best performance since returning from injury. The goal which gave a United a 19th minute lead meant they were ahead 3-1 on aggregate and should have capitalised on their advantage, but with key players still absent United lacked the killer punch. The defence also was uncharacteristically generous, with a poor pass from Ferdinand across the backline to Mills gifting Zurich an equaliser on the night on the stroke of half-time, but fortunately United struck straight back as Keane restored United’s lead with a cleverly conceived goal. United were able to compose themselves for the second half and while both teams threatened to score it did not happen until two minutes from time when Zurich equalised but it was too late by then.

United got back on course with a fine win at Blackburn Rovers thanks to a great display from David Batty, back on his old Ewood Park stomping ground. While once again Ferdinand was immaculate in defence, but it was an excellent performance from Harry Kewell, who had Blackburn in trouble every time that he touched the ball, which caught the eye, as he seems to be recapturing his old form. With eight players injured and two suspended United’s strength was tested to the full. Indeed it was Gary Kelly, playing in midfield, who was instrumental in both goals. Freidel in the Blackburn goal had pulled off a succession of good saves to deny Viduka and Fowler, who several times thought their names were on the scoresheet. Blackburn too had their chances with Ian Harte bravely throwing his body in the way of a goal-bound shot from Gillespie, whose speed had caused the full back trouble all afternoon, and Tuguy rattled the bar and as they went in for half-time the home team were looking forward to taking the lead. It was not to be, as early in the second half, Batty won the ball in midfield and found the flying Kelly hurtling down the right wing to pull the ball back for Fowler, whose shot was fumbled by Freidel, and Kewell nipped in to chip the ball over the keeper. Soon after, Dacourt was fouled by Tuguy, and was forced to leave the field clutching his shoulder, but Batty played on, again finding Kelly on the fly, and this time his measured cross was met at the far post by Kewell who scored with a downward header. Berg poked one home for Blackburn in the dying minutes but United held on to move into second spot with a 2-1 victory.

For 40 minutes United played like champions–elect and it looked as if they would eclipse their 6-0 thrashing of Leicester City earlier in the season. Put through by Seth Johnson, Mark Viduka saw his shot pushed onto the crossbar and away to eventual safety. It was the big Australian who made the first goal for his fellow countryman as after seemingly crowded out by the Leicester defence he produced a back-heel of exquisite quality for Kewell to blast it past the keeper for his tenth of the season. United had lost Robbie Keane in the pre-match warm up and now Seth Johnson was forced off with a dead leg after only 15 minutes, in which he had looked very dangerous, with Bakke substituting. It was one-way traffic in the first half and Fowler should have opened his account but delayed his shot and it was blocked. It was different in the second half as Leicester came out looking to make a game of it. Martyn was pushed to save at full stretch and then Brian Deane seemed to have equalised, until the referee called the ball back for an infringement on a Leeds player. United took advantage of their good fortune to use the ensuing free-kick to increase their lead as Viduka clipped in a Gary Kelly cross. 2-0 up against a side second from bottom, everyone expected United to finish the business, but inexplicably they failed to do so and Brian Deane was on hand to side-foot a cross into an empty net with United’s defence all at sea. Even at 2-1 it should have been no bother but with 2 minutes to go Deane out-muscled Ferdinand for Scowcroft to chest it down and beat Martyn with an unstoppable volley. It was two points lost and saw United drop to fourth.

The Court case involving Bowyer and Woodgate had been concluded with a verdict that found them not guilty but left a feeling of being inconclusive and both were fined for breaches of club discipline. Woodgate accepted this but Bowyer didn’t and was at odds with Chairman Ridsdale and refused to sign a new contract which he had been offered. The fans and players left no one in any doubt about Bowyer’s popularity and where their sympathies lay. From his vantage point high on the TV gantry of the West Stand he could not have failed to realise the level of support he had from all fans present and the backing of the players, who signalled their acclaim by dedicating the first goal to him, by a salute to him and Woodgate.

There was much to be done both on and off the pitch to repair the club’s tarnished image and O’Leary must have been troubled by the way the meanest defence in Britain had suddenly started conceding goals at an alarming rate and failing to finish of teams that were clearly inferior. Kewell was again on form and Gary Kelly and Seth Johnson again shone in midfield, but it was Robbie Fowler who stole the show with his first goals for United and showed his true poacher ability. A perfect cross after a good run by Kelly saw Viduka rise to head the opener after 18 minutes, after twice spurning similar chances. Fowler doubled the lead in the 26th minute when he chested down a cross from Mills before tucking it away and, after several near misses, he made it 3-0 as he volleyed a first time shot, after Batty’s 25 yard shot had been partially stopped by the keeper. The game should have been over, but United allowed Everton back into the game and just like Leicester they scored two late goals to have United hanging on and giving the fans palpitations. The win took them into third place.

League leaders Newcastle United were the next visitors to Elland Road and were seeking to add United’s name to their list of scalps after winning at Arsenal in midweek. They tore into United and Gary Speed went close with a header and a 25 yard shot which Martyn did well to parry. There was little he could do as Newcastle took the lead with a finely worked goal from Craig Bellamy after Kieron Dyer had used his pace to leave Ian Harte floundering in his wake. Viduka played Bowyer through the middle and he beat his man before slipping it through the keeper’s legs. After going close and also being involved in an incident which saw Dabizas stretchered off, the burly Australian shot United into the lead soon after the break and he was also involved in the build up to Ian Harte’s goal from the edge of the area. 3-1 up United should have wrapped it up, but they allowed Newcastle to get back in the game as Elliot dived to head home and reduce the arrears. This was followed immediately by a Shearer penalty after Bakke was adjudged to have handled. Right on time Newcastle got the winner as Solano again showed up Harte’s deficiencies, as he beat him for pace, to coolly slip the ball past Martyn.

United had lost Kewell to a back injury midway through the Newcastle game and while they were strengthened by the return of Woodgate, they still lacked several key players in midfield, as they made the trip over the Pennines to the Reebok Stadium home of Bolton Wanderers. They also dropped Harte to the bench. He seemed to have lost confidence after being caught out for pace by several recent opponents. Matteo switched to left back and Alan Smith was brought into the midfield. United roared back and answered all their critics as a Robbie Fowler hat-trick silenced his and United’s critics. All his strikes had a touch of class. In the second minute a David Batty through ball found him in the clear and he clinically buried it beyond the Bolton keeper. On 16 minutes Jason Wilcox headed forward to Viduka who steered it into the path of Fowler and he finished with aplomb. Viduka twice went close and Wilcox hit a post as United sought to capitalise on their supremacy. Bowyer was tripped in the box and up stepped a confident Fowler to clinch his hat-trick, but with everyone waiting to acclaim his treble he dragged the ball tamely wide. With 5 minutes to go, he finally managed it and rounded the keeper before teasing a defender and calmly placing it into an empty net. A fine victory and it looked as if United were back to top form in both attack and defence.

There was bad news for United as it was announced that Robbie Keane would have to go under the surgeon’s knife to rectify a nagging ankle problem. Bakke had also been sidelined for a long period after damaging ankle ligaments at Bolton, while Seth Johnson had a thigh problem, Harry Kewell a back injury, Dominic Matteo had a hamstring injury and Dacourt was also still sidelined. Mills returned at full-back with Gary Kelly pushed up into midfield and Harte came back at left-back for the visit to Southampton. It was a personal triumph for Lee Bowyer, who now had to endure the jeers and cat-calls of the opposing fans and the mocking chant of ”You should be in jail” at the least opportunity. He for once had the last laugh when he crowned a fine team performance in the last minute as he ghosted in from nowhere to latch on to Viduka’s perfectly-weighted pass and left footed it past the Southampton keeper, who had seemed unbeatable, as he stood between Leeds and a drubbing. With Newcastle falling at home to Chelsea, the top of the division was very close with Arsenal on 39 ahead of Newcastle on goal difference followed by United on 38, Liverpool 37 (and a game in hand) and Manchester United 36 and Chelsea back in the hunt on 33.

New Year's Day saw United back on top as two early goals from Mark Viduka and another from Robbie Fowler saw an unchanged United dispose of West Ham United with ease. The arrival of Robbie Fowler and the return of Bowyer and Woodgate had seen a marked improvement in United’s form. Three consecutive victories with three clean sheets had seen United leap frog the first two to lead them by 2 points, with Liverpool three, Manchester United five and Chelsea eight in arrears, but all had a game in hand!

United travelled to Cardiff City for their Third Round FA Cup-tie two Divisions and 54 places better positioned than their Welsh opponents, but as is usual in such cases the underdog punches way above its weight and fights for every ball as if their lives depend on it. So it was with Cardiff, even though they went about their task with a little over-enthusiasm. The speedy Robbie Earnshaw twice skipped past Harte but Ferdinand was on hand to sweep away the danger, but the skipper was soon clattered from behind and took no further part in the game with only eight minutes gone. Duberry came on to replace him. Gary Kelly took advantage of a poor Cardiff clearance to release Viduka who rifled the ball into the net for the first goal, which silenced the home crowd. The home team soon bounced back and after Earnshaw had missed a sitter, Smith brought down Legg and from the resulting free-kick Kavanagh shot from 25 yards over a disorganized wall and past Martyn. Leeds seemed to hold the upper hand but just on half-time they were reduced to ten men as Smith was sent off for the sixth time in his career, after a clash with Legg. Woodgate was clattered from behind by the same player who had curtailed Ferdinand’s afternoon, but once again the referee did not reach for a card. United and Viduka in particular had the chance to take the lead, but it was after sustained pressure, that Cardiff scored with two minutes to go, much to the delight of the Cardiff fans who literally went berserk and triggered some appalling scenes on the terraces and after the game, which overshadowed Cardiff’s heroics and soured their reputation.

