ELLAND ROAD was an emotional place to be Sunday as fans of both Leeds United and Newcastle United paid tribute to Gary Speed – five years after his passing.
Some 34,000 Whites fans conducted a thunderous applause in the 11th minute – celebrating the number the midfielder donned in his glory days at Elland Road.
In over 300 games for Leeds, Speed helped himself to 57 goals.
One of those goals came 23 years ago this weekend when a 24-year-old Speed bagged the final goal of the game as Leeds eventually saw off Premiership visitors Swindon Town 3-0 at Elland Road.
Under Howard Wilkinson, Leeds were looking to banish the memory of the previous season’s finish of 17th when the Whites – who were defending champions after their 1992 title triumph – finished only two points above the relegation zone.
The following campaign had eventually began in brighter fashion for the Whites, who approached the visit of newly-promoted Swindon unbeaten in their last six games though five of those outings had resulted in draws.
Up until the 80th minute, it looked like the visit of Swindon would result in the same conclusion.
The Robins arrived at Elland Road with just one win from their 16 league games that season but that victory had come in their previous game at home to QPR.
It was the job of Speed and company to make sure that victory was not built on.
Speed was now one of United’s most important players and his outing against the Robins was already his 17th appearance of the season.
Just Brian Deane, captain Gary McAllister, Tony Dorigo and Gary Kelly could match that.
In front of an Elland Road crowd of 32,630, United eventually saw off their visitors with Speed providing the icing on the cake.
At a frustrated Elland Road, the breakthrough was finally made in the 80th minute when Strachan collected the ball from Dorigo’s throw-in and chipped a delivery into the penalty area that was met with hesitant Swindon defending.
Deane needed no second invitation and surged through at the far post to slam home into the net.
Strachan was then again the orchestrator for United’s second goal six minutes later when his fine raking pass from near his own penalty area was met by Wallace, who surged in on goal and finished with aplomb.
Strachan then completed a hat-trick of assists in the closing stages when Swindon gave him a second chance to provide a delivery from his corner and the Scot pulled the ball back for Speed on the penalty spot.
Speed was faced with the task of converting through a congested area but kept his composure to deliver a low shot that was parried into the back of the net in the final minute.
Speed went on to play 35 games for Leeds that season with the midfielder’s ten goals helping Leeds finish fifth.
The midfielder then stayed for two more seasons at Leeds – with current head coach Garry Monk saying the club now regard Speed as “one of their own”.
The former winger gave the Whites many moments to savour, with one of them arriving 23 years ago this weekend.
Leeds United team v Swindon Town: Beeney, Kelly, Dorigo, Pemberton (Forrester 70), Fairclough, Wetherhall, Strachan, Wallace, Deane, McAllister, Speed. Unused substitutes: Hodge, Lukic.