After a season of rebuilding, Leeds United went into the 05/06 season with many reasons to be optimistic. Having attained a reasonable mid-table finish with a team that was constantly changing, by the end of the season Leeds had something looking like a settled starting line-up. Neil Sullivan’s heroics in goal, Rob Hulse’s end of season barrage of goals and Danny Pugh’s majestic backflips had ensured something of an entertaining season. Now Leeds were gearing up for bigger things.
After the comings and goings of the previous season Leeds would rely on two long term loanees, as well as a month-long loan of Danny Graham towards the end of the season, although he would only make three appearances and didn’t find the net.
The first man through the door was Blackburn Rovers central midfielder Jonathan Douglas. Having had a couple of spells with clubs lower down the Football League. Douglas had enjoyed a short run in the Blackburn side under Graeme Souness but when the dour Scot moved to take the Newcastle United job, Douglas found opportunities much harder to come by.
Kevin Blackwell brought Douglas in for the duration of the season and he would be a regular in the Leeds side, making over forty appearances and scoring five goals including both goals in the New Years Eve win at home to Hull City. Such was Kevin Blackwell’s faith in him, he amassed more playing time than players such as David Healy, Rob Hulse and Sean Gregan, all first team starters under Blackwell. That Gregan played as much as he did, is somewhat depressing.
The second loanee was another Republic of Ireland central midfielder whom Leeds were able to rescue from the wrong side of the Pennines. Liam Miller had come through Glasgow Celtic’s academy and made sporadic appearances before joining AGF Aarhus in Denmark on loan.
Upon his return he was a regular in the squad and featured in UEFA Cup and Champions League games, even getting goals against Lyon and Anderlecht in Celtic’s 03/04 Champions League campaign. Miller turned down the offer of a new deal at Celtic and agreed a move to the Salford Reds at the end of his contract.
He found playing time hard to come by in his first season, restricted to mostly cup appearances and by the time the 05/06 season rolled around Miller was in need of regular football. He would join Leeds in November, initially for three months.
Coming straight into the team, Miller would have his biggest moment in Leeds colours in just his second match. A trip to the South coast against Southampton was looking like it would be followed by a miserable journey home as Leeds found themselves trailing 3-0 at half time. The Southampton side, managed by absolute wheeler-dealer Harry Redknapp featured a bizarre blend of players like Marian Pahars, 9 year old (ish) Theo Walcott and a man who in a year’s time would be managing Leeds, Dennis Wise.
All was looking good for Southampton who were still leading 3-0 with 20 minutes left, which was the point when David Healy was introduced into the game (quite why it took Blackwell this long to change things I’ll never know). Leeds began an onslaught of the Saints goal and were first rewarded with a Paul Butler header on 71 minutes. On 77 minutes Robbie Blake would turn in a David Healy cross, who would then fire home a penalty to level the scores on 84 minutes.
Leeds continued to pile forward until the Southampton dam finally gave way. Rob Hulse received the ball on the right of the penalty area, holding play up for a second before playing a ball in towards the penalty spot, met by the run of Liam Miller who wrong footed Finland goalkeeper Antti Niemi (He’s not finished, he’s only 28) and secured a memorable comeback for Leeds which is still fondly remembered today. It is a travesty that ITV condensed this game down to 90 seconds in the weekend highlights show ‘The Championship.’
It was a stuttering end to the season for Leeds who dropped down from the automatic promotion places to finish 5th, forcing them to settle for a play-off berth. Leeds would defeat Preston North End over two legs but fell to Watford in a dismal performance at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff.
Miller would briefly return to the wrong side of the Pennines whilst Douglas would make his stay permanent. Douglas would stay with Leeds for another three years, playing in League 1 for a couple of seasons before moving between clubs in the Championship and League One.
Miller would go on to migrate between clubs on a much more regular basis. He had spells with Sunderland and Queens Park Rangers before returning to Scotland for two years. Then he made the big switch to Australia where he spent 3 years representing Perth Glory, Melbourne City and Brisbane Roar.
He returned to his hometown of Cork to play for a season with Cork City before another long distance move. This time heading to North Carolina to feature Wilmington Hammerheads, American teams have great names - Rochester Raging Rhinos being a favourite.
He began a coaching career in the US with Real Monarchs but was forced to step down in order to begin treatment for pancreatic cancer. Unfortunately Miller would not be able to overcome his illness and passed away just four days before his 37th birthday.
Although it was just a brief period in our history, Miller stepped up and was a big part of the most enjoyment Leeds had taken from football since our plummet out of the Premier League began. For that and for the wonderful memory that he left us with at Southampton, our 2005/06 Leeds United Loan Player of the Year has to be Liam Miller.