United had Johnson back for Fowler, who had to return to Liverpool after the death of his father-in-law, and Duberry filled in for the injured Ferdinand, whilst Matteo was back at the expense of Harte and Smith was pushed back into the strikers role. But United’s season took another turn for the worse as Newcastle pushed them back to third place and they tasted defeat for the second week running and again had a player dismissed. Mills was given red for the second time this season for a blatant and petulant kick at Bellamy in an off the ball incident. Apart from Mills being sent off United had Duberry, Woodgate, Batty, Wilcox, Viduka and Smith booked, At this rate United’s ECL ambitions could disappear under the suspensions which will result from the recent avalanche of red and yellow cards, not to mention the £25,000 FA fine that six suspensions automatically brings.

United had got off to a flier with Alan Smith scoring in the first minute, but while there was obviously residual feelings from the pre–Christmas clash at Elland Road, it was not a dirty game and Newcastle, whose game is based on speed and skill, charged back at United and put plenty of pressure on the Leeds rearguard. With Woodgate a tower of strength, United seemed to have weathered the storm and made it to the break still in the lead, but unfortunately Duberry stuck out his head to deflect the ball past the unsuspecting Martyn. It was the turning point in the game, as Newcastle came out for the second half with all guns blazing. The speedy Dyer latched onto a ball from Bellamy to put an accurate left-footer past Martyn before ten minutes later Mills saw red. United came back at Newcastle and their keeper made a great double save to keep out Viduka and Smith. Then the big Australian was denied a penalty after Dabizas had charged into him to stop him reaching a Smith cross. They were not getting the breaks and while pushing for an equaliser cracks began to show in the defence and Bellamy picked up a wonderful pass from Dyer to race clear of Duberry and Woodgate to score in the bottom corner.

After defeat away to the joint leaders, a visit to Elland Road by the other joint leaders, Arsenal, followed and fireworks were expected as the previous seven encounters had produced an unbelievable 48 yellows and 4 reds! Fortunately this was a fairly tame affair with only a petulant kick by Pires at Batty off the ball and Viduka leaving Keown in a crumpled heap from what seemed to be an elbow as payback for an incident at Highbury. It earned Pires a booking and Viduka an inquiry into the video evidence. Otherwise it was as quiet as a Sunday school picnic. Good football was in short supply as defences dominated, with Ferdinand still not 100% recovered, Matteo and Woodgate were in fine form. It was Robbie Fowler that opened the scoring with his seventh goal in seven outings, when Jason Wilcox skipped down the left wing to launch an inch perfect cross for Fowler to ghost in to the far post and head home powerfully as he was totally unmarked. Just before the break Pires equalised with a goal from the very top drawer, starting and finishing a move in which Bergkamp deftly played him in and, with the aid of a Henry dummy, he was left unmarked to shot into the roof of the net. Both teams seemed to decide that a point was enough and the game petered out to a draw which saw United in 3rd place just a point ahead of Arsenal who had a game in hand.

Chelsea opened up the championship race as they once again beat Leeds 2-0, this time at Stamford Bridge and they dropped to fifth place just two points ahead of Chelsea in 6th spot. Gudjohnsen had put Chelsea into the lead after less than two minutes. Woodgate was also lucky to get the benefit of the doubt, as he fouled Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink. It was adjudged not to be a goal-scoring opportunity, after a bad clearance by Martyn had given the former Leeds striker the chance to take off for goal, and Woodgate, clearly the last defender, pulled him down. Della Bona, who clearly played the ball with his hand in the build up, manoeuvred himself into a position to beat Martyn from distance after the half hour mark. Woodgate was forced off injured at half-time with Harte filling in at left-back and Matteo switching to central defence. Seth Johnson again picked up an injury and was replaced by Keane five minutes before the interval while Harry Kewell returned from injury to create United’s best chances after he replaced Fowler, who was struggling with a knee injury on the hour mark.

United went into freefall as they were hopelessly outplayed and outclassed 4-0 at Elland Road by Liverpool. There was a gutsy effort from Dacourt, who started with an injury and was quickly injured further by a ferocious tackle by Steven Gerrard in the first minute, but he soldiered on bravely before giving it best on the hour mark. Matteo can hold his head high in defence and Kewell was United’s most dangerous player, until he too left the action after 75 minutes. With Viduka and Fowler subdued up front and Ferdinand strangely off form, and conceding an own goal, there was little spark from the team. That goal was all that Liverpool had to show for their first-half dominance, but it all changed after the break, as after Martyn had saved at full stretch from Owen, Emile Heskey broke clear to round Martyn and score despite a desperate dive from Matteo. He doubled his contribution soon afterwards. With fans leaving in droves United had their best effort with a diving header from Viduka being equalled by a superb diving save from Dudek. It was left to Owen to post the final goal as he outjumped the Leeds defence to rattle the crossbar, before reacting quickest to net the rebound. It could not get much worse as United dropped to sixth seemingly out of contention for the ECL race and were winless since New Year's Day.

Struggling Middlesbrough were the opponents at the Riverside and knowing they needed to improve quickly United dominated from the off with Bakke putting them in front after 20 minutes. It was a neat move which came from a long kick by Martyn, flicked on by Kewell to Viduka, who gave one of his cheeky back-heels to put Fowler through on goal and, instead of shooting, put it in the path of Bakke who made no mistake from 10 yards. United should have buried ‘Boro but instead let them back in the game and in the second half with Boksic on from the bench he gave the home team a boost and they got on top.

Boro’ captain Paul Ince let fly from distance, and there seemed no danger. His shot lacked power and pace, it looked an easy save for Martyn, but as he went down, the ball hit a divot in the 6 yard box and looped over his shoulder into the net. It was typical of United’s recent luck, but they soon hit back to restore the lead. Ian Harte’s free-kick looked an easy catch for the keeper but Fowler dived forward to head past him. It should have been the winner but inexplicably United allowed Boro back into the game again. Once again it was cruel on Martyn, who had just made a world class save to deny Noel Whelan, but Dean Windass leaped unmarked to head home a corner. Another two points lost!

PSV Eindhoven were United’s next opponents in the UEFA Cup and they returned from Holland with a goal-less draw which could so easily have been a substantial lead. They outplayed the Dutch champions, as the team clicked for the first time in a long time. Bad boys Smith, Mills and Bowyer were back with Kelly and Batty on the bench and Fowler ineligible. Viduka, Kewell and Smith all came close to a winner while at the other end Martyn pulled of some fine saves. There was a third consecutive draw and the second without goals as United gained only their third point from 18 since New Year's Day and now 9 points behind the fourth team. Charlton Athletic were happy with their point, but Leeds was not, as once again they lost the influential Dacourt to injury at half time. United were again goal-less at home to PSV Eindhoven, even though they held the upper hand for most of the game but the visitors capitalised on their inability to score, particularly in the first leg, by scoring the winner with almost the last kick of the game. And it was they who went on to meet fellow countrymen Feyenoord in the last eight, as they gave the knock–out blow to Glasgow Rangers and there was no British team left, let alone a Battle of Britain.

Against Everton, at Goodison Park, United were scoreless again and the fans vented their anger by calling for the dismissal of Brian Kidd, who apart from being an ex-Manchester United Coach also arrived at the perceived time that United lost their attacking style as Eddie Gray was pushed sideways to accommodate him. Matteo was sent off for two yellow cards as United’s disciplinary record worsened and the season continued in its downward spiral. The visit of Ipswich Town to Elland Road saw a change in their fortune, as Ferdinand had another almost perfect display. Smith worked hard in midfield, as did Viduka in attack, as United won their first game in 10 in League or Cup. The crowd cheered them off after United had some luck for a change, with Fowler getting a fluke as the ball hit a divot and eluded the diving keeper. While the keeper was also adjudged to have pulled down Smith and Ian Harte duly obliged from the spot. There was a stand off regarding Brian Kidd as while there were no chants for his dismissal he did not get the acclaim of the fans in the same way O’Leary and Eddie Gray did.

Fowler was again on the mark as United duly beat Blackburn at Elland Road 3-1. He got the first after only five minutes and killed the game off 3 minutes later with another striker’s goal. United were far superior to a woeful Blackburn outfit who were outplayed all day except for a 15 minute spell after the break, when Jensen latched on to a terrible Woodgate back-pass to reduce the arrears. A touch of Kewell magic was United’s swift response. His arrowed drive across Freidel was exquisite and precise and a perfect way to seal the three points and rounded off his day well, as he was voted Oceania player of the year with Mark Viduka runner-up.

A 2-0 win over Leicester City was further welcome relief for United, as the unlucky Dacourt only lasted 15 minutes before he limped off injured but it gave Seth Johnson a chance to shine after being injured since January. However, there were several stand-out performances by Matteo, a tower in defence; Batty, who bossed the midfield; Kewell, who was a constant menace to Leicester; Martyn who pulled off several world-class saves; but none shone brighter than Robbie Fowler. He capped a fine display with a magnificently executed scissor kick. It was brilliantly saved at full stretch by Walker, but he couldn’t hold it, and it was headed home by the alert Mark Viduka. The powerfully built Aussie repaid the compliment for United’s second, when after a long throw from Kewell found the big striker in space, he beat his man, turned and shot on goal, the keeper was unable to hold it and his fellow striker followed up to head home. The win took them into 5th place. There was a friendly International at Elland Road, as England played Italy and the in-form Robbie Fowler booked his place in the England World Cup squad by scoring a fine goal as he came from the bench at the break to captain England in a 1-2 defeat. Martyn was untroubled in goal, until being rested for the second half, but Danny Mills was not at his best.

