Leeds United Nostalgia: Nilis’ brace proves crucial in ‘crazy’ clash with PSV in 1995

Gary Speed celebrates with Noel Whelan after heading Leeds United into the lead against PSV Eindhoven.
Gary Speed celebrates with Noel Whelan after heading Leeds United into the lead against PSV Eindhoven.
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It’s a rich and complex relationship, that of Leeds United and European football.

Unlike a handful of English clubs who crow so loudly of their pedigree abroad, it’s a relationship largely made up of oh-so-nears, a montage of Billy Bremner tackles in Bucharest and Dom Matteo headers in Milan.

Gary McAllister in action against PSV Eindhoven in 1995.

Gary McAllister in action against PSV Eindhoven in 1995.

Dominated by the Don Revie’s 70s superstars and by David O’Leary’s noughties nearly-men, the montage flickers through Fairs Cup wins, to tragedy in Turkey, to the night United were ‘robbed’ of European Cup glory and to Juan Sanchez handballs.

And whilst the European history of other clubs can boast more trophies, few are as passionate or compelling.

Left on the editor’s cutting room floor, however, would be footage from a trio of unremarkable 90s campaigns, played out in front of a half-empty Elland Road and featuring apathetic second round exits to Rangers (92-93), PSV Eindhoven (95-96) and Roma (98-99).

But among those dimly floodlit evenings came a major milestone. Leeds United’s first leg barn-burner of a defeat to PSV was their 100th match in European competition, and it happened on this very week 23 years ago. Defeat aside, it’s incredible that it doesn’t sit further forward in the memory of more Leeds fans. The Dutch giants ran out 5-3 winners on a crisp October evening thanks to some generous Whites defending and an attacking showcase of real class by the visiting side.

Carlton Palmer in action against PSV Eindhoven in 1995.

Carlton Palmer in action against PSV Eindhoven in 1995.

Dressed in the lilywhite Thistle Hotels strip still regarded as United’s best by many supporters, a cursory look back over the tie serves as a portal to peak 90s nostalgia, a time in which a balding Gary McAllister strolled around the midfield with quiet authority and in which PSV’s Belgian cult hero Luc Nilis turned it on whenever the mood roused him.

And it was McAllister who inspired the opener, winning a free-kick and setting the match alight in the sixth minute by fizzing a ball on the unmarked head of Gary Speed.

Not that it lasted long. Eindhoven, managed by future Rangers, Sunderland and Holland boss Dick Advocaat, roared back with a tone-setting attack from midfield just five minutes later, equalising through Dutch try-hard forward René Eijkelkamp.

It became clear that the visitors were not the types to retreat as both sides traded blows throughout a fraught first half.

Marciano Vink gave them the lead with a deflected shot after the half-hour mark just moments before a suckerpunch delivered by Wim Jonk, who would reappear in Yorkshire three years later in the blue and white of Sheffield Wednesday.

Leeds’ 1995-96 season is one remembered for a horror-movie run-in of two wins in 16 to leave them 13th in the Premiership table, but in reality, the PSV tie arrived in happier times.

That goes some way to explaining their attitude in presenting a second-half fightback, first by that man McAllister and then by surprise hero Carlton Palmer, to bring them level at 3-3 with 15 minutes to go.

No backward step was taken by either side as Howard Wilkinson smelt blood. Moments after the equaliser he sent on Paul Beesley and Rob Wallace in search for a winner, Tony Yeboah twice going close and Speed spurning a chance as the clock ticked down.

But the tie was PSV’s, who showed no sign of missing injured teen superstar Ronaldo going forward.

With Nilis roused, the Dutch side made the most of holes behind the Leeds midfield and a five-minute brace for the Belgian allowed the visitors a white-knuckle 5-3 win.

They would go on to hammer Leeds 3-0 in the second leg.

“It was a crazy tie for a European game,” said Wilkinson in the post-match press conference. “It could have ended 7-6.”

MATCH STATS

Leeds United 3 (Speed 6, Palmer 48, McAllister 72)

PSV Eindhoven 5 (Eijkelkamp 10, Vink 35, Jonk 39, Nilis 83, 87)

UEFA Cup, Second Round First Leg, October 17, 1995

Leeds United: Lukic, Kelly, Pemberton, Wetherall, Dorigo (Beesley, 76), Whelan (Wallace, 79), Palmer, McAllister, Speed (Couzens, 25), Deane, Yeboah. Subs (not used): Tinkler, Beeney.

PSV Eindhoven: Waterreus; Van Der Weerden, Faber, Valckx, Numan; Linskens, Vink (Pahlplatz), Jonk; Eijkelkamp, Nilis, Cocu. Subs: not used: Zenden, Van Der Doulen, Prommayon, Menzo.

Attendance: 23,846.

Referee: Antonio Lopez Nieto (Spain).