LEEDS UNITED may have seen their hopes of a Wembley appearance disappear at Watford on Saturday, but they were rather more successful in their pursuit of a place in a showpiece final at the home of football two decades ago.
The date was Sunday, February 25, 1996 with the vast bulk of the 35,435 crowd present at Elland Road starting to think about their travel and accommodation plans to north-west London after the Whites booked their place in their first major domestic final for 23 long years.
They did it at the expense of Birmingham City, with a powerhouse second period yielding three unanswered goals to break the resolve of Barry Fry’s Blues and seal a League Cup final date with their second-city rivals Aston Villa in the process.
Leading 2-1 from the first leg of the semi-final at St Andrew’s, Howard Wilkinson’s side did not have things all their own way against their first division opponents, level-pegging at 0-0 at the break.
But despite being made to fight for it, Leeds eventually found a way.
Ahead of the second instalment – after strikes from Tony Yeboah and an own goal from ex-United favourite Chris Whyte had given the visitors a 2-1 triumph in Birmingham – few gave the Blues much of a chance.
Ahead of the game, a significant piece of team news saw Wilkinson opt for Phil Masinga ahead of Tomas Brolin, but it ultimately proved a shrewd move with the South African frontman scoring the all-important first goal to increase Leeds’ lead to 3-1 on aggregate.
The visitors had given as good as they got in the first period with the lack of a killer home goal proving a somewhat frustrating development for the overwhelming majority of the crowd.
It was not helped by United’s failure to convert some presentable early chances.
Masinga went close twice, with Brian Deane also almost conjuring the breakthrough, but the visitors survived and started to impose themselves, slowly but surely, upon proceedings.
A leveller in the tie almost arrived 37 minutes in when Whyte’s cross just evaded Kevin Francis and Richard Forsyth.
Blues then manufactured an excellent chance to find the net early in the second half when Ian Richardson was afforded a clear sight of goal, only for John Lukic to make an excellent block.
It was proved a big moment, with patience ultimately proving to be a virtue for Leeds and the relief was palpable on 54 minutes when they went in front.
A deflected shot from Yeboah, outstanding in both legs, dropped into the path of Gary McAllister, whose shot wasn’t held by Bart Griemink and Masinga was on hand to convert the rebound.
That was effectively that and Yeboah, fittingly, soon made it 2-0 and 4-1 on aggregate a couple of minutes later with a sublime overhead kick to register his seventeenth goal of the season.
Blues then spurned a chance to pull one back on the hour mark when Gary Kelly brought down ex-Whites hero John Sheridan, but Steve Claridge’s spot-kick hit the post.
Leeds added the gloss late on when Deane headed in McAllister’s cross four minutes from time.
Leeds United 3
(Masinga 54, Yeboah 56, Deane 86)
Birmingham City 0 (UNITED WIN 5-1 ON AGGREGATE)
sunday February 26, 1996 League cup semi-final, 2nd leg
Leeds: Lukic; Kelly, Dorigo (Radebe); Palmer, Beesley, Wetherall; Masinga (Brolin), Wallace, Yeboah, McAllister, Deane. Unused sub: Beeney.
Birmingham: Griemink, Edwards, Johnson, Richardson,Whyte (Hunt), Frain, Poole, Forsyth (Donowa), Sheridan, Claridge, Francis (Bowen).
Referee: Roger Dilkes.