Turn back the clock to Leeds United’s FA Cup fifth round clash with Port Vale in February 1996.
Everton’s unexpected defeat in the fourth round of the FA Cup was all the warning Leeds United required about the trouble Port Vale would cause at Elland Road in round five.
Port Vale produced the shock of the tournament in 1996 by eliminating the holders during a memorable replay at Vale Park, and the reasons for Everton’s upset were amply displayed during a nervous fifth-round tie in Leeds.
Howard Wilkinson, United’s manager, cut a relieved figure after a 0-0 draw at Elland Road gave his squad a second opportunity to reach the quarter-finals. Wilkinson had no appetite for replay before Vale’s arrival in Yorkshire but conceded that his players deserved nothing more after their awkward exchange with an inspired first division club.
“We live to fight another day,” said Wilkinson without his tongue in cheek.
“We had enough of the ball but the players didn’t show enough imagination, the didn’t take the initiative and they didn’t show sufficient courage to win the game.
“But it’s still all there for us – provided we don’t die of disappointment in the meantime.”
Vale manager, John Rudge, promised to throw caution to the wind at Elland Road – a strategy which worked perfectly against Everton – and he proved as good as his word.
Steve Guppy, a player who would appear briefly for Leeds eight years later, came as close as any player to settling the tie at the first attempt when his shot from six yards climbed narrowly over John Lukic’ crossbar.
Even before that near-miss, memories of recent cup defeats to Mansfield Town, Sunderland and Oxford United were beginning to spread around Elland Road. Wilkinson fielded his strongest possible team but saw an unpromising situation worsen when a collision between Jon McCarthy and Gary Speed left the Welshman with a badly fractured cheekbone.
McCarthy and Guppy were a constant menace on either wing and McCarthy wasted a fine chance laid on for him by his team-mate early in the second half.
Lukic was later called upon to parry a shot from Ian Bogie as chances continued to present themselves around United’s goal.
“I thought we were exceptional from one to 11,” said Rudge. “But to win a cup tie against Leeds United on their ground, you have to take your chances. We couldn’t quite do that,
“Leeds are still the favourites without a doubt.
“They’re the Premiership side, they’re full of internationals and they’re a top team.”
Wilkinson had no more to talk about than an effort from Rod Wallace which Paul Musselwhite tipped over his net and a header from David Wetherall that flew straight at the keeper.
It was not enough to tease any more than a damning verdict from the United boss.
“We ended up hoping that things would happen for us,” he said.
“The players needed to take more responsibility.”
But for Lukic’s reaction to attempts by Andy Porter and Ray Walker, United would have suffered the same fate as Everton.
“Perhaps our style is better suited to playing away from home in the cups,” said Wilkinson hopefully.
“You have to give Port Vale credit but we weren’t anywhere near good enough.”
United: Lukic, Kelly, Dorigo, Palmer, Wetherall, Beesley, Wallace, Yeboah, Ford, McAllister, Speed (Deane 35).