IT is fair to say that last Friday’s developments for Alan Smith were infinitely less sweet than the events of 17 years ago.
Smith, now bracketed in the veteran category at 35 and very much a holding midfielder these days, was part of the Notts County line-up who were embarrassed 2-0 in a big televised FA Cup upset at non-league Salford City on Friday evening.
Back in November 1998, it was somewhat different and rather more edifying for the Rothwell lad, who was just starting out his footballing journey at Leeds United with the 18-year-old afforded a dream debut at Anfield of all places.
The venerated venue has not been particularly kind to Leeds over the decades, although it was here in April 1969 that Leeds clinched the league title with a fair number of the 27,000 Kopites casting aside their disappointment to chant ‘Champions’ after the Whites secured a 0-0 draw.
That was a rare moment of light. From January 1, 1972 to April 1995, Leeds didn’t win at Anfield in 17 visits, such was the Reds’ dominance over their Yorkshire rivals.
Another rare victory arrived on November 14, 1998, with a young lad called Smith taking centre stage along with Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink as the pair made merry late on.
It looked like normal service would be adhered to when future Leeds striker Robbie Fowler put Liverpool ahead from the spot on 68 minutes.
But United had other ideas, with David O’Leary’s decision to throw on teenager Smith for Clyde Wijnhard with 14 minutes to go reaping a harvest.
Smith’s sweetly-taken strike after David Hopkin’s shot was blocked inspired Leeds to a famous victory on the red side of Merseyside.
Hasselbaink then got in on the act and cast aside some indifferent form with an exquisitely-timed two-goal blast. The Dutch marksman struck on 81 and 88 minutes respectively as a largely youthful United side, with five players aged 21 or under on the pitch at the end, came of age under their recently-appointed manager O’Leary.
For Liverpool and Frenchman Gerard Houllier, there was plenty of introspection with the former schoolteacher, in sole charge following the exit of joint-boss Roy Evans, picking up the pieces after the ravaged Reds’ third home defeat in the space of eight days.
That said, Houllier was fuming at a decision by Dermot Gallagher not to reward Liverpool a second penalty after David Thompson went down under pressure from Jonathan Woodgate, with a breakaway leveller from debutant Smith soon after adding to his ire.
But it was Smith’s day and Leeds, who claimed just their second Anfield win since 1972.
Despite Hasselbaink providing two unerring finishes and demonstrating very much that he possesses a hammer of a shot with either foot, most of the post-match discussion centred on young Smith.
An understandably delighted O’Leary purred: “I have seen him develop over the two years that I have been at the club and have been wanting to give him a go in the first team.
“But I wasn’t brave enough to put him on from the start at Liverpool. I wouldn’t say that putting him on as a substitute was a genius decision on my part, but I am glad I did. To make your debut in such a wonderful stadium as Anfield and to score as well is special and having his father there to see it all is something to cherish.
“When I played with Arsenal and we won the title at Anfield, my father was there to see it and it was a proud moment.”
Saturday, November 14, 1998, Premier League
Leeds United 3
(Smith, Hasselbaink 2)
Leeds United: Martyn; Halle, Hiden, Molenaar, Woodgate, Harte; Hopkin, Bowyer, Kewell; Wijnhard (Smith), Hasselbaink. Unused subs: Ribeiro, Haaland, Wetherall, Robinson.
Liverpool: James, Staunton, Ince, Fowler, Redknapp, Riedle (Leonhardsen), Heggem, Berger, Bjornebye, Carragher, Thompson. Unused subs: Kvarme, Friedel, Babb, Murphy.
Referee: D J Gallagher (Banbury).