There is a reason why Nigel Martyn was the only post-Don Revie era player voted into Leeds United’s greatest all-time team.
Admittedly, not many would immediately recall the 2001 Uefa Cup clash against Grasshopper Zurich as symbolic of his goalkeeping brilliance. However, his display that night was almost singlehandedly responsible for sending the Whites through to the fourth round of the competition.
Leeds had a skeleton squad available to them – they took only 15 players on the trip to a city more famous for its timepieces than the football team. They could still rely on the good form of the big Cornishman between the sticks, Martyn a Rolex of the goalkeeping world, always reliable.
Both Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka, two key players for O’Leary’s United, were absent on international duty with Australia.
Grasshoppers went a goal ahead after only 18 minutes, veteran striker Stephane Chapuisat beating two defenders before striking from 25 metres.
It was then that Martyn truly came to the fore.
The weakened Leeds team were rocking, and Zurich were trying to press the advantage, knowing that the incredibly wet conditions at their home ground were ideal for an upset.
It has to be remembered that Leeds were only a few months removed from a Champions League semi-final, but that was not clear on the night, Martyn called upon to make save after save in order to keep Zurich out.
There was a splendid low save from a rampant Papa Bouba Diop and another from close range after Ricardo Cabanas found space.
The most impressive was his stop from the spot. Rio Ferdinand was caught out at the back, fouling Richard Nunez in the penalty area.
It was Martyn’s moment to shine, saving from Nunez, who had scored a hat-trick at home in the previous round. He then saved a rebound before Nunez blasted over.
The efforts of the England international seemed to have a positive effect on the rest of the team, as that was the moment in which they decided to step it up.
Five minutes after the save, Ian Harte stepped up and curled a delightful free-kick over the wall and into the top right-hand corner of the net.
It was his third goal of the season, reflecting the left-back’s devilish ability from set-pieces.
Leeds were not content with a draw, and pressed forward.
Eventually, the pressure told. A ball fired into the area by Harte bobbled about, before a Grasshoppers defender accidentally edged it into the path of Alan Smith.
Smith had wasted a series of chances earlier in the match, but gave Leeds the win by firing a low shot beyond the diving grasp of Peter Jehle.
It was his first goal for three months, scored in front of England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson.
David O’Leary was clearly aware of the manner in which his team rode their luck. After the match, he said: “I thought we started well, but we conceded a goal against the run of play, and then at the start of the second half they played superbly.
“But we got out of jail in many respects and I have to say that I felt it was a courageous victory in the end.”
Grasshopper Zurich 1 (Chapuisat 17)
Leeds United 2 (Harte 73, Smith 79)
UEFA CUP November 23, 2001
Grasshopper Zurich: Jehle; Schwegler, Hodel, Castillo, Smiljanic; Tararache (Petric, 89), Diop, Cabanas (Baturina, 74); Nunez, Chapuisat, Mwaruwari (Gerber, 80). Subs unused: Huber, Jaggy, Spycher, Morales.
Leeds United: Martyn; Mills, Ferdinand, Matteo, Harte; Bakke, Dacourt, Batty, Wilcox; Keane, Smith. Subs unused: Robinson, Kelly, Duberry, McPhail.