Leeds United… Nine Years Ago

The FA Cup 3rd Round has marked Leeds United’s revival in the past two years. Today Arsenal just managed to snatch a draw at home, and last year Jermain Beckford’s goal stunned Manchester United, but nine years ago it was a very different story.

On January 6 2002 Leeds United were top of the Premier League, in the last 16 of the UEFA Cup and facing Second Division Cardiff City in the FA Cup Third Roud.

You may remember then Cardiff Chairman, Sam Hamman’s antics that night – he paraded himself round the perimiter of the pitch, encouraging his partisans to make the atmosphere as hostile as possible for the big time visitors.

Cardiff scrapped and battled, and emerged 2-1 victors – Graham Kavanagh had an excellent game that night, but Leeds were hurt more by Alan Smith’s sending off and Rio Ferdinand’s injury. Ferdinand’s injury meant that Jonathan Woodgate was partnered in defence by Michael Dubbery – a man he had not spoken to for six months – since Duberry testified against him in that infamous trial.

In their next Premier League game Leeds lost to Newcastle, who were one of five sides challenging for the title. A 3-1 reverse which knocked Leeds off top spot and saw Danny Mills red carded.

Leeds had begun a 10 game stretch without a victory.

Harry Kewell publicly fell out with O’Leary and Assistant Eddie Gray with a row about the Australian’s fitness.

Chelsea beat Leeds 2-0, and Liverpool thrashed them 4-0 at Elland Road. Emile Heskey who had scored twice in his previous 35 games netting twice.

Draws against Arsenal and Middlesbrough further helped detatch Leeds from the leaders, while PSV dumped them out of the UEFA Cup. Leeds failing to score in 180 minutes of football.

Off-field problems mounted as during this time Leeds had four players found guilty of Misconduct by the FA (Mills, Smith, Viduka and Bowyer) giving DOL less freedom with selection.

The Elland Road faithful had to endure two further 0-0 draws, at home to Charlton and away to Everton before finally winning against Ipswich Town on March 6. Even so Leeds finished 19 points behind champions Arsenal.

We all know about the sand the finances were based upon, the relegations and the goldfish – but its hard not to get nostalgic thinking about what might have been, had the gamble to secure regular CL football come off. Could they have eventually balanced the books?

The Champions League campaign was abosrbing and although it was hard to feel sympathy at the time for Bowyer and Woodgate – it must have been very hard for two young men to have that level of public scrutiny.

It wasn’t to be – but Leeds took their punishment for failure with dignity, and I never ceased to be amazed about how loyal their support stayed during the wildnerness years.

Now, they are riding high in the Championship and have pulled off another Third Round shock I hope it’s not too painful to remember the role the Thirs Round played in their downfall.

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