After their recent run of form United hosted Manchester United for their next fixture. With Ferdinand and Dacourt absent and Danny Mills having a nightmare, United could ill-afford to lose Harry Kewell to a badly gashed foot, which required six stitches after only 12 minutes. Fortunately United had Lee Bowyer on the bench and he did not let the side down. It was so one-sided that Manchester was 4-1 up with 30 minutes to go and it could have been more as Giggs, Scholes and Beckham ripped the defence apart and Solskjaer tormented them like so many times before. Scholes gave Manchester the lead, Viduka equalised before two from Solskjaer killed off the game. There was the sight of Harte lumbering behind Beckham as he ran 50 yards to lay on the fourth for Giggs, it was a sight that would haunt the United supporters for over a year as it was played each week on TV as part of the lead up to televised highlights of games! However Leeds salvaged some pride with the introduction of Robbie Keane and Eirik Bakke. Ian Harte scored a great free-kick and then Fowler teed–up Bowyer for a diving header to make it 4-3 but unfortunately the miracle didn’t happen and United dropped to 6th once again.

Ferdinand, Dacourt and Kewell were all absent as United travelled to White Hart Lane to face Tottenham Hotspur on Easter Monday. They should have got a point but their defence was again poor and allowed Spurs to gain a two goal advantage before Mark Viduka scored in the 51st minute. Leeds pressed for the rest of the gamebut could achieve nothing and they remained 6th.

United had taken the extra-ordinary step of applying to join the Inter-Toto Cup as a possible entry into the UEFA Cup, which underlined their ambition but also their lack of confidence of qualifying via their league position! Bowyer and Woodgate had both been omitted from the recent England squad but their form in the home game against Sunderland had the fans chanting “Bowyer/Woodgate for England” with justifiable cause. They also chanted “There is only one Jody Craddock” as the unfortunate Sunderland defender lobbed his own keeper from 16 yards when under pressure from Mark Viduka after eight minutes! While Viduka and Fowler were also in form up front, United didn’t increase their lead until Fowler was replaced by Robbie Keane on the hour. The Irishman looked sharp but, as is his want, fell into the Sunderland offside trap on more than one occasion. He was unlucky not to score as he chased a long ball down the middle and with Sorenson coming out of his area to clear, Keane beat him to it, but in so doing was forced wide, and a defender was able to recover to block his goal-bound shot. Bowyer forced Sorenson to a diving save, when put through by Viduka. Then, with five minutes left Keane got his first EPL goal since September, as Viduka played him in on the edge of the box, he calmly drew the keeper and coolly slotted it home. And Elland Road once more saw his signature cartwheel and gunfighter routine! The win saw United remain sixth.

There was a gutsy win for United over Aston Villa at Villa Park, in a fine all-round performance. Mills capably deputised for Woodgate and with Ferdinand, Dacourt, Kewell and others still missing. Keane was preferred to Fowler in attack. Matteo shone in defence. Viduka was the star up front with his quality and it was merited that he should score the only goal of the game with a superb goal of the highest order just before the half hour mark. Villa dominated from then on but United were resolute and claimed full points. They remained sixth, but with the help of other events United found that sixth would be sufficient to ensure a place in the UEFA Cup and while a fourth spot and an EPL qualification was still mathematically possible all they now had to do was retain sixth or better to be in Europe.

The game with Fulham at Elland Road settled all the unanswered questions. Without a win in 9 games before their Elland Road encounter Fulham should have been easy meat for United with only two points from their last 27. With Fowler and Keane the strikers, after Viduka was injured in a training incident, and Ferdinand returning to the defence at the expense of Kelly. United were truly pathetic, with no highlights, and managed by a Manager who stood looking from the touchline with his array of helpers with no imagination, no game plan, and no thoughts of using a substitute or change of strategy to beat such an out of form opposition, who were made to look world class in comparison to the inept performance of a tired, jaded, uninspired and disinterested United. If the board had doubts about O’Leary, this match confirmed them. Ridsdale is said to have made up his mind because of this game! With Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United out of sight qualifiers for the EPL Newcastle joined them with Chelsea and United unchallenged for the UEFA places.

Pride Park was the next venue as Derby County entertained United. Bowyer and Smith were the pick for Leeds with Kewell outstanding in the first half but fading after the break. It was Fowler and Smith in attack and Seth Johnson returning in midfield with an encouraging display. Fowler picked up a hip injury and Keane came off the bench after only 20 minutes, but the star of the show, Lee Bowyer, was United’s goal-scorer with a quality strike. Smith had the vision to spot a Bowyer run, as he hooked an overhead kick into his path and finished impeccably with a delightful chip over the on rushing keeper and into the net.

A single goal from Smith was sufficient to give United maximum points in the last game at home to Middlesbrough. It was sufficient to push United into fifth spot, just edging out Chelsea. Ferdinand had an outstanding game and was also declared United player of the year.

So the curtain came down on a season which started full of expectation, peaked on New Year's Day and was all downhill from there, ultimately ending in disappointment for all those who expected so much. There were many United players who were picked to represent their countries at the World Cup, several of whom shone brightly and one so brightly that he had already played his last game for the club. His Manager too had managed his last game and paid the price of being unable to achieve what the fans and Directors and PLC wanted.

2001-2002 Season Division Pos (Pts)
FA Cup
Lg Cup
Europe
Other
Season Details Premier League 5 (66)
R3
R4
UC (R4)
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Leeds United chairman Peter Ridsdale and manager Terry Venables face the press during a press conference on January 31st, 2003 at Elland Road.

2002-2003 Season

There had been talk of moving United’s home from Elland Road to a new purpose built stadium with a capacity of 50,000 proposed to be located off the new M1 near Stourton. Supposedly at no cost to the club as the sale of Elland Road and the naming rights would fund it. It turned out to be more pie in the sky and the club’s precarious financial position and its failure once again to qualify for the ECL meant that the sale of assets was inevitable. Players, being the most easily saleable were first to go. There was much speculation which player would be first but eventually it was Manager O’Leary who was first to go. His team which had been assembled at a high cost had vastly underachieved and O’Leary paid the price and collected his P45 just before the club’s financial year end. Martin O’Neill was the bookies favourite to succeed O’Leary, but it was Terry Venables who was the Directors’ choice. Venables had high credentials, having coached the England team to the semi-finals of Euro96 but he had been out of management for some time.

Lee Bowyer had seemed destined for Liverpool but ultimately the talks failed and he remained at Elland Road, while Robbie Keane turned down a move to Sunderland. Several United players were at the World Cup. Rio Ferdinand and Danny Mills were in outstanding form and England regulars, while Nigel Martyn and Robbie Fowler were in the squad. Robbie Keane was one of the stars of the competition and he, Gary Kelly and Ian Harte were regulars for Ireland, as both teams progressed to the final stages and Ferdinand was acclaimed as one of the stars of the competition. Ferdinand was ultimately sold to Manchester United for a record £30 million and Venables made his only purchase, the vastly experienced England International Nick Barmby from Everton for £2.75 million while Australian Captain Paul Okon came in on a free from Middlesbrough. The team went on a pre-season tour of the Far East with a few notable exceptions, Ferdinand due to transfer negotiations pending and Nigel Martyn, who after being away for the World Cup, wanted to spend time with his family. It proved a costly holiday as Paul Robinson took over the Goalkeeping duties for the LUFC first team and also in the England Squad and Nigel never regained either, such was Robinson’s success.

Robbie Keane was sold to Tottenham Hotspur for a reported £7 million, reportedly £2 million less than had been offered by Sunderland, but with Keane protesting on TV that he didn’t want to leave, not for the first time a Leeds player was sold against his will, or was it because he saw a better opportunity elsewhere?

In a strong start to the season, United secured an impressive 3-0 victory over Manchester City, with debutant Nick Barmby and Viduka scoring, along with a late strike from Robbie Keane. Despite missing some key players, including Woodgate, Okon, and Batty, the team faced a challenging match against Kevin Keegan's Manchester City. Goalkeeper Robinson's outstanding performance and Kewell's near misses on both posts were crucial in maintaining the lead. The following game against West Bromwich Albion saw a tactical shift to 4-4-2, resulting in a 3-1 win. Kewell's brilliance and goals from Bowyer and Viduka showcased the team's strength. However, Sunderland halted their unbeaten run, capitalizing on a defensive lapse to secure a 1-0 victory. The Birmingham City fixture proved challenging, with United underachieving and conceding a goal from a short corner. Despite Bowyer's quality goal, Birmingham secured a 2-1 win, marking another upset for a newly promoted team at United's expense, though the team held onto 4th place in the table.

Venables approached the clash against Newcastle United with apprehension, facing top opposition, yet fielding what appeared to be United's strongest team on paper. Despite constant pressure from Newcastle, Mark Viduka secured an early lead after five minutes, showcasing defensive efforts alongside a determined team. Dominic Matteo, despite a knee injury, led superbly, supported by Woodgate, Mills, and Harte. Goalkeeper Robinson's world-class saves thwarted Newcastle's attempts, and United stuck to their game plan. Harry Kewell's brilliant run set up Viduka's goal, and Alan Smith sealed a 2-0 win, lifting United to 3rd place. Anticipation grew for the visit of Manchester United. The return of Ferdinand to Elland Road was marred by a poor defensive display, with United fans taunting him. Woodgate's stellar performance, Smith's excellence, and injuries to Barmby and Matteo, replaced by Bakke and Radebe respectively, marked the game. Robinson excelled in goal, and an unsavoury incident involving Beckham's elbow went unnoticed. Kewell's header secured a 1-0 victory, briefly placing United on top before settling in third place.

United kicked off their UEFA campaign with a visit from Ukrainian club FC Metalurg Zaporizhia and it was a case of “after the Lord Mayor’s show”, as United returned to their underachieving ways. The expected goal avalanche never happened as United were extremely slow out of the blocks and poor finishing, and an outstanding display by the visiting keeper, restricted the score. Ian Harte’s radar was off beam and Viduka received little support or decent service. It was left to the appearance of Michael Bridges, after an almost two year layoff from injury, when replacing Viduka after 65 minutes, to spark United into the lead, as he held off a challenge to set up the winner for Alan Smith with 10 minutes to go. The visitors came with a ten man defence and Robinson was not called upon to exert himself. A single goal lead was scant reward for their dominance but the Ukrainians must attack in the return and maybe it will leave them exposed at the back.

