In 1998 Leeds United might have hoped that their name was on the FA Cup.
The competition was asking to be won when Don Goodman and Wolves cast Leeds aside in the first week of March.
If that quarter-final defeat rankled then it showed in United’s next two results. Four days later the club put four unanswered goals past Blackburn Rovers at Elland Road. That same week, a 5-0 thrashing of Derby County kept Leeds on course for European qualification. Derby was as brilliant as Wolves had been bad and George Graham felt a point had been made.
The game at Pride Park was contrary to what many had expected: the conservative Graham allowing a deadly display of counter-attacking football as Leeds annihilated a side who were supposedly in competition for a UEFA Cup place. United looked like European material. Derby ended the afternoon in disarray.
Prior to the match, County had boasted the Premier League’s strongest home record. A Leeds squad flooded with young blood – Harry Kewell, Lee Bowyer, Ian Harte and Stephen McPhail – showed no regard for it and were 4-0 up inside an hour. Alone up front, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was the star.
Jim Smith, the Derby manager, locked his players in the dressing room afterwards, as stunned as them by the slick way in which Leeds trampled them into the ground. It was not the first or last time County had suffered. At the time, Leeds were in the middle of a 17-game unbeaten run against the Rams, stretching from 1990 to 2005, and Derby had already been humiliated at Elland Road earlier in the season.
Derby seemed to have the previous meeting in hand, 3-0 up after 33 minutes and cruising in front of an annoyed crowd, but Leeds fought back to pinch a 4-3 win through Lee Bowyer’s strike at the death. United finished that game with Kewell tucked in behind Hasselbaink and Rod Wallace as Graham went for broke and meetings with Derby seemed to uncover his rarely-seen adventurous side.
In Leeds’ 5-0 win at Pride Park, there was nothing like the same swing in momentum. Derby fell behind after eight minutes when Mart Poom dithered under a Kelly free-kick and Jacob Laursen diverted the ball into his own net and Smith’s players never recovered.
In the 36th minute Gunnar Halle, who later hit a post, claimed a second goal by converting Hasselbaink’s low pass from the left and Derby’s defence cracked again before half-time as a cross from Kewell spun away from Alfie Haaland but sat up nicely for Bowyer, who cracked home from 15 yards.
Derby’s chances came and went quickly; the best of them falling to Paulo Wanchope who drove a shot against Nigel Martyn’s legs in the first minute of the second half. On the hour, Kewell showed a better eye for goal with a brilliant move, exchanging passes with Hasselbaink on halfway before outwitting Christian Dailly and beating an exposed Poom.
Hasselbaink himself deserved a goal and duly bagged one 18 minutes from time, rounding off a crushing win by catching Derby’s defence a mile out of position and lashing the ball beyond Poom.
Graham said: “If you look at our away record it’s second only to Manchester United. We played some good attacking football, hitting Derby on the break, and this was probably one of our best performances since I came to the club.”
Hasselbaink’s finish put the seal on a serious statement of intent and set Leeds down the straight towards European qualification. Derby were condemned to finish ninth.
Derby County 0
Leeds United 5 (Laursen og 8, Halle 36, Bowyer 42, Kewell 59, Hasselbaink 72)
FA Carling premiership Sunday, March 15, 1998.
Derby County: Poom, Rowett (C. Powell, 46), D. Powell, Stimac, Wanchope, Laursen (Delap, 82), Carsley, Eranio (Hunt, 33), Dailly, Burton, Baiano. Unused subs: Willems, Hoult.
Leeds United: Martyn, Kelly, Hiden, Molenaar, Radebe, Harte, Halle, Haaland, Bowyer, Kewell (McPhail 71), Hasselbaink. Unused subs: Beeney, Wetherall, Matthews, Hopkin.
Referee: S J Lodge (Barnsley).