Leeds United Nostalgia: Late show from McAllister and Yeboah sinks Rams in 1996

Gary McAllister.
Gary McAllister.
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Every football fan has been there. Slipping away from the action by nipping to the concourse for a pie or to beat the rush to the toilets, the roar of the crowd fizzes. You’ve missed a goal.

It’s one of football’s truly bittersweet emotions; delighted that your team have scored, dismayed in respect of the fact you’ve missed the very moment we drag ourselves across this island every weekend to experience.

Tony Yeboah.

Tony Yeboah.

Rushing back to your seat, your match-going partners hastily describe the strike with all-too-little detail, and until the highlights are released hours later, you’re left alone to imagine the glory.

Indeed, anyone with a suspect post-Christmas constitution could have easily missed all six goals during Leeds’ bizarre 4-2 FA Cup win at Derby County, which took place 22 years ago today.

A cursory look at the scoreline suggests a cup classic, but in reality it was a stoic battle in which the vast majority of its highlights were crammed into three pockets of a few minutes.

The festive period had seen Leeds’ 1995-96 season dissolve to a mire of inconsistency, a fans’-favourite 3-1 win over rivals Manchester United papering over cracks that had appeared during a run of defeats against Newcastle United, Manchester City and Sheffield Wednesday.

The match acted as a cornerstone moment in the latter period of Howard Wilkinson’s reign. With the talismanic Tony Yeboah heading off to the African Cup of Nations the following day, many expected the maligned Tomas Brolin to be handed an opportunity to get minutes under his belt and step into the Ghanaian’s considerable boots.

Wilkinson knew better, leaving him out and citing an inability to cope with the rough-and-tumble of a Cup tie against second-tier opposition. Rumours of a disjointed dressing room were rife.

Derby, on the other hand, were flying. A run of only one defeat since September saw Jim Smith’s side leading a Division One title race, wearing the confidence of a club going places as plans to build Pride Park firmed up. It was little wonder that the tie was being billed as a potential upset.

The perceived difference between the two teams was narrowed further still by a Baseball Ground surface not conducive to quality football. The opening stages saw both sides fail to grapple control of the match, Leeds’ midfield three of Mark Ford, Gary McAllister and Gary Speed bypassed by the hosts’ direct style of play.

It is telling of the place Leeds were in that they failed to gain an advantage after Gary Rowett’s dismissal for hauling down Brian Deane just after the half-hour mark.

With just 10 men, it was Derby who would strike the first blow with a two-minute salvo, going 2-0 up thanks to well-taken efforts from Marco Gabbiadini and Paul Simpson on 49 and 50 minutes.

And they were well-worth their lead, with gnarled 90s pros such as Igor Stimac, Paul Trollope and Russell Hoult providing memorably dogged performances.

The other side of the break saw Leeds’ own three-minute response, with Speed and Deane scoring just before the hour mark to draw level. Here, surely, was where the second-tier outfit would crumble in face of Premiership superiority? Absolutely not. Bruised but not beaten by Leeds’ own double-flurry, the 10 men bunkered down. It was only as the match entered its final moments that the Premiership side won out, thanks to injury-time strikes from McAllister and that man Yeboah.

Derby would pick themselves up to achieve promotion whilst Leeds would limp through a second half of the season that would see them finish a flattering 13th. Wilkinson told the press he saw the game as Leeds’ season in microcosm. “Very good at times and occasionally horrible. Enough to drive any manager potty.”