A trip to Ewood Park proved challenging for United as Blackburn Rovers secured their first home victory of the season. Venables faced tactical challenges, with Souness exploiting United's weaknesses in pace on the flanks, particularly targeting Harte through Gillespie's runs. Without Kewell, the team lacked cutting edge, and the midfield struggled creatively. Venables made a triple substitution on 64 minutes, introducing Kelly, McMaster, and McPhail. Although McMaster and McPhail added touches of creativity, Smith missed a golden opportunity to salvage a point, failing to capitalize on a penalty. The costly miss resulted in United dropping to fifth place. In a clash with Arsenal at Elland Road, United experienced a master class from the visitors, receiving a standing ovation from their own fans. The match highlighted the class difference between Arsenal and United, exposing the team's frailties. Despite Kewell pulling a goal back late in the game, Arsenal effortlessly secured a 4-1 victory. Woodgate's absence through injury exposed Matteo and Radebe to Arsenal's speed and guile, leaving United with no answers. The team slipped to 7th place, acknowledging their attempt but recognizing they were outclassed by Arsenal's superior display.

trip to the Ukraine was United’s reward for the Arsenal debacle and rarely could the opposition have been so different! On an appalling playing surface the Ukrainians tried every underhand trick in the book and an incompetent Turkish referee did little to stop them. They almost succeeded as they scored after 24 minutes, but rarely seemed interested in mounting the sustained pressure needed for victory. There were too many fouls and spitting and kicking, hacking and brawling, by the home players. The United players, particularly Smith, acted with admiral restraint but even Barmby, who was kicked from pillar to post, eventually lost his cool, but had the final say in more ways than one. The main offender in what can only be described as a continuing assault tested even the referee’s patience and finally saw the red card, and Barmby had the satisfaction of scoring the equaliser on the night and the winner overall. There was a rare moment of magic from Harry Kewell and the keeper failed to deal with his teasing cross, and after Smith had missed his chance, Barmby made no mistake, to hammer home from close range. United were glad when the final whistle went and glad to have progressed against a team who threatened more physical danger than skill or the will to score goals.

Venables sought cover for the problematic left-back position, bringing in Teddy Lucic on loan, who made his debut on the bench against Aston Villa. The match showcased a solid defensive performance from Woodgate and Matteo, the latter battling through pain and later undergoing surgery. The midfield lacked strength and creativity, limiting opportunities for the new forward pairing of Smith and Kewell. Harte's confidence showed in set pieces, but the game ended in a predictable 0-0 draw. Despite gaining their first point since the win over Manchester United, United slipped to 9th, trailing leaders Arsenal by 10 points. Against second-place Liverpool, Matteo's absence led to Lucic's debut in central defense. Kewell excelled in his striker role alongside Smith, with Woodgate impressing again. Despite lively moments, Liverpool secured a 1-0 victory, with Diouf scoring in the 65th minute. United missed chances, and Kewell's late opportunity symbolized the day's frustrations as they slipped further to 10th. In another challenging encounter with Middlesbrough, Viduka's penalty gave United an early lead, but Middlesbrough equalized before half-time. A rejuvenated United in the second half saw Kewell and Bowyer scoring, but Smith's dismissal led to Middlesbrough equalizing again. Both teams deemed it points lost, and United found themselves in the bottom half of the league for the first time in almost two years, dropping to 12th, 13 points behind leaders Liverpool and just 7 above bottom club Bolton Wanderers, marking six games since their last victory.

There was an improved display in the UEFA Cup home tie with Hapoel Tel-Aviv. With Alan Smith a livewire and Viduka and Kewell in top form, it was needed as Hapoel did not come to defend and were never frightened to break quickly at the least opportunity. Robinson was called upon to show his class with several fine saves, but Radebe shone in defence with Woodgate again outstanding. Barmby was also enterprising until a hamstring injury forced him off twenty minutes from time. Hapoel had given United many tense moments in the first half, but in the second half United gradually got on top and Viduka was taking on the role of provider rather than executioner. Kewell who looked confident and willing to take on the defence down the left flank finally gave United the lead with eight minutes to go when his shot was deflected past the keeper.

Leeds faced Everton at Elland Road with optimism for a solid home win, considering their improved form in the UEFA Cup and Everton's historical struggles in Leeds. However, an uninspiring performance saw Paul Robinson making remarkable saves, preventing Everton from scoring at will. Despite Kewell's close attempts and Woodgate's header cleared off the line, United failed to offer much, and Wayne Rooney's late goal secured a 1-0 win for Everton. This defeat pushed United to their lowest position in nearly two years, languishing in 13th place, only six points above the bottom club. David Batty's absence raised questions about the midfield's need for resilience. In the League Cup trip to Sheffield United, Jason Wilcox's contribution provided width as his cross led to an own goal and a deserved lead for United. Woodgate's outstanding performance ended when he was taken off injured, altering the game's dynamics. A late Sheffield goal in injury time led to United's elimination and sparked unrest among fans, symbolizing the team's confidence at its lowest. The visit to West Ham United showed a rejuvenated United in a game of two halves. Despite missing key players due to injuries and suspensions, the first half saw an exceptional display with Kewell and Viduka causing problems. They dominated, with Kewell, Barmby, and Viduka contributing to a 4-1 lead at halftime. However, United allowed West Ham back into the game in the second half, conceding two goals but ultimately clinging on for a vital 4-3 win. This crucial victory moved United back to tenth place, providing a much-needed boost at the end of the season.

There were four goals for Alan Smith as United beat Hapoel Tel-Aviv in the away leg of their UEFA Cup tie, which had to be played in Florence due to unrest in Israel. Another patched up United XI were good value for their 4-1 victory and Venables took advantage of United’s impregnable position to give debuts to Frazer Richardson and Matthew Kilgallon who replaced Kelly and Radebe, who suffered a groin injury, on the hour mark. It was a masterly display from Smith, who was given his chance upfront with Kewell, and two of his goals came from interplay with his strike partner, as he got three strikers goals and one with a touch of magic. After just 70 seconds the Israelis took the lead to be equal on aggregate with an absolutely beautiful free-kick, which even the in-form Robinson could not stop. United’s reply came from the top shelf with Smith shooting accurately past the keeper after good work by Bakke. United increased their lead nine minutes into the second half as Smith scored with an angled shot from close to the by-line. He completed his hat-trick after 62 minutes when he was alert to the keeper’s parry of a Kewell shot. Hapoel had lost the game and some had lost their composure as a defender saw red after two quick yellows. Smith got his fourth of the night to round off the scoring as he nodded home Kewell’s accurate cross, as United easily progressed to the next round.

After back-to-back victories, Leeds anticipated extending their positive run against bottom-placed Bolton Wanderers at Elland Road. Missing 10 internationals due to injuries, the patched-up team featured Jason Wilcox at left back, Jacob Burns in midfield, and a weakened bench. Despite showing character to equalize twice, Bolton proved formidable, scoring at will and securing a 4-2 victory. The electric start saw Smith scoring from Kewell's assist, but the game went dead until a flurry of late goals. Bolton took the lead with Djorkaeff's goal, and Kewell responded immediately for a brief equalizer. Ricketts scored from a penalty, and Pederson sealed Bolton's win with a left-foot volley. Teddy Lucic's injury added to United's woes, maintaining them in 10th place but bringing Bolton three points closer. In the subsequent clash with Tottenham, Nick Barmby's Achilles problem forced Venables into a 3-5-2 formation with an unproven Jacob Burns in midfield. Robbie Keane dominated, scoring and assisting, leading Tottenham to a 2-0 win. This defeat dropped United to 14th, just five points above the bottom team.

In the UEFA Cup, a goalless draw against Malaga highlighted Woodgate's strength and Robinson's crucial saves, positioning United as favorites for the last 16. However, confidence plummeted in a home clash against Charlton, resulting in a 2-1 loss despite Kewell's brilliant goal. Fowler and Bridges entered the game, but defensive lapses allowed Charlton's Parker to exploit, marking Leeds' fifth consecutive home loss and dropping them to 16th, nearing relegation positions. The visit to Fulham saw a debut for Okon and Bridges replacing the injured Kewell, yet Robinson's heroics couldn't prevent a 1-0 loss. Leeds struggled to cope, lingering in 17th place with just one win in 11 games. In the UEFA Cup return leg against Malaga, despite holding them goalless in the away match, Leeds suffered heartbreak as Bridges sustained a career-ending injury. Malaga took an early lead, and despite Bakke's equalizer, they scored late, securing their progression as United meekly bowed out of the competition.

Facing recent humiliation from Bolton Wanderers, Venables approached the do-or-die match with trepidation. Injuries shuffled the lineup, but the "real" United finally showed up. A solid team performance, highlighted by goals from Mills and Wilcox, secured a crucial victory, temporarily lifting them above the relegation zone. Against Southampton, Kewell's virtuoso performance and a goal gave United a lead, but a late equalizer dampened their progress. A win against Sunderland showcased resilience, with Milner's debut goal securing three points. United continued their positive run against Chelsea, with Kewell and Milner shining in a notable victory, pushing them to 13th place.

New Year's Day saw a convincing win over Birmingham, featuring Kewell, Viduka, and a solid team effort. FA Cup success against Scunthorpe set up a clash with Gillingham, leading to a replay. United's league form fluctuated, including a draw with West Brom and a narrow loss to Chelsea. Fowler's departure and Woodgate's transfer added off-field challenges. Despite off-field turmoil, the FA Cup replay against Gillingham ended with a narrow win. A trip to Manchester City resulted in a spirited performance but ended in a 1-1 draw. West Brom held United to a goalless draw, showcasing offensive struggles. Everton secured a double over United, leaving Venables contemplating his position amid financial challenges. Venables found encouragement in the team's effort and fan support. The transfer window's closure provided stability, but the challenges continued as United remained in the 13th position.

