A game against Manchester United on December 24 promised to make or ruin Leeds United's Christmas.
Leeds United 3
Manchester United 1
Elland Road, Sunday, December 24, 1995
One scenario seemed more likely than the other after the club's 6-2 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday eight days earlier.
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Leeds' loss at Hillsborough was a festering sore, ranking as the worst result of Wilkinson's reign as manager. With bruised confidence to contend with, he might have chosen to avoid a Christmas Eve visit from a club who were fighting to get their Premiership title pursuit in order.
It soon transpired that Manchester United's vulnerability was as severe as Leeds'.
Liverpool had comprehensively beaten the Old Trafford club a week prior to the game at Elland Road and Alex Ferguson's squad were without a win in over a month. Their exposed hide was skilfully attacked by Gary McAllister whose 100th domestic goal inspired a victory for Leeds.
McAllister became trapped on 99 for eight matches after scoring in a 3-1 win at Coventry City on October 28 but he was given the simplest of opportunities to reach his century after five minutes of sparring with Ferguson's team.
Nicky Butt was penalised for handball by referee Dermot Gallagher and McAllister dispatched the penalty with his usual confidence, driving the ball into the top corner of Peter Schmeichel's net.
His goal set the tone for a pulsating game and the 39,801 spectators who paid to watch it were rewarded for turning down a last opportunity for Christmas shopping.
Ferguson inevitably contested Gallagher's penalty award, saying: "It was a very surprising decision, given in circumstances that were beyond me."
McAllister's goal settled the players around but only until the half-hour mark when a mistake from Gary Speed invited a swift attack from Manchester United.
The midfielder lost possession in midfield and was helpless to prevent Andy Cole from sweeping home an equaliser with precision.
Wilkinson's concern at that stage was to reach half-time with parity but Tony Yeboah gave him better than that, running onto Tomas Brolin's header and breaking into the box before cutting the ball beyond Schmeichel's reach.
Ferguson highlighted the quality of Yeboah's performance afterwards but was more disparaging about Brolin, arguing that the Swedish striker had failed to seriously bother his defence.
Brolin nevertheless had a hand in Leeds' third goal, a 73rd-minute effort which confirmed Manchester United's defeat.
His neat chip fell sweetly onto the head of Brian Deane who met the ball with a clinical header.
Leeds had taken advantage while Eric Cantona was absent from the field, receiving six stitches in a head wound.
Wilkinson had been scathing of his own management after United's loss to Sheffield Wednesday but found only minor problems to pick over on Christmas Eve.
"It's easier to look good against a team who come here to try and win the match," said Wilkinson.
"If we've got to one thing to learn it's when a game is difficult to be won, you have to be patient and make sure above all else that you don't lose it.
"But finding that balance doesn't come overnight."
United: Beeney, Kelly, Wetherall, Jobson, Dorigo, Palmer, McAllister, Speed, Brolin, Yeboah (Wallace 86), Deane. Subs (not used): Radebe, Worthington.