LEEDS UNITED and Sheffield Wednesday might just be on a collision course for a meeting in the Championship’s play-offs in May.
Gone are the days when the two Yorkshire sides used to contest derbies in the country’s top flight.
Premier derby days such as the one 20 years ago this weekend when a dominant Leeds were forced to settle for a 2-2 draw at Hillsborough.
Leeds were still adjusting to life under George Graham, appointed as Howard Wilkinson’s successor in September, and the Whites began extremely brightly in search of revenge for the Owls’ 2-0 win at Elland Road in August, or the 6-2 battering at Hillsborough the previous December.
Rod Wallace played in Brian Deane whose through-ball was latched on to by Lee Bowyer but the onrushing midfielder’s weak shot was easily held by a grateful Kevin Pressman.
The Owls keeper then plucked a looping effort from Wallace out of the air.
But as Leeds dominated, Pressman was picking the ball out of his net soon after as Ian Rush and Bowyer combined to feed Lee Sharpe who made a strong run towards the edge of the Owls penalty area before rifling a left-footed low shot into the bottom-right corner.
Leeds continued to swarm forward and Deane then fired a good chance over the bar in pursuit of United’s second.
And Wednesday made Leeds and Deane pay in the 20th minute when Benito Carbone’s corner was headed home by David Hirst whose effort had too much power for Nigel Martyn.
Yet United regained the lead within the next 60 seconds as a hoofed clearance was flicked on by Deane towards Bowyer and Wallace who pounced on the loose ball and unleashed a low effort that squirmed through a wrong-footed Pressman and into the back of the net.
United continued to create chances and Rush blazed a decent effort over the bar from 30 yards out.
Then, following a clever back heel from Sharpe, Wallace’s fierce, low shot was tipped around the post by Pressman.
Leeds could and should have been home and hosed yet Wednesday only trailed 2-1 at the interval and ultimately drew level six minutes after the break.
Lee Briscoe’s pass released the lively Carbone who turned the Whites defence after racing down the left flank before feeding a square ball to Andy Booth who clinically rifled a rising shot beyond Martyn into the roof of the net.
Even then, Leeds went close to regaining the lead for a third time when Dorigo let fly from range but the full-back’s effort whistled narrowly over the bar.
And honours were destined to finish even as United’s winless run extended to three games. Leeds in fact failed to win any of their last nine matches and eventually finished 11th, 11 points and four places behind the Owls.
The roles were dramatically reversed the following season when United qualified for Europe by finishing fifth as Wednesday narrowly avoided relegation in 16th.
Wednesday were finally relegated in 2000 – when there seemed little sign that Leeds would be following the same exit from the country’s top flight four years later. United ache at having not been back since and could face their old South Yorkshire adversaries in a bid to return to the promised land 13 years on.
Sheffield W 2
(Hirst 20 Booth 51)
Leeds United 2 (Sharpe 17 Wallace 21)
FA Premiership saturday, march 22, 1997
Sheffield Wednesday: Pressman, Nolan, Stefanovic, Briscoe, Walker, Pembridge, Humphreys (Collins 73), Carbone (Blinker 89), Hirst, Whittingham, Booth. Subs not used: Clarke, Linighan, Donaldson.
Leeds United: Martyn, Halle, Radebe, Kelly (Wetherall 77), Dorigo, Molenaar, Sharpe, Bowyer, Deane, Wallace, Rush. Subs not used: Beeney, Harte, Jackson, Gray.