In the FA Cup 4th Round Replay against Gillingham, United coped without Kewell and Smith, pushing Bakke upfront alongside Viduka. Anticipated protests against Ridsdale were minimal, and Viduka's 11th-minute goal secured a 2-1 victory. Leeds faced West Ham next, ending their losing streak with a hard-fought 1-0 win, and the Leeds fans vented their anger on Bowyer. In the Fifth Round against Crystal Palace, Kewell and Kelly played key roles in a 2-1 victory, setting up a trip to Bramall Lane. However, a 3-0 defeat to Newcastle in the league pushed Leeds to 14th place.

In the Old Trafford visit, Leeds was denied a penalty, resulting in a 2-1 defeat. The referee's controversial decision soured a memorable night, leaving Leeds in 15th place. The FA Cup 6th Round at Bramall Lane ended in a disappointing 1-0 defeat, closing Leeds' European hopes. Against Middlesbrough, a spirited fightback masked a lackluster display, resulting in a 3-2 defeat and leaving Leeds nervously positioned in 15th place, only seven points above the relegation zone.. It was one defeat too many.

There are many aspects and questions over the short tenure of Venables and his part in the demise of Leeds United. One could say that he was badly misled by the Directors in their efforts to gain success but yet at the same time stave off the omnipresent creditors. He clearly was not told that he would have the better players sold from under him, or he would never have taken the position in the first place. However, the writing was on the wall with the sale of Ferdinand hardly before the ink on his contract had dried. A Street Savvy Manager, such as he purported to be, should have ironed those problems out as soon as they occurred, particularly in the honeymoon period he enjoyed with the Directors.

Venables made a few early calls. His decision to relegate Martyn, and Batty, from the first eleven; the decision to play Kewell up front and Smith in midfield; the decision not to play Dacourt; All could be said to be mistakes. Conversely no one could drop Robinson, who finished up the player of the year and certainly merited the award. Kewell certainly scored the goals and merited thoughts that he had fulfilled his manager’s objective, particularly after the departure of Keane and Fowler and the injury to Bridges. There was also the injury factor to be taken into account as it was extremely rare that Venables had his best team available, the game at Newcastle was one, but the bare-bones elevens were the norm rather than the exception.

However fail he did! One could say it was inevitable.





With the threat of relegation hovering over them, Leeds United and Peter Ridsdale appointed Peter Reid as caretaker manager on 21st March 2003, for the eight remaining matches of the season, reputedly on a £500,000 bonus for avoiding relegation. He started his reign at Elland Road by sticking to a “Terry Venables XI” for the trip to Anfield and seemingly certain defeat at the hands of Liverpool. It was Robinson; Mills, Lucic, Radebe, Bravo; Barmby, Bakke, Okon, Wilcox; Viduka, Smith. Harte and Milner came on for Bravo and Barmby at the interval. McMaster was on for Okon after 78 minutes, with Martyn and Batty unused.

He would have been comforted by an all action display and another goal from Mark Viduka and Robinson’s brilliant display to keep the score to reasonable proportions. Lucic and Radebe were again adequate, as were Bakke and Wilcox, but for the rest there was plenty of effort but little effect, especially in the first half. Milner was a big improvement in the second half and Harte did well after a shaky start. Owen and Hadji Diouf ran Bravo ragged in the first half. Owen opened the scoring after 12 minutes and a high quality Danny Murphy drive doubled the deficit. United gradually clawed their way back into the game and it was fittingly Mark Viduka who rifled the ball home from close range, just before half-time. The introduction of Milner and Harte saw United have a period of ascendancy. However, the game was killed off by the brilliance of Michael Owen, who set up Steve Gerrard to put the game beyond United with 17 minutes to go. West Bromwich Albion and Sunderland on 21 and 19 points respectively were already doomed, but Bolton Wanderers on 29 (and a game in hand), and West Ham United 30, were getting too close for comfort to United’s played 31, points 34, with seven games still to go. It was their fifth consecutive defeat.

On 31st March 2002 Peter Ridsdale resigned as Chairman of Leeds United. He was replaced by Professor John McKenzie.

In the match against Charlton Athletic, Venables made significant changes to the lineup, with players returning from injury. The team exhibited a remarkable performance, raising questions about why such form had been elusive throughout the season. The composition of the team, featuring Matteo, Kelly, Viduka, Kewell, and Smith playing together, highlighted what could have been if injuries hadn't disrupted the squad. Venables' tactical decisions, including a 4-3-3 formation, and standout performances from players like Kewell, Viduka, and Smith, led to a convincing victory that temporarily lifted Leeds United in the standings.

In the subsequent games against Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton, Leeds experienced mixed fortunes. While Kewell's brilliance and Viduka's goal-scoring prowess stood out, defensive lapses and inconsistency hindered their progress. The Southampton match revealed defensive vulnerabilities, despite late goals providing some consolation. The victory against Fulham showcased Viduka's redemption and the team's improved cohesion in midfield. However, a setback against Blackburn Rovers, marked by defensive errors, dented their survival hopes.

As the season approached its end, Leeds faced a crucial test against Arsenal. Against all expectations, Leeds, led by Kewell's sensational performance, secured a vital win, ensuring their survival in the Premier League. Mark Viduka's pivotal role and Matteo's resilience contributed to this unexpected triumph. In the final game against Aston Villa, despite challenges, Leeds secured a win, with Viduka and Harte shining. The season concluded with Leeds avoiding relegation, offering a glimpse of promise amid a tumultuous campaign.

Viduka, with twenty, finished as the fourth leading scorer in the EPL and Harry Kewell with fourteen was equal eighth. It says much for where Leeds strength came from and without their goals would have been sunk without trace. It was fitting that Paul Robinson was elected Club player of the year for there were many games in which he saved United from humiliating defeats. There is little doubt that United’s performances, by and large, improved under Reid as opposed to Venables and you could point to four wins from eight in his time in charge, but you could also point to four defeats and some good displays and some woeful displays. There was just no consistency and, as with Venables tenure, the fans never knew which team would turn up or indeed who would be available.

Reid did have the good fortune to have a stable team relatively free from injury and, as David Batty never got on the pitch, it could be said that he and his staff concurred with Venables opinion. There were no chances for Milner to shine but Simon Johnson was given his chance in the final game, in the absence of Kewell and Smith.

2002-2003 Season Division Pos (Pts)
FA Cup
Lg Cup
Europe
Other
Season Details Premier League 15 (47)
QF
R3
UC (R3)
-

Alan Smith is consoled by Paul Robinson after Leeds' relegation from the top flight in 2004.

2003-2004 Season

Reid was rewarded for his achievements by being made permanent Manager on 31st May 2003. The forecast mass departure of players never materialised, mainly due to the players being on unacceptably high wages and therefore not attractive to potential purchasers. Shane Cansdell-Sherriff and Jacob Burns left on free transfers as their contracts had run out. Danny Mills was deemed surplus to requirements, and a prime example of a player who had priced himself out of the market, and so he was sent on loan to Middlesbrough for the season with Leeds heavily subsidising his wages! Harry Kewell left for Liverpool for £5 million in a deal which reflected no credit or good grace on the club, the player or his agent. Olivier Dacourt finalised his move to Roma for £3.5 million.

Neither was adequately replaced as Reid brought in Midfielder Jody Morris from Chelsea, on a free, plus a succession of loan players from France where they could not find first team opportunities. Defender Zoumana Camara came from Lens, Full-back Didier Domi from Paris Saint-Germain and Left Winger/Striker Lamine Sakho from Olympique Marsaille. These were followed, again on one year loans, by Left Back/Midfielder Salomon Olembe and Striker Cyril Chapuis, both from Olympique Marsailles, and Brazil World Cup Centre Half Roque Junior from AC Milan. Right Winger Jermaine Pennant also came in on short term loan from Arsenal.

Leeds did not go into their first game against Newcastle United at Elland Road full of confidence following a poor pre-season. It also saw the return of three former favourites Gary Speed, Jonathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer. There was a Leeds return for Seth Johnson and debuts for Morris, Domi, Camara and Sakho, as, Bakke apart, United fielded their strongest available team. The performance gave the fans visions of being in the scrap for top places rather than a relegation battle but if criticism was to be made it was the old failing of taking the foot off the pedal and allowing the other team back into the game. It was a balanced display from a team that had never played together before and though Smith stood out there were no poor performances.

Viduka secured the United opener, while Smith's relentless efforts earned Leeds a 2-1 lead. Despite Newcastle's performance being limited by Leeds, Gary Speed and the ever-threatening Alan Shearer posed a constant menace. Shearer capitalized on a Radebe-induced foul to score the first goal, equalized by Viduka four minutes later. Smith's 12th-minute second-half goal gave United the lead, but they opted to sit back, allowing Newcastle back into the game. Shearer salvaged a draw for Newcastle with two minutes left, scoring his 19th career goal against Leeds. Despite the disappointing result, the fine performance garnered a standing ovation, particularly for the appearance of David Batty, things were looking bright.

Unsurprisingly Reid made no changes for the visit to Tottenham Hotspur, with new loan signing Pennant on the bench alongside Lennon, who eventually made his debut, becoming the youngest player in EPL history. Despite commendable efforts and Morris's midfield dominance, United couldn't afford to concede possession without consequences. Although Smith's early 25-yard strike provided a fleeting moment of joy, the rest of the game saw Spurs relentlessly pressing forward. Viduka and Sakho struggled, lacking service, and United's 10-man defense faced a near-constant siege. Taricco's unstoppable drive leveled the score, and Kanoute's goal sealed Tottenham's victory with 20 minutes remaining. Despite late attacking efforts, including shots from Pennant and Lennon, United languished in thirteenth position, their defensive strategy not enough to secure a more favorable outcome. United sat in thirteenth position.

