Leeds United Bygones: United punish Watson’s box dive

Lee Chapman and manager Howard Wilkinson.
Lee Chapman and manager Howard Wilkinson.
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It’s not often that a game of football comes to be defined by the solitary goal in a 6-1 reverse, but it’s not often that karmic retribution is so heavily doled out on a football pitch.

Picture the scenario: Leeds headed into the Yorkshire derby with Sheffield Wednesday having impressed hugely in the first half of the season. They were battling with Manchester United in the First Division title race in 1992, but faced off with a Wednesday side who were contenders themselves.

Leeds came storming out of the blocks and were two goals up by the 37th minute of the game, with a typically stunning Tony Dorigo free-kick doubling their advantage.

Half-time did not come without Leeds conceding, but it was the circumstances of that Wednesday goal that were particularly notable.

Full-back Roland Nilsson played a low ball through the Leeds defence, which turned defender Chris Whyte. Gordon Watson ran across Whyte, who stuck out a leg. Then the Wednesday striker dived.

When people discuss dives, there’s usually a small amount of reasonable doubt in the conversation. Yes, you might hear someone say, he went down easily, but there was contact, the defender gave him the opportunity to go down. Not with this one.

Watson flew, he turned in the air, but most gallingly, this all happened a good second or two after he went past Whyte.

The referee did not spot the falsified nature of Watson’s fall, awarding a penalty as a result.

That was then struck against the post by John Sheridan, a former Leeds player, who converted the rebound. 2-1 only minutes before half-time, momentum with Sheffield Wednesday, you’d imagine that it would be a tight affair in the second period.

Not exactly: the footballing gods were looking down on Hillsborough that day and seemingly decided that they didn’t like what they saw.

Payback came swiftly for Watson and Wednesday. Leeds burst down the pitch only five minutes later, with John Lukic playing the ball to Dorigo, who found Gary Speed, who swung a sublime left-footed cross into the penalty area where Lee Chapman, typically, met it with his head to restore the two-goal advantage for the Whites.

It was the sort of response that characterised Howard Wilkinson’s side as they won the title that season.

Other teams could have allowed Wednesday to work their way back into the match, especially after an undeserved blow like that. Not Leeds, not that year. The Whites came out of the blocks rapidly again after half-time, showing exactly the same sort of aggression and attacking intent.

Chapman scored again to complete his hat-trick, with another header, after a goalmouth scramble from a corner kick. Even defender Mike Whitlow wanted in on the goals, heading home from a cross from Rod Wallace. Provider then turned goalscorer as Wallace latched onto a through ball, firing it high into the back of the net as Leeds ran rampant. Watson’s dive and the subsequent penalty was the only blemish on a performance that summed up the side who would become champions of England only five months later.