PLAY-OFFS are notoriously tense occasions and the action that took place 28 years ago today was the proverbial case in point.
Leeds United hosted Lennie Lawrence’s Charlton Athletic in a Division Two play-off semi-final second leg at Elland Road in front of a big crowd of 31,395 on May 25, 1987 – with high stakes precluding any free-flowing football.
But the outcome was a welcome one for Leeds, who wiped out the Addicks’ slender single-goal advantage from the first clash at Selhurst Park just two days earlier courtesy of a late goal from Jim Melrose.
The hero for Leeds was defensive rock Brendan Ormsby, who netted just under ten minutes into the second half to level the scores on aggregate and herald a third and decisive encounter at St Andrews’ four days later.
Charlton arrived at Elland Road determined to hold onto their precious gains and it proved a tough unrelenting game on the night, with tackles flying in and tempers often frayed in front of a season’s best Leeds home crowd.
Colin Walsh and Peter Shirtliff went close for the Addicks before the former’s free-kick on the left found Garth Crooks, whose header was saved by the alert Mervyn Day.
But Leeds grew into proceedings, with a north-easterner leading the line industriously in Bob Taylor, in for the injured John Pearson, ensuring plenty of overtime for the Charlton backline alongside another grafter in the irrepressible Ian Baird.
Walsh tested Day with a free-kick before a flashpoint around the half-hour mark with Mark Aizlewood picking up his second booking of the tie after clashing with Paul Miller.
Billy Bremner, in the home dug-out, soon started to make his feelings known to referee Bob Nixon before another flare-up with Baird clashing with Robert Lee, who was left face down on the pitch, with the United striker cautioned.
Leeds also conjured the best chance of the game in between the altercations, with Bobby McDonald’s centre finding John Sheridan after Baird and Bob Bolder had disputed possession.
Sheridan landed the ball on the crossbar, but Taylor could not make contact from close in for the rebound.
On the restart, Leeds fans were afforded the moment they craved on 54 minutes, when the relief was palpable.
Taylor seized on a loose ball after Aizlewood had fired a shot towards goal, which cannoned off a Charlton defender.
Shirtliff’s tackle sent Taylor hurtling to the deck, but the ball was already travelling towards goal and Ormsby popped up to make doubly sure to level the tie and spark off an explosion of joy.
Leeds poured forward in their quest to grab a killer second, with a last-ditch header from Shirtliff saving Charlton in the nick of time, with Baird preparing to pounce.
Leeds sent on Keith Edwards whose late goals in the semi-final against Oldham had given them their chance in the final, but it was Charlton who finished the game more strongly.
In the last 20 minutes, they collected nine of their 13 corner kicks, but Leeds did manufacture a late chance with Jack Ashurst’s punt latched onto by Edwards, who went close with an acrobatic effort.
On a bruising encounter, Shirtliff said: “It’s not football, it’s a boxing match. There’s no enjoyment whatsoever in these matches. People are just charging about crashing into each other because of what’s at stake. They have both been bruising battles against Leeds, and we expect the same on Friday night.”
Leeds United 1
Charlton Athletic 0
(Leeds 1 Charlton 1 on aggregate)
second division play-off final second leg. may 25, 1987
Leeds United: Day; Aspin, McDonald; Aizlewood, Ashurst, Ormsby; Ritchie (Edwards), Sheridan, Taylor, Baird, Adams.
Charlton: Bolder; Humphrey, Reid; Peake, Shirtliff, Miller; Gritt, Lee, Melrose (Stuart), Walsh, Crooks.
Referee: Bob Nixon.