Leeds United nostalgia: Strachan’s goal a key moment on way to the title

Vinne Jones celebrates with Gordon Strachan.
Vinne Jones celebrates with Gordon Strachan.
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“That’s how you win championships.” So went the commentary accompanying TV highlights of a seven-goal epic at Elland Road in February 1990.

Leeds United went on to seal the second division title away at Bournemouth three months later but the question of where promotion was won could yield a number of answers.

Some would say Gordon Strachan’s left foot delivered it, on the penultimate weekend at home to Leicester City.

But the win he snatched against Hull City 25 years ago tomorrow was of exactly the same ilk – a result which made Leeds think the title might be theirs.

United’s 4-3 victory over Hull City was a case of name-on-cup. It was also the day of the “odd couple”, as Howard Wilkinson put it.

Wilkinson admitted himself that the marriage of Strachan and Vinnie Jones in the heart of midfield was risky and unconventional – “a marriage made in hell”, the press dubbed Jones’ transfer to Leeds – but February 10, 1990 was their moment.

It was one of the club’s moments too; a key afternoon in the title race.

A minute and 49 seconds into injury-time, Jones skipped around former United midfeilder Ken DeMange and slipped the ball into Strachan’s feet, teeing up the red-haired Scot for the decisive goal in seven.

Strachan smashed the ball high into Iain Hesford’s net.

The scoreline at full-time was highly improbable. Hull led United with 12 minutes to go through two penalties from Andy Payton and a raking Steve Doyle volley, and although Imre Varadi brought the score back to 3-3, Jones held his head in his hands at the death after Hesford reacted to his brilliant swivel and volley with a fine save.

There was time still for Jones and Strachan to find a way past Hesford, the England Under-21 international who died last year at the age of 54.

“Vinnie doesn’t give in and that’s something money can’t buy,” said a chuffed and relieved Wilkinson. “Strachan’s the same. They make an odd couple really but they’re an ideal pair.”

Wilkinson could not have found two players less likely to yield and Leeds found themselves relying on their midfield partnership as time ticked on.

The game started well, with John Hendrie guiding a headed lob under the crossbar from 20 yards, and Payton’s first penalty was soon negated when Jones produced the goal which defined him at Elland Road – an outlandish volley hooked over Hesford from far outside the box.

He celebrated in the style of a player with live wires attached to his ears.

Hull, however, had a fine away record and the second best in the league.

Payton equalised for a second time after the interval, punishing a sliding foul by Chris Fairclough, and Doyle’s strike was every bit as spectacular as Jones’.

Leeds were in trouble until Strachan and Imre Varadi connected twice and clicked properly at the second attempt, giving Varadi an easy finish on 82 minutes, and Jones and Strachan did the rest as the Gelderd End sucked the ball in.

As the narrative said, titles are won and lost in those moments.