In the absence of Lucas Radebe, Leeds faced Southampton with Matteo in central defence and Harte at left-back, while Pennant replaced Wilcox, and Richardson took Domi's spot on the bench. Seth Johnson's standout performance in midfield was a highlight, orchestrating much of United's positive play. Despite Dom Matteo's resilient display, playing through injury alongside Camara in defense, and goalkeeper Paul Robinson's crucial saves, Leeds only managed a draw. Pennant's impressive debut showcased his ability to provide crosses for Smith and Viduka, and although Sakho's diving header was ruled offside, Southampton's keeper was the busier of the two. Despite the team's best efforts, they earned just one point, receiving a standing ovation from the crowd. Despite the worst start in fifteen years and being in thirteenth place, the team's commitment and effort were acknowledged.

In their visit to Middlesbrough, Leeds United maintained an unchanged lineup, with Jermaine Pennant showcasing an outstanding performance and ultimately becoming the star of the game. Initially outplayed, out-thought, and out-fought, United showed resilience and character to secure their first victory of the season. Despite falling behind after wasting chances and facing a 2-1 deficit, Leeds, led by Pennant and substitute Lennon, mounted a comeback. Camara's powerful header from Pennant's corner leveled the score, and Viduka sealed the win after a defensive lapse, marking a significant turnaround for the team as they climbed to eleventh in the standings. However, the optimism quickly faded in a disastrous encounter with Leicester. Defensive shortcomings, especially in the absence of Matteo, allowed Leicester to dominate. Roque Junior struggled to form a defensive partnership with Camara, leaving ample space for Dickov and Scowcroft. Despite Pennant and Lennon showing glimpses of form, United conceded four goals, slipping to fourteenth in the standings. The subsequent match against Birmingham City saw a much-improved display, particularly from Olembe, but controversial refereeing decisions, including a dubious penalty and an offside goal, resulted in a 2-0 defeat. These setbacks left Leeds in sixteenth place, hovering above the relegation zone and raising concerns about the team's overall performance.

In the League Cup Second Round against Swindon Town, Leeds United faced a subpar performance, finding themselves trailing 2-0 until the 87th minute. Aaron Lennon and Michael Bridges, who came on as substitutes, sparked a revival. Lennon's corner, flicked on by Roque Junior, allowed Ian Harte to score just three minutes after Swindon's second goal. In injury time, with Swindon reduced to 10 men, Paul Robinson, the United goalkeeper, ventured upfield for a corner, meeting Bridges' cross with a glancing header – the first-ever goal from open play by a goalkeeper for United. The game went to a penalty shootout, where Robinson's heroics continued with a crucial save, and Lucas Radebe's successful penalty secured a 4-3 victory, sparing United from potential humiliation. Despite an ordinary display, Robinson, Lennon, Bridges, and the returning David Batty were notable standouts in an otherwise poor performance.

Nigel Martyn had been allowed to leave for Everton for only £500,000 and what a bargain Everton got! However, for United’s next game at Goodison he was not even called upon to get his gloves soiled. It was another total debacle reminiscent of the defeat at Leicester but this time United were just not at the races in any part of the game. Despite fielding a full-strength team, including Robinson, Kelly, Camara, Roque, Matteo, Pennant, Morris, Johnson, Sakho, Smith, and Viduka, United were outclassed in every aspect. Substitutes Lennon, Olembe, and Bridges, brought in at halftime, failed to improve the dismal display. The gutless and spineless performance resulted in a 4-0 drubbing, with Everton's dominance threatening an even greater scoreline. Robinson, the only player to emerge with credit, made several crucial saves, but the defensive partnership of Roque Junior and Camara showed a lack of communication. Conceding four goals in consecutive away games against teams United once surpassed highlighted the drastic decline, with Morris, Johnson, and even Smith outplayed in midfield. Everton exploited the flanks, rendering mediocre midfielder Steve Watson as seemingly world-class, and United's feeble attempts, including shots from Viduka and Bridges, offered little resistance. The 18th-place finish left United's prospects bleak, and relegation seemed increasingly likely based on their dismal performance.

Changes were made for Leeds United's clash with Blackburn Rovers at Elland Road, with Dominic Matteo stepping in for Roque Junior in central defense and Salomon Olembe at left-back, while David Batty replaced Sakho in midfield. Batty's outstanding performance marked a significant turning point, elevating the team to their best performance of the season. His inspirational display, characterized by relentless defensive work and forward contributions, debunked doubts about his form and fitness. With Batty setting the example, the midfield dominated, and Matteo's defensive assurance allowed Olembe to venture forward on the left flank. United created numerous scoring opportunities, and though Alan Smith missed chances, Seth Johnson capitalized on a fumbled Mark Viduka shot to open the scoring. Johnson added a second just before the half-hour mark, volleying home from a Jermaine Pennant cross that appeared to involve a handball. Despite Blackburn's late attempt to stage a comeback with Dino Baggio's header, United held firm to secure the victory, jumping to fourteenth position before dropping back to sixteenth in the overall standings.

There was more bad news for Leeds United in several shapes. On the financial front they announced the largest loss ever recorded by a British Club, a loud clang in the death knell of the club and not the kind of record it needed or could be proud of. To add insult to injury they were also dispatched from the League Cup by a sadly depleted Manchester United team. One could say it more closely resembled their Youth/Reserve team than their internationally famous team of super-stars.

Events off the field were now overshadowing events on it and new financial guru Trevor Birch was not only appalled by the financial morass he was to discover, but must have wondered where they were heading on the industrial relations scene, as Mark Viduka and Peter Reid clearly were not singing from the same hymn-sheet. There had been simmering discontent for most of the season and Viduka’s form had dipped from his sterling efforts to be instrumental in United avoiding relegation the previous season. He had been clearly incensed by being substituted against Blackburn Rovers and there were rumours of training pitch spats between the two as well as Viduka’s lax timekeeping. Viduka was made aware of his dropping from the team 45 minutes before the kick-off and he left immediately, much to the fans and Reid’s dislike. There was also talk of other players being displeased with Reid’s management techniques.

Leeds United faced perennial contenders Arsenal at Elland Road, but the encounter resembled a stark contrast of boys against men. Without defensive leader Dominic Matteo, the home side lacked resilience, and Roque Junior struggled, epitomizing the team's struggles. Arsenal's faultless precision and razzle-dazzle overwhelmed United, scoring at will and humiliating the hosts. Thierry Henry, scoring after eight minutes, and Robert Pires, adding a second in the 17th minute, quickly put Arsenal in control. Henry secured his second and Arsenal's third within half an hour, while Gilberto made it 4-0 just after the break. The surreal atmosphere saw home fans cheering their heroes, with the only consolation being Alan Smith's goal from a James Milner cross. The weekend's results left United at rock-bottom with only eight points from eleven games, though the hope remained as they faced fellow strugglers Portsmouth and Bolton Wanderers in the upcoming fixtures

Mark Viduka's omission from the team, following a training ground tirade against the manager, set the stage for Leeds United's dismal performance against fellow strugglers Portsmouth, marking a new low for the team. While defeats against top-class teams like Arsenal and Liverpool could be rationalized, the 6-1 humiliation by mediocre opposition like Everton and Leicester City was already a nadir, and this latest loss only emphasized United's dire situation. Few players showed any semblance of effort, with Milner, Smith, and Matteo attempting to stay engaged, and Seth Johnson displaying a willingness to battle. However, the overall lacklustre performance, particularly in the second half, ultimately cost manager Peter Reid his job. Even goalkeeper Paul Robinson, previously a stalwart for the team, appeared culpable. Though the first 45 minutes showed some competitiveness, the game took a turn for the worse with Portsmouth scoring in injury time of the first half. The second half proved disastrous, with Foxe's speculative shot opening the floodgates and resulting in a 6-1 rout, leaving United as clear relegation favourites and highlighting the extent of their struggles.

So Reid’s tenure came to an ignominious end with United’s biggest Premier League defeat, and their biggest since Stoke City scored seven back in 1986, in the dark days of Billy Bremner. He left them in the parlous position of rock bottom. Played twelve, Won two, Drawn two, Lost eight, with eleven goals for and thirty-eight against. Points Eight.







For the second time United turned to the ever faithful, ever popular, playing legend Eddie Gray in their time of Managerial need. It was seen as the easy soft option as Eddie was the popular choice of the fans. He was financially acceptable to the board and well known and liked and respected by the majority of the players, and there were few other likely candidates who would dare sip from the poisoned chalice or be on a hiding to nothing for very little recompense.

His second reign was not off to a good start as the team faced a disappointing start with a 2-0 defeat against fellow relegation contenders Bolton Wanderers, extending their dismal record to eight defeats in the last nine Premiership games. Despite a rapturous welcome for Gray, injuries and illnesses hampered the lineup, with Matteo and Smith watching from the stands while Viduka made his return. The game initially seemed promising with Morris controlling the midfield and Milner standing out, but defensive lapses proved costly. A failure to handle a simple cross allowed Davies to score, and immediately afterward, United conceded possession, leading to Stelios tapping in from close range. Robinson received little cover as Radebe struggled with limited support, Duberry faltered, and Camara adapted to playing right back for the first time. Despite Harte's offensive contributions and Milner's efforts, United's substitutions and overall lack of discipline resulted in a disjointed team. The defeat left United questioning their ability to compete in the relegation battle, contrasting sharply with Bolton's disciplined approach, highlighting the need for improved performances.

The team and club looked like a rudderless ship. There was talk of Gordon Strachan coming in to take over the reins for what was undoubtedly the toughest job in the EPL, but he would have had to succeed where three previous Managers have failed, in instilling some belief, quality and passion into a team who were developing a habit for losing. There seemed no contingency plan from the board for impending relegation. To stand any chance the Manager, who ever he might be, would have needed to be allowed to use the January window to strengthen the team, while maintaining the present players who might be subject to envious eyes of other managers who were looking for easy pickings, but come what may, it was imperative that results had to improve or relegation would be a certainty. They were now rock bottom and now in danger of losing contact with other also-rans.

