Leeds United Nostalgia: Jones’ headed winner earns spoils at Old Trafford

Mick Jones.
Mick Jones.
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STARTING the league season with a victory emboldens any team and provides supporters with a pronounced spring in their step – and it is not every day that you kick-off the new campaign by beating your most bitter of enemies.

That is what happened in splendid fashion for Leeds United on the opening day of term in 1970-71 at Old Trafford, 45 years ago this week to be precise on August 15, 1970.

As a pick-me-up after the bridesmaids season of 1969-70, when Leeds pushed for a treble of the Division One title, FA Cup and European Cup, but cruelly ended up with nothing, it was a timely tonic.

It was a daunting fixture for Leeds, even accounting for the fact that Revie’s side, runners-up to Everton the previous season, finished 12 points above Manchester United, managed by Wilf McGuinness.

He was in charge of the Red Devils on the first day of the following campaign against Leeds, although his tenure did not see out the year with Sir Matt Busby returning to replace him before the turn of the year.

Leeds had met their rivals from Manchester five times in 1969-70, four of which ended in draws before Billy Bremner’s strike at Burnden Park in a second FA Cup semi-final replay broke the cycle.

All told, Leeds had lost just once to their great rivals in 12 matches and that run was subsequently extended to a far-from-unlucky 13.

United were at full strength, with the obvious exception of Paul Reaney, who was absent with a broken leg, that had caused him to miss the run in to the previous season, including both games of the FA Cup final with Chelsea and also with England in the World Cup in Mexico. Paul Madeley filled in for him at right-back.

The hosts were without Denis Law and Willie Morgan and they suffered a further blow when Nobby Stiles had to go off, to be replaced by Alan Gowling.

But with the likes of Pat Crerand, Bobby Charlton and George Best in the line-up, the hosts were still formidable opponents.

All helped Manchester hold sway with Leeds relying on Gary Sprake to thwart the hosts, with the Welshman making quick-fire saves in the first period to deny Best and Brian Kidd.

Leeds soaked up the pressure and were rewarded for their doggedness and diligence with a sweet goal in front of a season’s best Old Trafford crowd of 59,523.

It arrived courtesy of a thumping header from Mick Jones which flew past the bewildered Alex Stepney, with the sheer force of the ball beating the home custodian.

Once they got their noses in front, Leeds showed real authority, as they stamped their overall control on the game, and Manchester United, although they came back into the attacking picture late on, never wrested the initiative from Leeds.

It proved the catalyst to a fine start to the season from Leeds, who started the season with five straight league wins with victories following against Spurs, champions Everton, West Ham and Burnley, with just two goals conceded.

A 0-0 draw with Bertie Mee’s Arsenal, who went onto claim the double, broke the cycle, but a home win over Chelsea followed before Leeds suffered their first Division One defeat of the season in their eighth outing, a 3-0 loss at Tony Waddington’s up-and-coming Stoke City side.

United: Sprake; Reaney, Cooper; Bremner, Charlton, Madeley; Lorimer, Clarke, Jones, Giles, E. Gray. Unused Sub: Bates.