It is fair to say that Terry Venables’ entire period at Leeds United will never be looked at with much positivity at Elland Road.
However, one aspect of the season that impressed was the FA Cup run that the former Tottenham Hotspur manager masterminded.
He led Leeds into the quarter-finals, a stage they had not reached since George Graham’s time at the club, five years prior, when they lost to Wolverhampton Wanderers at Elland Road.
Leeds’ season had collapsed. The early hope of the summer had given way to the realisation that the situation at the club was bleak, highlighted most clearly by the decision to sell ‘crown jewel’ Jonathan Woodgate at the start of the January transfer window.
Debts of £70 million were mentioned more often in the media than results on the field, which were also not up to the high standards that Leeds had set themselves over the previous few seasons.
The Whites had also exited the UEFA Cup early on. And with Leeds far off any potential push for a European place in terms of their position in the league table, the FA Cup did offer a potential route into Europe.
Another campaign on the continent would, at the least, keep Leeds reputation high and offer a reason to any potential financial saviour to buy into the increasingly broken football club.
First Leeds dispatched Scunthorpe, before requiring a replay to get past Gillingham. The next challenge, in the fifth round, was Crystal Palace. Venables was disliked at Selhurst Park for the nature of his departure.
Leeds could only offer a patched-up starting line-up, and the extent to which they were struggling for players could be demonstrated by the inclusion of youngsters James Milner and Matthew Kilgallon on the bench.
However, it was the Whites who went ahead. Future Leeds player Shaun Derry felled Alan Smith 25 yards out. Gary Kelly stepped up and with goalkeeper Cedric Berthelin arranging the Palace wall, the Republic of Ireland international fired into the back of the net.
It caused uproar in Selhurst Park, but the crowd was calmed by Julian Gray levelling for the Eagles only two minutes later.
Gray smashed a superb volley from 20-yards past a pack of players which nestled into the right hand corner.
There may have been disquiet at Kelly’s goal, but it was nothing compared to what followed.
Andrew Johnson’s shot was parried by Leeds goalkeeper Paul Robinson. It fell to Tommy Black, who fired at goal. That strike was blocked by Michael Duberry’s hand and crossed the line, but referee Dermot Gallagher gave neither decision.
It ultimately proved costly for Palace.
Buoyed by his goal in mid-week for Australia, Harry Kewell held off challenges from Danny Butterfield and Hayden Mullins before placing a shot past Berthelin.
Venables was happy with Kewell’s contribution after a controversial week. There were suggestions the winger had prioritised his country over his club, but the manager said: “He is a matchwinner who is playing as well as ever now. We get on fine.”
“No-one expected us to get this far,” Venables added.
“It gives us a lift with everything that has gone on.”
Crystal Palace 1
Leeds United 2 (Kelly 33, Kewell 73)
FA CUP FIFTH ROUND February 16, 2003
Crystal Palace: Berthelin; Powell (Akinbiyi, 89), Symons (Granville, 50), Mullins; Butterfield (Freedman, 79), Riihilahti, Derry, Gray; Black; A Johnson, Adebola. Unused subs: Kolinko, Thomson.
Leeds United: Robinson; Mills, Duberry, Radebe, Harte; Kelly, Okon (Milner, 60), S Johnson, Wilcox; Smith (Lucic, 85), Kewell (Barmby, 76). Unused subs: Martyn, Kilgallon.