Amid speculation that the club were bound for Administration, Gray went for the tried and true, electing to select only Pennant from the long list of “Free Transfer and Loan Players” and there was a welcome return for Matteo who was recalled to the midfield and David Batty in the anchor role for a return to the scene of one of United’s best performances of recent years at Charlton Athletic’s Valley. It must have stirred memories for Viduka, Matteo and Smith, who had outstanding performances that day, while Robinson, Duberry, Radebe, Kelly and Harte too would have had fond memories, but it was Milner, who had a bit part that day, who starred in today’s performance which gave Eddie Gray his first victory since taking on the caretaker Manager’s job. Unfortunately the hard won victory did not lift United off the bottom rung but they were level on points with Wolverhampton Wanderers and the win gave them a welcome confidence boost.

It was the Billionaires versus the Paupers as David met Goliath, with Chelsea's team valued at over £100 million, Leeds United showed remarkable resilience and punched above their weight, unlucky not to secure a win. Despite being bottom of the EPL, Leeds displayed fighting spirit against league leaders Chelsea. The return of McPhail made a significant impact, and Jermaine Pennant's scintillating performance caused trouble for Chelsea, who struggled to contain him. United's resolute defending, with Duberry and Harte delivering surprisingly solid performances, kept Chelsea at bay. Pennant's individual brilliance led to the opening goal, ending Chelsea's 653-minute goalless streak. Despite Chelsea's late equalizer, United's jubilant response reflected a solid team effort, signalling a turning point in their season and challenging the hierarchy of the league.

United nudged up into nineteenth spot and, with visits from Manchester City and Fulham on the near horizon, they were confident of picking up more points before the festive relegation battles with Wolverhampton Wanderers and Aston Villa.

Meanwhile on the financial front Trevor Birch was trying to find a buyer for the club and had obtained an extension until 19th January 2004, to do for Leeds what he had done for Chelsea. Prof. McKenzie was supposedly scouring the Far East and Birch was talking to Sheikh Abdulrahman bin Mubarak Al-Khalifa, who was supposedly heading up a Middle East consortium. There were also rumours that Alan Leighton was trying to put together a consortium. Birch revealed that a standstill agreement had been made with the Major Creditors, and it had “freed up” £4 million to get the club through the period to 19th January 2004. The Major Creditors were the Bondholders (£60 million) and a finance company (£22 million). Birch insisted that he would resist any offers for the remaining “Star” players and was confident that there was no need to press the panic button and start another round of fire sales. He reasoned that Leeds had already been down that path with disastrous results and it would be a sure fire recipe for relegation and the bondholders appreciated that.

In a home clash against Fulham, David Batty's return to the lineup contributed to another strong team performance by United, securing a 3-2 victory. Despite a rollercoaster ride, United convincingly outplayed Fulham, showcasing their improved resilience. Dominic Matteo's late winner reflected the team's newfound determination. The 4-5-1 formation frustrated Fulham, with Eddie Gray opting for an attacking approach that proved effective. Michael Duberry, with a touch of luck, netted the first goal from an Ian Harte free-kick, while Mark Viduka's stunning long-range strike added the second. Fulham pulled two back, but Matteo's precise header sealed the win. The victory lifted United from the bottom, instilling hope for more points in upcoming matches and challenging for a higher position in the league standings.

Professor McKenzie intimated that he would not be seeking re-election as Chairman at the upcoming AGM, but was still looking for Far Eastern Investors and he asked for faith in the abilities of Trevor Birch and finance director Neil Robson, who were pursuing other avenues for potential investors.

In their visit to the City of Manchester Stadium, United faced a challenging encounter and, despite not dominating possession, showcased resilience. Under Coach Kevin Blackwell's guidance, they took the lead with a goal from Mark Viduka. However, a late equalizer by Sibierski and a controversial non-call for a penalty after James Milner was fouled added drama to the match. The unfortunate injury to Radebe and subsequent brawl resulted in a draw. The team, unbeaten in the last four games, looked improved, remaining nineteenth in the league standings.

On Boxing Day, facing Aston Villa and David O’Leary's return, the game turned out to be a less thrilling encounter than anticipated. United's defensive formation frustrated Villa, with Michael Duberry's disallowed goal highlighting the first half. The midfield trio of Batty, Matteo, and Smith contributed to a resilient performance. Although lacking in entertainment, it showcased United's mental strength. The match ended in a draw, extending their unbeaten run to five games, and despite remaining in nineteenth place, they were within striking distance of twelfth position.

In the New Year clash against the formidable Arsenal in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup, United displayed a commendable effort despite a 4-1 defeat, their third consecutive at Elland Road. The game was much closer than the score indicated, especially in the first twenty-five minutes, during which United, led by a resurgent Mark Viduka, created several chances and took an early lead. Frazer Richardson's debut at right back and the solid performances of Kilgallon, Duberry, and Harte in defense helped counter Arsenal's threats. However, lightning raids from Arsenal, involving Vieira, Kanu, and Henry, resulted in two quick goals, shifting the momentum. Despite a valiant effort, especially in the first half, a late surge from Arsenal secured an exaggerated victory.

There was fear in the United camp as there was still no progress on the financial front. Chairman Trevor Birch had only two weeks to find a buyer or there could be impending administration and a possible loss of points and expulsion from the EPL should the other clubs so decide.

In their midweek fixture against Newcastle United, a lackluster first-half display plagued United, but an improved second-half performance, led by Olembe, Pennant, and Milner, showcased a different side. Despite a solitary goal from Alan Shearer in the first half, United's second-half dominance exposed Newcastle's defensive vulnerabilities, though the killer instinct was lacking, resulting in a missed opportunity for a valuable point or more. The match underscored the Jekyll-and-Hyde nature of United's performances. United were stuck on nineteenth position and results elsewhere did not favour them, and once again they were in danger of getting left behind by teams who were able to string a couple of wins together.

Robbie Keane’s muted goal celebration said more than words as he knew his goal, which gave Tottenham Hotspur a single goal victory at Elland Road, was the first real nail in the coffin of his former team-mates as United slipped out of contact with the safety zone being five points and a terrible goal difference less than the seventeenth placed club and possible safety from relegation. There were still seventeen games and a maximum fifty-one points left to be contested, but the optimism and hopefulness was waning as the weeks and games passed. There was no money to help the fight and the players looked as if they had given up hope as the game was played out with an air of resignation to the inevitability of the proceedings.

The goals had dried up and United were the EPL’s lowest scorers apart from Middlesbrough (17) with eighteen goals in twenty-one games. The defence was equally alarming having conceded forty-two which had only been exceeded by the equally woeful Wolverhampton Wanderers (43), and only Leicester City and Blackburn Rovers, each with thirty-five, came anywhere near to the bottom two’s conceding rate.

There was good news from Jermaine Pennant, who signed another loan extension to 29th February 2004 and said he would be happy to stay for the rest of the season. While United said that Mark Viduka was likely to remain with the club and no bids had yet been made for him. There were still no firm offers on the financial front and the Major Creditors could enforce administration at any time. There was talk of Wages deferrals by the players and of the rejection by them. There was talk of Robinson being sold to Tottenham Hotspurs and that the deal was already agreed. There was also a bid by Tottenham to take Milner along with Robinson. There were talks of Newcastle wanting Bridges in exchange for their full-back Griffin and of their interest in James Milner. There was also talk of Middlesbrough’s interest in Mark Viduka which was near impossible to negotiate with him in Australia at his ailing father’s bedside, but United announced that they had turned down the offer of £4 million plus Michael Ricketts.

In the home clash against Middlesbrough, where Mark Viduka was still absent, United suffered a disheartening 3-0 defeat that exacerbated their relegation woes. With hopes high due to Middlesbrough's scoring struggles, the loss, coupled with Robinson's late dismissal, pushed United closer to the relegation trap door. Despite Matteo and Bakke's efforts to plug midfield gaps, Middlesbrough's Zenden, Juninho, and Mendietta orchestrated stylish football that outclassed United throughout. Young Kilgallon and Duberry defended resolutely, but the lack of confidence was evident, recording a sixth home defeat and accumulating only ten points from thirty-six on offer. Seth Johnson's poor performance drew boos, and the absence of Viduka loomed large, as Middlesbrough dominated, and the defeat marked United's sixth consecutive in all competitions, the worst run since 1996. The subsequent match at Villa Park saw referee Uriah Rennie's controversial decisions, awarding an undeserved penalty and free-kick that led to Villa's second goal, adding to United's misfortune in a season marred by unfavourable refereeing decisions.

There had been frenzied activity off the pitch with news that a Yorkshire consortium were about to mount a bid for the club and there was also interest from a Ugandan property tycoon. Trevor Birch had also managed to convince the Major Creditors to extend the standstill agreement, the players had finally agreed to defer part of their wages and the add ons to Rio Ferdinand’s move to Manchester United were settled at £ 1.5 million, all of which meant that administration was once again averted in the short-term. The deal to sell Robinson to Tottenham Hotspur was postponed and Stephen Caldwell was loaned from Newcastle United to fill the large hole in central defence.

Leeds, despite the good performance, were now three points behind Wolverhampton Wanderers and Leicester City, who occupied the other two relegation places, and six behind Portsmouth in seventeenth place, and there were now only fourteen games left to play.

