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Leeds United Bygones: Whites dare to dream tearing Wolves apart

Leeds United's Alan Smith (centre) celebrates scoring the opening goal against Wolves in February 2004. Right, last-minute scorer Mark Viduka. PIC: Gareth Copley
Leeds United's Alan Smith (centre) celebrates scoring the opening goal against Wolves in February 2004. Right, last-minute scorer Mark Viduka. PIC: Gareth Copley
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Leeds United moved off the foot of the Premiership table 14 years ago this week with a resounding 4-1 win over fellow strugglers Wolves.

As must-win games go, this one was massive.

Dominic Matteo, centre, celebrates restoring United's lead over Wolves. PIC: James Hardisty

Dominic Matteo, centre, celebrates restoring United's lead over Wolves. PIC: James Hardisty

Leeds were three points adrift of their 19th-placed Black Country rivals and were suffering from a new-year hangover that had seen them go winless in nine. Defeat wasn’t an option.

In front of an Elland Road faithful that knew this all too well, the Whites started brightly, ploughing into tackles and playing with an intensity that had escaped them during their January blues.

How fitting it was then that the deadlock would be broken by Alan Smith, who spent the afternoon showing the sort of leadership that so endeared him to Leeds supporters at the time.

His 14th-minute tap-in from the knock-down of debutant Stephen Caldwell was only the start of one of his very best performances in a white shirt.

James Milner raised the roof at Elland Road with United's third goal against Wolves. PIC: James Hardisty

James Milner raised the roof at Elland Road with United's third goal against Wolves. PIC: James Hardisty

The Wolves response was strong and it soon became clear that Leeds would have to show more than just desire to win take three points.

Within five minutes the home side’s positive start was cancelled out through a thunderous Ioan Genea finish from outside the area.

Mick McCarthy’s line-up was an industrious one and it became clear that the likes of Alex Rae and Colin Cameron would relish the physical contest offered to them by Leeds.

The midfield battle, starring Seth Johnson, Eirik Bakke and a young James Milner, became vitally important.

When Leeds went back into the ascendency just before half-time through a deflected Dominic Matteo effort, they never looked back, starting the second half far better than Wolves and with a confidence belying their league position.

The pace of the game became frantic and Leeds had the better of it.

Viduka and Bakke both went close, but it was Milner who gave them breathing room on the hour, sending Elland Road into raptures.

In the face of a Leeds performance inspired by Smith, Wolves were unable to put together anything meaningful.

Mark Viduka’s last-minute goal put the icing on a particularly sweet cake, his goal pushing Leeds ahead of Wolves on goal difference and off the bottom.

For a moment Leeds dared to dream of survival, and their optimism saw an immediate upturn in performance.

Draws against title-challenging Manchester United and Liverpool followed before a run of three wins in four.

It wasn’t enough of course and Leeds were relegated with a whimper.