JUST as the current Leeds United side are craving a badly-needed victory, so the Whites class of 2002-03 were in a similar boat 13 years ago this week.
Terry Venables headed into Leeds’ Uefa Cup second-round first leg with Hapoel Tel-Aviv on October 31, 2002 seeking his first win in seven matches after a dispiriting autumnal slump – which had placed him under growing pressure.
It was a night of tension on Halloween, with Leeds, early on in proceedings, looking the epitome of a side without a win in their previous six matches against Israeli opponents who had beaten Chelsea on their way to the quarter-finals of the previous season’s Uefa Cup.
Hapoel were the slicker and quicker unit in the first half, but eventually Leeds got their act together and created the better chances and found a way through late on thanks to Harry Kewell.
It was the cue to considerable relief from Venables, who admitted to feeling that it would be “one of those nights.” after the game.
Hapoel made the brighter start with the passing of Josef Abukasis and the pace of Pini Balili causing United plenty of early problems.
Balili saw an early chip held by Paul Robinson before the United custodian was again called upon to turn away a free-kick from Salim Toema in smart fashion.
Leeds gradually flexed their muscles, inspired by Mark Viduka, who put in a strong performance.
First, the big Aussie saw his cross find Nick Barmby, whose overhead kick hammered against the post and then shortly before the break, Viduka’s free-kick hit the top of the crossbar with Shavit Elimelech beaten.
For the visitors, Carlos Silva Welton was proving a constant thorn and his persistence almost paid off, but an unmarked Toema sliced his volley wide from the edge of the area.
Leeds started to dominate proceedings after the interval, with Alan Smith at the heart of all things good. His tenacity won a free-kick in a dangerous position and Ian Harte’s effort struck the bar of the bar.
To their credit, Leeds kept persevering and they were ultimately rewarded, although it took another fine save from Robinson to deny Toema to prevent Hapoel from taking the lead. Kewell, who had dragged an earlier effort wide after being set up by Smith, was this time more successful after being supplied by the industrious United striker.
The breakthrough arrived eight minutes from time, with Viduka and Smith combining well before the latter set up Kewell, whose deflected shot beat Elimelech.
Asaf Domb almost put Leeds further ahead when he headed over his own bar, but it was the visitors who came storming back with two good chances of their own.
But Leeds held firm, having netted their first goal at Elland Road since September 28, with Kewell’s strike being his fourth goal of the campaign.
Venables expressed gratitude for the win, while his counterpart, the delightfully-named Dror Kashtan, in his own utterances, felt that victory was down to the performance of one man.
He said: “Leeds have to say thank you to Mr Robinson. He stopped three certain goals.”
The win represents United’s last one on home soil in European competition.
After easing to a Smith-inspired 4-1 triumph in the second-leg, played in Florence, Leeds bowed out in the next round of the competition to La Liga side Malaga, who triumphed 2-1 in the third round second leg at Elland Road just before Christmas after a 0-0 draw in Andalucia.
Leeds United 1
Hapoel Tel-Aviv 0
Uefa Cup second round, 1st leg, October 31, 2002
Leeds United: Robinson; Kelly, Woodgate, Radebe, Harte; Bakke, Dacourt (McPhail), Barmby (Bridges); Smith, Viduka (Mills), Kewell. Unused subs: Duberry, McMaster, Singh, Martyn.
Hapoel Tel-Aviv: Elimelech; Antebi, Gershon, Domb, Halis; Tuama, Halmai (Abutbul), Abukasis, Afek; Balili (Udi), Welton (Cleschenko). Unused subs: Halon, Zion, Luz, Saban, Salemi.
Referee: Jack Van Hulten (Holland).