In the crucial relegation clash against Wolverhampton Wanderers at Elland Road, United delivered their best performance of the season, overwhelming their opponents in a 4-1 victory. The unchanged lineup showcased a fine team effort, with standout performances from Kelly, Domi, and central defenders Matteo and Caldwell. Caldwell's prowess in attacking set-pieces contributed to two of United's goals. In contrast to their earlier loss at Molineux, Bakke and Seth Johnson dominated the midfield, preventing a repeat of Wolves' previous success. Pennant's trickery and Milner's confident display on the wings were instrumental, with Milner impressing onlooker Sven Goran Eriksen. Smith and Viduka's effective partnership flourished, resulting in Smith's opener and Matteo's goal before the break. Milner added a third with a Smith assist, and despite a missed penalty shout for Smith, the team's spirited performance culminated in a magnificent fourth goal from the hardworking Viduka, securing a crucial victory that propelled United above Wolves on goal difference, now just three points away from the vital seventeenth spot.

Facing Manchester United at Old Trafford without key players was a daunting challenge for Leeds, missing their star England goalkeeper Robinson, their best defender, and their star striker Viduka. Scott Carson made his debut, filling in for Robinson, and McPhail joined a reinforced midfield, with Alan Smith taking the lone striker role. Against all odds, Leeds secured a draw, leveling the score with a powerful header from Alan Smith within three minutes of Scholes giving United the lead. Despite Manchester's numerous chances, their inaccuracy and Leeds' resilient defense, led by Matteo and Caldwell, prevented them from dominating. Carson, the teenage debutant, made key saves, while Johnson, Pennant, McPhail, and Bakke worked tirelessly in midfield. Leeds, not just defending, demonstrated a willingness to challenge the hosts, and Smith's goal, rewarded for a stellar display, earned them a crucial point. Although slipping back to the bottom, the draw fueled hopes that consistent performances could help avert disaster for Leeds.

On March 1, 2004, the funeral of the late John Charles coincided with Wales' National Day, St David’s Day, drawing numerous football dignitaries, stars, and Leeds United supporters. The recent match against Liverpool saw Elland Road mourning Charles, dedicating the program and observing a minute's silence. The West Stand was slated to be renamed "The John Charles Stand" in his honor. Facing Liverpool, one fighting relegation and the other contending for a Champions League spot, showcased a classic encounter. Mark Viduka's return invigorated United, with Smith playing through injury. Didier Domi, once considered surplus, displayed quality at left-back. Liverpool's Steve Gerrard led the fight, and Kewell's solo strike was countered by Bakke's goal. Viduka's exquisite chip secured a lead, but Baros equalized. The intense second half saw great saves from both keepers, and despite Domi's late header being blocked, the draw, though unexpected, left United just two points from safety in the tight relegation battle.

On 19th March 2004 the consortium of Yorkshire businessmen completed the arduous task of complying with all the legal and logistical requirements and finally put together the deal which ended the existence of the PLC and kept Leeds United out of administration. For the short term, it gave the club the needed stability. It settled or restructured the club debt and gave the consortium control of the club. Gerald Krasner was installed as Chairman with David Richmond, Melvyn Levy, Simon Morris and Melvin Helme his co-directors of Adulant Force Limited, the company which now owned the football club.

The new chairman, adorned in a Leeds United scarf, witnessed a stroke of luck favoring United in their clash with Manchester City. Despite City's superior football and numerous chances, United secured victory with a precision free-kick and a contentious penalty. Kevin Keegan, City's manager, vehemently protested referee decisions, accusing Milner of obstructing David James for McPhail's free-kick goal and contesting the late penalty awarded to Smith. However, justice was claimed, as it was United's first penalty in 29 games. Captain Dominic Matteo and Caldwell commanded the defense, stifling Anelka and handling City's threats. McPhail, the architect, scored a crucial free-kick, and despite City's equalizer, Viduka calmly converted the late penalty, leading to jubilant celebrations and a vital win. With Chairman Krasner at the forefront, the victory symbolized a spirited fight for survival on and off the pitch. Leeds had been saved off the pitch and now they were fighting to save themselves on it. There was still a long way to go and in the nine remaining games they had to secure just two points more than the two clubs above them, who both had to visit Elland Road, and more than Wolves to survive. The team’s destiny was still firmly in its own hands.

In their visit to Birmingham City's St Andrews, United, unchanged from a renewed wave of enthusiasm, started strongly, with Viduka scoring in the third minute. Despite numerous chances, United's strikers failed to capitalize on their dominance, and Birmingham capitalized on defensive lapses to finish in command, resulting in a frustrating 4-1 defeat. However, a tactical shift in the next game against Leicester City, moving Matteo to midfield, paid off. Johnson's cross set up Duberry for the opener, and a fluid move involving Pennant, Domi, and Smith led to Viduka's stunning overhead kick for a 2-0 lead. Though Leicester pulled back, Smith secured a vital 3-2 victory, lifting United to 18th.

Facing Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park, Caldwell's early goal set the tone for United's spirited performance. Matteo's leadership in midfield, coupled with Pennant's brilliance on the wing and Robinson's crucial saves, secured a 2-1 victory. This back-to-back win brought United level on points with Blackburn and Portsmouth, igniting hopes of avoiding relegation. Against Everton, Martyn's exceptional goalkeeping thwarted United's onslaught, with Rooney's early strike putting Everton ahead. Milner's goal seemed to secure a comeback until Martyn's heroics preserved Everton's lead, leaving United in 18th place and trailing their rivals.

A trip to Highbury ended in a 5-0 defeat against Arsenal, highlighting the vast quality gap. Pires, Henry, and Gilberto orchestrated Arsenal's dominance, dismantling United's defence with ease. People said Leeds United were just not good enough to compete with the leading lights of the Premier League and this defeat only emphasised that belief. Off the pitch United had been roared on by the travelling faithful in a deafening wall of sound, but unfortunately there was little or no response and that support could be depended on for the rest of the season as they cheered, even in the depth of defeat and the cause totally beyond recall. The fans led by example and the team now had got to win at least three of their remaining four games.

Anything other than a victory against Portsmouth would be the death knell. Aside from the suspended Viduka, fielded an unchanged lineup with Simon Johnson deputizing. The game was a must-win for United, trailing Portsmouth by five points and in dire need of points to avoid relegation. However, United appeared nervous and resigned at times, conceding two soft goals. The midfield, featuring two central defenders and two young players, was virtually nonexistent for almost an hour. The young wingers, exhausted mentally and physically, struggled to maintain their previous form. Injuries had taken a toll on the team, with Radebe and Matteo playing through pain and injuries. Matteo succumbed to a hip injury at halftime, leaving United with limited options due to injuries and earlier decisions to part with certain players. Despite efforts from substitutes Barmby and McPhail, Portsmouth dominated the midfield and secured a 2-1 victory. It was only in the last hour that United rallied, but it proved too late. A late penalty from Ian Harte couldn't salvage the match, and Portsmouth held on for the win despite a desperate United onslaught in the final minutes.

Mathematically it was still possible for United to survive but it seemed a forlorn hope and the game at Bolton Wanderers could decide United’s fate. For now, they hung on to eighteenth spot and hoped.

With Viduka back in the lineup, replacing Simon Johnson, and Matteo returning from a hip injury to take his place in midfield, United started the match with optimism. The team took the lead in the 25th minute as Viduka converted a penalty after Thome brought down Smith. Strangely, the referee chose not to send Thome off, although he appeared to be the last defender. However, the positive atmosphere quickly turned sour as Viduka, after a scuffle that followed his first booking, received a second yellow card for elbowing N’Gotty, reducing United to ten men. The act of recklessness left United at a significant disadvantage, and the hosts capitalized on the situation. Djorkaeff leveled the score just after halftime, adding another six minutes later. A further setback occurred when Harte inadvertently scored an own goal, making it 3-1, and Nolan sealed United's fate with a goal twelve minutes from time, completing the hosts' comeback.

Leeds now dropped to nineteenth with only Leicester City two points adrift and Wolverhampton above them on goal difference. So the tears flowed as United’s 14 year tenure in the top flight came to an end. It would not have been so bad if they had put up a fight and though not helped by Viduka’s two moments of madness which resulted in his dismissal, it would be foolish to blame the big striker for United’s loss of Premiership status. The blame should be laid fairly and squarely at the feet of the former board of directors who allowed the club to get into such a financial mess, a series of managers who failed to take advantage of the resources available, and players who have had things easy for too long.

It was easy to recall where it all went wrong this season. Four goal hidings at Everton and Leicester City spring too mind, followed by a 6-1 thrashing at Portsmouth in November which saw the dismissal of Peter Reid. There was the 3-1 defeat at Wolverhampton Wanderers at Christmas when United reverted to 4-4-2 leaving the midfield and defence woefully exposed by a team who were even lower in the League than United. Reality had kicked in with the 2-0 loss at Fulham and despite a mini-recovery by United they could not win vital games and a form revival by Portsmouth and Blackburn Rovers saw United unable to respond in kind. The simple truth was that Leeds United had not been good enough to compete at the highest level and week after week the level of performance had been unacceptable.

On the final day of the season United played their last Premier League game at Stamford Bridge against second placed Chelsea. Both sets of players looked like they would rather be elsewhere. Rather than going through the motions on a sunny day in West London. Chelsea already assured of second spot and their stars did not want to exert themselves over duly while United’s team of returning players, committed players, disaffected players and anyone else who fancied a game were looking forward to the summer break wherever it might take them.

It was not a good cocktail and the season long frustration of the Leeds fans boiled over and Alan Smith and Nick Barmby were singled out for abuse by a minority. Smith’s final appearance in a United shirt was soured when he made a gesture to the fans after taunts about a potential summer move to Manchester United. Nick Barmby, the other target for abuse had hardly played in the season, through no fault of his own, and he was an unfortunate, if not unsurprising, victim. While there were tears galore at the home farewell against Charlton Athletic there were no such emotions as the curtain fell on United’s Premiership tenure.

2003-2004 Season Division Pos (Pts)
FA Cup
Lg Cup
Europe
Other
Season Details Premier League 19 (33)
R3
R3
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