One manager’s defensive fixture is another manager’s expendable player.
Andy Linighan discovered that to his cost when Eddie Gray’s sacking as manager at Leeds United led to his own exit from the club.
Linighan was ever-present in his first season with Leeds; a player who Gray relied on week after week.
Billy Bremner took such an opposing view of him that Linighan was gone from Elland Road within two months of Bremner’s appointment as manager, sold to Oldham for £65,000.
A tall, dominant centre-back – best known for his decisive header in the 1993 FA Cup final between Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday – Linighan came from the old school: a plumber with Hartlepool’s local council who moved to Leeds after turning professional at Hartlepool United.
Hartlepool were his hometown club but Leeds United were the side who Linighan followed.
At the end of the 1983-84 season, shortly after his wedding, Hartlepool’s chairman contacted Linighan to tell him that Leeds had submitted an offer for him.
“I’d supported Leeds as a lad so I didn’t have any worries about signing for them,” Linighan said.
Gray spent £20,000 on the defender and got his money’s worth during the 1984-85 season.
Leeds fell short of promotion by five points but not because of their defensive record.
The club conceded just 11 goals at home and were beaten twice at Elland Road. It was still to be Gray’s last full term in charge and he was sacked in the autumn of 1985.
“When Billy Bremner came in, he made it clear that I wasn’t his cup of tea,” Linighan said. “He said that to me and the writing was on the wall when I twisted my ankle one day. It was up like a pudding.
“We had a midweek game and he came into the treatment room, looked at me and said: ‘Norman Hunter used to play with them injuries’.
“I moved over to Oldham, although I still lived in Leeds.”
There was salt left to rub in his wound.
The following season, the Football League introduced the play-off system and Oldham and Leeds met in the semi-finals.
In any previous year, Oldham would have been promoted automatically.
With Linighan in their defence, they were eliminated from the play-offs after extra-time of the second leg. Keith Edwards’ goal settled the tie.
It was Linighan nonetheless who reached Division One first, signed by Norwich City in 1988.
Arsenal paid £1.25m to take him to Highbury in 1990, and Linighan’s transfer fees over a 20-year career amounted to almost £2m.
He experienced an FA Cup semi-final at Norwich and a fourth-placed finish in 1989 but the mention of Linighan conjures memories of the dying seconds of the 1993 FA Cup final replay at Wembley when his extra-time header brushed through the hands of Wednesday goalkeeper Chris Woods. Linighan said: “At Arsenal, I was more of a squad player and never a good watcher.
“But the cup final and getting the winning goal was obviously a high.”
Enough to make the plumber from Hartlepool think that he did good.