LEEDS UNITED 0 WOLVES 1
COCA COLA CHAMPIONSHIP 10th September 2006Leeds United entered the 2006/07 season in a state of flux. The failure to secure a place in the top flight with the defeat to Watford in the Play Off final saw the beginning of the end of the Whites new found financial stability under Ken Bates. Entering a third season in the Championship, Leeds were now left without the cushion of a parachute payment from the Premiership, making a fast start to the season key if United were to be able to retain the majority of the side who had gone so close to promotion.
United had managed to keep most of the side together, with only two players who had started on that horrible afternoon in Cardiff no longer with the club. Liam Miller had returned to Manchester United after his loan spell had ended, and the club had been unable to resist cashing in on their main goal threat, as Rob Hulse moved on to Sheffield United.
However Kevin Blackwell had spent his transfer budget in curious fashion over the summer. He looked to strengthen the midfield with the purchase of David Livermore from Millwall, only to sell him within weeks to Hull City, without him ever playing a competitive game. In his place Luton Town’s Kevin Nicholls was bought for £750K with Ian Westlake also adding to the midfield on a free transfer from Ipswich Town. Winger Seb Carole was captured on a free from Brighton, to provide the ammunition for the front men. However the replacement for Hulse was journeyman forward Geoff Horsfield, hardly a signing to get the pulse racing.
Kevin Blackwell had seemed to be under pressure the minute Ken Bates took the helm at Elland Road, with Dennis Wise rumoured to be waiting in the wings once Blackwell faltered. The stuttering end to the previous campaign, when Leeds choked as they moved within range of automatic promotion followed by the capitulation in Cardiff saw speculation mount once again that Blackwell was on borrowed time.
The decent start Leeds had wished for had not really materialised, as Leeds fell into the habit of conceding late goals. An opening day victory at home to Norwich was followed by a 2-2 draw at QPR, where United conceded a last minute equaliser. A trip to Selhurst Park followed, and despite a brave rear-guard action following the early dismissal of Horsfield, Leeds conceded a late winner. Incredibly they again fell to a last minute goal the following week against Cardiff at Elland Road, before steadying the ship with a 1-0 win at Hillsborough.
Worryingly goals were proving difficult to come by, with both victories coming courtesy of David Healey penalties. As Leeds returned to action following an international break, they badly needed to improve their form as September would see them take on three of the most fancied sides in the Championship at Elland Road; Sunderland, Birmingham City but first of all Wolverhampton Wanderers.
With Geoff Horsfield still suspended following his red card at palace, Ian Moore joined Healey up front. Shaun Derry’s injury saw Leeds conclude a permanent deal with Blackburn for the services of Jonathan Douglas, the Irish international coming into the team for his second debut. Leeds were further boosted by the decision of Matthew Kilgallon to snub a move to Premiership new boys Reading as the transfer window came to a close. He lined up with skipper Paul Butler in the heart of the defence.
Wolves were under new management, with Mick McCarthy replacing Glenn Hoddle in the Molineux hot seat. Like Leeds, the Black Country club were facing life without the crutch of a Premiership parachute payment, and had opted to give youth a chance in their side. The game saw a debut for Charlie Mulgrew, now at Celtic and featured Daniel Jones on the left side of midfield, a player who would be much more prominent on a future visit to Elland Road for Bristol Rovers, where he was the man who clashed with Max Gradel on the day we finally ended our League One nightmare.
There was a sparse crowd at a sweltering Elland Road on Sunday 10th September. With the pressure the side were under it was understandable that the players looked nervous, and with Wolves featuring pacy striker Jemal Johnson up front (who would end up on loan at Leeds later in the season) United started by sitting off their opponents, fearful of attacks getting in behind them, happy to cede possession to the visitors.
After a bright opening to the game by Wolves, the home side started to find their feet. Ian Moore had the first opening for Leeds, cleverly beating the offside trap to burst down the right hand side. With a lack of support he was forced to shoot from a tight angle, forcing Matt Murray to tip the ball over the bar. From the resulting corner, the Wolves defence failed to clear decisively, the ball falling to Butler on the edge of the area who squirted a volley wide of the post.
The match settled into a game of cat and mouse in midfield, with Douglas and Westlake doing well to match Henry and Olofinjana in the centre of the park. However Leeds lacked a real cutting edge without Hulse. Ian Moore, who had yet to score for the club at that point, wasted another chance, shooting straight at Murray on the half hour. David Healey was also failing to transfer his international form to the club game. His confidence should have been sky high after scoring a hat-trick against Spain for Northern Ireland during the week.
However Leeds were not giving him any opportunities to score, with Seb Carole in particular wasteful with the final ball. He was even more wasteful in front of goal eight minutes before half time, shooting straight at Murray from six yards after a great ball in from Jonathan Douglas. The Frenchman’s pace and trickery was causing problems though, forcing Wolves into a change at left back with Mick McCarthy fearing a red card after Mulgrew had picked up an early booking, the young Scot replaced by another debutant in Alan Little.
Wolves made another change at the break, bringing on Jay Bothroyd for the ineffective Carl Cort. The striker made an instant impact bursting past Stephen Crainey and then firing in a low cross which was met by Jemal Johnson, forcing Tony Warner into an excellent block at his near post.
Leeds continued to huff and puff but never looked like creating anything. They did come close when Murray flapped at a cross from the left, the ball dropping to Paul Butler, but his shot lacked real power and allowed Gary Breen to clear off the line.
As the game looked to be drifting towards a goalless draw, Kevin Blackwell threw on a raw young strike named Jermaine Beckford. He almost created a goal immediately, showing great pace to race down the right hand side and firing in a low cross which Jody Craddock clumsily turned behind for a corner. Moments later another substitute, Steve Stone, almost put Leeds in front, getting his head to a cross which Murray had again missed, only to see Breen once again clear off the line.
As the clock ticked over into stoppage time, Leeds once again fell to the late sucker punch. A harmless looking ball forward to Bothroyd saw Douglas try to intercept, but he missed the ball allowing Bothroyd to turn and stride forward before unleashing a 30 yard effort into the top corner and stealing the win for Wolves
It was a hammer blow, not only in the context of the game but in the future of Kevin Blackwell. Three days later Leeds were hammered at home 3-0 by Sunderland and then lost 1-0 at Coventry City. Enough was enough for Ken Bates and on September 20th, just after a Carling Cup win over Barnet, Blackwell was gone. Within weeks, Leeds were in a relegation battle and within months the club entered the darkest period in its history.
LEEDS: Warner; Kelly, Butler, Kilgallon, Crainey; Carole, Westlake, Douglas, Lewis; Moore, Healey
SUBS NOT USED: Sullivan, Gregan, Blake
WOLVES: Murray; Edwards, Craddock, Breen, Mulgrew; Potter, Henry, Olofinjana, Jones; Cort, Johnson
SUBS NOT USED: Ricketts, Keme