Very little actually went right during Terry Venables’ time at Leeds United, although in retrospect there is also a sense that he was paddling against some heavy tides.
There was an opening pair of victories against the newly promoted Manchester City and West Bromwich Albion, both by large enough scorelines to temporarily propel the Whites to the top of the table.
There was also the single goal victory against Manchester United, at that point the first in 10 meetings between the rivals.
However after that result on September 14, 2002, things took a turn for the worse for Venables.
By the time December 16 rolled around, he was under significant pressure. Leeds were on a run of six games without a victory when they travelled to the Reebok Stadium.
Bolton, their opposition, were also in trouble themselves.
They were second bottom of the league, with only three wins.
Given Leeds’ sudden fall from the higher reaches of the Premier League, it seemed like a perfect opportunity for them to take a significant scalp.
Few Leeds fans would have followed the predictions of a supporter in the Sky Sports studio, who had a t-shirt printed saying that the game would finish 3-0 in favour of the Elland Road club.
It took very little time for his call to seem more prescient than anyone could have imagined. Just 12 minutes into the game, with Bolton having dominated, Danny Mills played a clever one-two with Harry Kewell before using his unfavoured left foot to fire the ball past Jussi Jaaskelainen in the Trotters net.
Leeds then extended their lead only four minutes later. Ian Harte crossed an untidy ball into the area, which was left by both Bruno N’Gotty and Ivan Campo. The ball smacked against the post before falling to Kewell. Kewell looked to have missed the target, but Robbie Fowler, ever the poacher, scored from inside the six-yard box. It was his first start of the season.
Bolton could have made it 2-1 in the 25th minute, but Paul Robinson was equal to Youri Djorkaeff’s penalty. The decision to give the spot kick in the first place was contentious, with Harte having been judged to have handled the ball. There was a sense of justice when Robinson, one of the few plusses of Venables’ reign, kept the French international at bay.
Leeds had begun to grind their streak of bad form to a halt, and finally slammed on the breaks when Jason Wilcox burst from deep before rifling a powerful shot into the Bolton net.
“It was a really good performance,” said Terry Venables.
One of a limited number during his time in charge, but one that is still recalled with some fondness by Leeds fans, a highlight in a season empty of them.
By the time January came, Jonathan Woodgate was sold to Newcastle, a transfer that very much broke the camel’s back as far as Venables was concerned.
Leeds fell further and further towards a relegation battle, and it was only the appointment of Peter Reid that stabilised the ship.
For Venables, who had been discussed as a potential difference maker between a European push and a title challenge, it was a failure. The last big challenge had proven too much.
Bolton Wanderers 0
Leeds United 3 (Mills 12, Fowler 16, Wilcox 75)
Premiership December 16, 2002
Bolton: Jaaskelainen, N’Gotty (Whitlow 78), Bergsson, Barness, Campo, Charlton, Frandsen, Okocha (Walters 81), Tofting (Farrelly 79), Pedersen, Djorkaeff..
Leeds: Robinson, Kelly, Woodgate, Lucic, Harte, Mills, Bakke, Okon, Wilcox, Kewell, Fowler (Johnson 80).