LEEDS United are about to get very familiar with Norwich City – against whom two games in 12 days await.
Next Tuesday’s EFL Cup clash at Elland Road will be followed by the league trip to Carrow Road on Saturday, November 5.
Eleven years ago this week, something similar was on the menu against Harry Redknapp’s Southampton – whose mid-week October trip to Elland Road was followed by a clash at St Mary’s in the middle of November.
The two games saw United yield six points – with even 16-year-old debutant Theo Walcott’s first goal in professional football failing to save the Saints at Elland Road on Tuesday, October 18, 2005.
Walcott lined up for a Saints side who turned up at Elland Road following eight successive draws in the league.
But the introduction of young whizzkid Walcott promised to offer another dimension and so it proved with the teenager taking only 25 minutes to net the first goal of many more to come in professional football.
But by that point, the Saints were already 2-0 down as Kevin Blackwell’s Whites laid the foundations for victory inside the first 19 minutes to move fourth in the table.
Leeds were in their second season in English football’s second tier following their 2004 relegation from the Premier and the previous season’s finish of 14th.
But United looked destined for considerably better the following season – beginning with six wins from their first 12 games and 21 points out of a possible 36 approaching the Saints clash. Even so, talk was rife that Whites chairman Ken Bates was about to replace Blackwell with his old ally Dennis Wise – who was then still playing for Southampton. But buoyed by Saturday’s 2-1 win at Burnley, Rob Hulse gave Leeds the perfect start after 11 minutes when heading home Gary Kelly’s cross for his eighth goal of the new campaign. Then, just eight minutes later, the striker turned provider, meeting Shaun Derry’s free-kick to set up Robbie Blake who despatched a swerving shot into the top right corner.
Southampton then pulled a goal back just six minutes later when teen star Walcott netted the first goal of what is now 105 and counting for club and country. The 16-year-old showed his trademark pace to meet Djamel Belmadi’s long ball down the right before holding off Butler to fire past Sullivan.
Walcott could have had a hat-trick with one effort flying narrowly over before another lobbed attempt nearly outfoxed Sullivan. But Leeds were unlucky not to bag a third with both Eddie Lewis and Blake hitting the woodwork and Butler heading just over.
Saints boss Redknapp refused to be downhearted after the defeat, insisting: “I’ve seen everything in this league and I don’t think there is anyone better than us. I’m not saying we’re going to finish top, but I think we’ll go up.”
What was abundantly clear was that Walcott was quite clearly destined for the top flight and just three months later the teenager was snapped up by Arsenal.
Southampton, meanwhile, had to settle for a 12th-placed finish as Blackwell led Leeds to fifth and the play-off final against Watford. One game away from a return to the Premier. It was hard to envisage then but instead of rising the ranks, within four years both teams were in League One.
Leeds United 2
Hulse 11, Blake 19)
Southampton 1 Walcott 25)
championship tuesday, october 18, 2005
Leeds United: Sullivan, Kelly, Butler, Gregan (Kilgallon 56), Harding, Richardson (Einarsson 75), Douglas, Derry, Lewis, Blake (Healy 65), Hulse. Subs not used: Bennett, Moore.
Southampton: Niemi, Cranie, Hajto (Delap 83), Lundekvam, Higginbotham, Belmadi (Kosowski 68), Oakley, Quashie, McCann, Fuller (Jones 75), Walcott. Subs not used: Ormerod, Smith..
Referee: M Jones (Cheshire).