Leeds United Nostalgia: Simon Walton steals the limelight in 2004 Valencia ‘rematch’

Simon Walton (left) is sent off by referee Matt Messias during the pre-season friendly match between Leeds United and Valencia in 2004.
Simon Walton (left) is sent off by referee Matt Messias during the pre-season friendly match between Leeds United and Valencia in 2004.
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Leeds United had hoped to entertain top level European opposition in their final pre-season friendly before the forthcoming campaign.

Instead, as part of the deal to sign Kemar Roofe last summer, Oxford United will be next Saturday’s visitors to Elland Road as new Us boss Pep Clotet makes a quick return to last season’s stomping ground.

Michael Duberry (left) and Valencia's Mistra battle for the ball.

Michael Duberry (left) and Valencia's Mistra battle for the ball.

But 13 years ago tomorrow, top level European opposition were making their own ‘return’ to Elland Road as Leeds drew 2-2 with Spanish champions Valencia in a pre-season friendly in which 16-year-old Simon Walton made a memorable debut.

Three years after edging past Leeds in the two-legged Champions League semi-final of 2001, the La Liga giants were brought to Elland Road as relegated Leeds prepared for life in the Championship following May’s relegation from the Premier League.

And even allowing for the serious financial implications of their top-flight exit, United’s faithful were given plenty of hope for the future from the friendly against a Valencia side managed by Claudio Ranieri.

The Tinkerman was facing one of his first games in charge of Valencia against Leeds having replaced the previous season’s boss Rafael Benítez who had left to take charge of Liverpool.

Tomas Rzasa of Leeds United (left) and Valencia's Salva Ballesta Vialcho (right) compete for the ball.

Tomas Rzasa of Leeds United (left) and Valencia's Salva Ballesta Vialcho (right) compete for the ball.

Under Benitez, Valencia had completed a glorious La Liga and UEFA Cup double.

Ranieri, who was 54 years old at the time, had spent the previous four years in charge of Chelsea but was sacked by the Blues in May despite finishing second in the Premier League and making the Champions League semi-finals.

But Leeds gave as good as they got against Ranieri’s new Spanish project as United impressed in front of 19,565 fans at Elland Road.

United’s team was almost unrecognisable from the one that lined up against Valencia in the Champions League semi-final with only Garry Kelly left.

And the writing looked on the wall for Leeds as the Spanish giants raced into a 2-0 advantage.

Miguel Angel Angulo had earlier squandered a good chance to give the visitors the lead when rounding Scott Carson but was forced wide by Matthew Kilgallon.

But from a Leeds attack, Valencia countered soon after and went 1-0 up through a slotted finish from Mohamed Sissoko.

The lead was then doubled just one minute later when Kilgallon’s soft back-pass was picked by Francisco Rafete who beat Carson.

But after Ranieri had made six changes during the half-time interval, Leeds improved after the break and the dangerous Julian Joachim was brought down to earn Leeds a penalty.

Walton, who was just 16, stepped up to take the penalty and fired home from 12 yards.

And Leeds then drew level with 21 minutes remaining when a long range free-kick from Matthew Spring crept in to bring the game level.

Yet the day was to end on a sour note for the hugely promising Walton who was sent off for two late tackles.

“You want to see someone with a bit of devil,” said Whites boss Kevin Blackwell.

“He wants to do well and is not afraid to put himself on the line as he showed when he demanded to take the penalty.

“I thought the tackle he was sent off for wasn’t that bad, it was just youthful exuberance.

“I won’t be changing him.

“We try to change players too quickly in this country.”

The teenager then quickly progressed with the Whites and made 33 appearances the following season but Leeds slumped to 14th as the draw with Valencia proved something of a false dawn.

Walton then failed to keep his place in the side the following season and made only five appearances before joining Charlton Athletic the following summer.

After spending last season at Guiseley, the 29-year-old midfielder moved to Sutton United in the summer. The less mention of Sutton the better.

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MATCH STATS

Leeds United 2 (Walton pen, Spring)

Valencia 2 (Sissoko, Rafete)

Pre-season friendly, Sunday, July 25, 2004, Elland Road

Leeds United: Carson, Kelly (Hignett 69), Duberry (Carlisle), Butler (Radebe 69), Kilgallon (Rzasa 46), Walton, Richardson, Spring (McMaster 79), Deane (Johnson 83), Joachim, Pugh (Guppy 69). Sub not used: Febereci (trialist).

Valencia: Palop, Torres, Carboni, Navarro, Pellegrino, De Los Santos, Mista, Angulo, Xisco, Rufete, Sissoko.

Attendance: 19,565.

Leeds United goalkeeper, Felix Wiedwald.

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