When Brian Deane re-joined his home-town club after its relegation to the Championship he was expected to make up the squad numbers, as Leon Wobschall reports
The name of Serbian hitman Nikola Zigic will give Leeds United defenders nightmares for a good while yet.
His brutal beating up of the Whites’ back four in Birmingham’s recent 4-1 routing of somewhat bewildered hosts at Elland Road was as merciless as it was clinical, with home supporters left to collectively wince at the punishment.
The boot was on the other foot at LS11 just over seven years ago, though, when another imposing striker savagely bullied a defence to help himself to another four-goal haul.
Powerhouse former QPR centre-halves Georges Santos and Danny Shittu are as rough and tough as they come, but they and their defensive cohorts had no answer to big Brian Deane on the afternoon of November 20, 2004.
The former United striker, who turned 44 this week, vividly remembers that autumnal day as if it was yesterday, with the gloss to his ‘second coming’ at his hometown club arriving by way of four goals in the hosts’ thumping 6-1 home win over Ian Holloway’s R’s.
The west Londoners’ negligent defence were left bang to rights long before the final whistle, half-time in fact when United went in 5-1 ahead, and this, incredibly, after going behind in the second minute.
Deane had helped himself to a hat-trick by the interval, netting three close-range strikes in front of the aghast visiting contingent in the South Stand.
The veteran frontman went on to add another in front of the Revie Stand 18 minutes from time to seal his haul and spark a Mexican wave, which later turned to a standing ovation when he left the pitch after being substituted four minutes from time.
Days like that don’t come along very often, especially when you are the wrong side of 30 – a time when many professional footballers are safely ensconced in the press room or TV studio if they’re not winding down their careers in some backwater.
On a milestone afternoon, Deane, who famously scored the first-ever goal in the Premier League, for Sheffield United against Manchester United at Bramall Lane in August 1992, recalled: “It’s right up there, in terms of my career.
“Only a small band of players score four goals in a competitive league game and I’m glad I am among that group, and what it makes more impressive was that at the time I was 36 and most players probably retire at 35. It showed I had a little bit left in the tank, although my team-mates probably had to put the ball just in front of me!
“I’ve scored a few hat-tricks – though I don’t know off the top of my head how many – but that was definitely the only time I got four and to do it in the Championship at my age then was a real achievement.
“It was a definite high and the pick-out moment in every way of my second time around at Leeds. I remember going home from the match absolutely buzzing in every way – like I was a 12-year-old kid! Beating a side 6-1 as well in a Championship game was an achievement anyway as it doesn’t happen very often.
“I think I had a few drinks and celebrated that night. It’s not often those moments come along.
“The ball is still somewhere (at home), but I don’t know where!”
The handsome win was made all the more remarkable given that 19th-placed United went into the fixture on the back of a poor run of one win in seven matches and seeking to avoid a third successive home reverse with the vultures circling.
The disquiet among home supporters was further heightened by the sight of fifth-placed Rangers taking the lead through Gareth Ainsworth’s 25-yard stunner to deflate the majority of the 29,739 crowd.
But, in the blink of an eye, David Healy levelled before Deane tapped in to make it 2-1 after just 13 minutes.
Ten minutes later, Jermaine Wright added another before a quick-fire close-range double just before the break from Deane ended the match as a serious contest. And the local lad added another after the break for rampant United – for whom Healy also missed a penalty.
Deane, who became the first player to hit four goals in a league game for United since Mark Viduka’s sensational bounty against Liverpool in November 2000, said: “I remember them scoring first with a great strike from Ainsworth and from what I remember the crowd were ready to turn on us as we were having a bit of an indifferent time back then.
“We could hear the crowd rumblings and so on, but luckily we managed to get back in the game pretty much straightaway.
“I remember a little bit of good play from John Oster for one of my goals and some good work from Jermaine Wright as well for another, and it was just a case of getting in front of my defender for two or three of them.
“They were straightforward goals, if I’m honest, and I didn’t have to do much – but you take them.
“Georges Santos and Danny Shittu weren’t the kind of centre-half pairing you would want to meet in a dark alley, but they didn’t have a great day...
“While I got four, it could have been five. I look back and wish I could have taken that (second-half) penalty, which we missed.”
Brought in to provide ballast and experience to a hastily cobbled together United squad left decimated amid the fall-out of an ignominious relegation from the Premiership in May 2004, it’s fair to say Deane’s primary job wasn’t goalscoring at that stage of his career.
But, despite his advancing years, the evergreen forward still felt he had plenty to give and Sunderland boss Mick McCarthy certainly agreed. When he needed to beef up his frontline in the Championship run-in of 2004-5, with the Black Cats bidding for promotion, Deane was the man he turned to in March 2005.
On his second stint at Leeds, Deane, granted a free transfer to enable him to join the Wearsiders, said: “I remember I was coming to the end of my career and it was a great opportunity for me. I lived at Wetherby at the time and it was a chance to help bring through some of the young players; that’s what my role was.
“At the beginning I thought I’d just play the odd game here and there, but I’m quite a competitive character and after doing pre-season I wanted to play as much as possible and was determined to compete for a place every week.
“Looking at how my game was at the beginning of my career, it was more about getting the ball, turning and running at defenders and so on. When I was older at Leeds, it was about using my nous in the box to create things for myself or the team.
“So my game had changed. Sometimes, it’s only about moving two or three yards and being clever with your movement that makes the difference. I went onto join Sunderland on deadline day. Mick McCarthy rang me and was very honest and said: ‘I need someone to make a bit of an impact, without necessarily winning the game.’ I think he remembered the game I played the season before at West Ham against them when I came off the bench and we came from 2-0 down to win 3-2. After the game, Alan Pardew made all the boys applaud my performance which was quite touching.
“Then at Leeds, we played Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on Boxing Day 2004 and me, Aaron Lennon and David Healy played really well – I think that was the best performance we had that season – and we won 3-2. So he remembered that perhaps.”
While Deane will always savour his four-goal haul, when asked about his favourite ever United goal, there’s simply no contest.
That arrived on May 14, 1995 when his wonderful virtuoso strike at White Hart Lane ensured European football for the Whites in a 1-1 draw at Tottenham Hotspur.
Deane added: “The one at Spurs was probably my favourite Leeds goal. I think someone has posted my five golden goals at Leeds and I think that’s at number one and I’d have to agree with that.
“It’s the one goal that gets replayed a lot and was what I was about at the time. I got the ball in our half and ran the length of the pitch before getting in a shot at the end of it. I don’t mind seeing that one over and over again.
“Goals like that are special, especially as it qualified us for Europe as well. It couldn’t get any better for me and with it being the last game of the season, I had the whole summer to reflect on it as well.”