JERMAINE BECKFORD was given a hero’s welcome by 5,500 travelling Leeds United supporters at Preston on Saturday.
His winning goal against Bristol Rovers six years ago this week is one of the reasons why.
United were desperate to achieve promotion from League One at the third time of asking, following heartache in the play-offs when losing to Doncaster Rovers in 2008 and Millwall in 2009. One year on, United had automatic promotion firmly in their sights and finally achieved it, though not without high drama in a nail-biting 2-1 triumph against Bristol Rovers at Elland Road.
United knew that a final day victory would seal second place behind runaway champions Norwich City but the Whites had already blown one opportunity to seal the deal when losing 1-0 at Charlton Athletic the previous weekend after an 88th-minute Richard Naylor own goal.
Nevertheless, a home clash with mid-table Rovers seemed to present the ideal opportunity to end three years in the League One doldrums. But matters looked to be going very pear-shaped after Max Gradel’s 34th-minute red card was followed by Darryl Duffy’s 48th-minute strike giving Rovers the lead.
Under the care of Simon Grayson – who was also given a terrific Whites reception at Deepdale on Saturday – and with Elland Road packed to the rafters with 38,234 in attendance, Beckford looked to have given United a 33rd-minute lead, only to be flagged offside.
But as Rovers retrieved the ball to take the subsequent free-kick, Gradel was involved in an altercation with Daniel Jones, appearing to stamp on the defender’s foot. Ugly scenes followed as both sets of players clashed, after which Gradel was given his marching orders by referee Graham Salisbury but then initially refused to leave the pitch. Beckford and Michael Doyle helped usher a furious Gradel off the pitch but things then went from bad to worse for ten-man Leeds three minutes after the interval when Jones supplied a left-wing cross that was pulled back across goal by Jo Kuffour and hooked home by Duffy.
Grayson reacted by bringing on Jonny Howson for Shane Lowry and going for broke and the change paid instant dividends as Howson curled home a beautiful equaliser from the edge of the area just five minutes after coming on.
Elland Road was rocking and from Howson’s cross, Bradley Johnson then blazed over the bar moments later as United looked to take the lead.
But a second Whites goal was still imminent as Mikkel Andersen’s appalling throw fell to Johnson whose low shot was cleared into the path of Beckford who made no mistake from six yards.
Elland Road erupted with delight – Leeds were going up – but Shane Higgs had to be alert to smother at the feet of Kuffour. From Howson’s free-kick, Leigh Bromby then headed against the right hand post.
But Leeds had done enough to secure a dramatic victory – a victory that was needed with third-placed Millwall winning at Swindon – and Salisbury’s full time whistle proved cue for a celebratory pitch invasion at Elland Road. A return to the Championship beckoned with Grayson then hoping to be the man to end United’s exile from the country’s top flight. Leeds finished seventh the following season and have been no higher since.
Leeds United 2
(Howson 59, Beckford 63)
Bristol Rovers 1 (Duffy 48)
League One, May 8, 2010
Leeds United: Higgs, Hughes, Bromby, Collins, Lowry (Howson 54), Doyle, Kilkenny, Johnson, Beckford (Snodgrass 90), Becchio (Watt 87), Gradel.
Bristol Rovers: Anderson, Regan, Lines, Coles, Campbell. Duffy (Richards 80), Hughes, Anthony, Kuffour, Reece (Williams72), Jones.
Referee: Graham Salisbury.