FOR a grounded manager who was not prone to hyperbole, it is fair to say that Howard Wilkinson’s useage of the term world class was an utterance never made lightly.
But those words arrived from his lips 20 years ago this week, in homage to a deadly hat-trick from the one and only Tony Yeboah against crisis club Ipswich Town, with the Ghanaian ploughing through the Tractor Boys’ defences.
Yeboah showed exactly why Wilkinson forked out £3.4m to secure his services from Bundesliga outfit Eintracht Frankfurt that winter, with his third goal taking him to the top of United’s seasonal scoring charts, despite only arriving in January.
His first treble in English football took his tally to ten goals in ten matches, while Ipswich’s statistics from their last six matches told another tale: six defeats, no goals scored and 22 conceded with relegation beckoning after a fraught campaign.
Yeboah’s exploits maintained Leeds’ pursuit of a possible place in next season’s Uefa Cup with Wilkinson’s side finishing the season with a spring in their step.
His goalscoring panache left Wilkinson purring with the United boss saying afterwards: “Perhaps it’s too often used, but I thought his finishing was world-class – every goal.”
Ipswich manager George Burley concurred with those sentiments, no doubt through gritted teeth, adding: “The difference was the finishing.
“When you give world-class players chances they tend to take them, but it was also bad defending on our part.”
The torment for Ipswich began just four minutes in when Gary McAllister’s through-ball saw Yeboah round goalkeeper Craig Forrest adeptly and roll a shot into Town’s empty net for a quality opener.
That sure-fired finishing was replicated by Gary Speed just after the half-hour mark when he fired in an angled shot, with the strike a milestone one for the Welshman, with it being the 50th goal of his impressive career.
It followed good work from Gary Kelly and Rod Wallace with it representing Speed’s first goal in five months.
With Ipswich’s defence creaking badly, Brian Deane dispossessed Chris Swailes to hand Yeboah his second to effectively settle the issue.
Incredibly, there was more to come in a tumultuous first half for Yeboah and a torrid one for Town.
Yeboah’s clinical eye for a goal saw the striker seal his treble with a fine shot from inside the box on the stroke of half-time following Tony Dorigo’s centre.
Thankfully, for Ipswich’s sake at least, there were no further changes to the scoreline, despite Yeboah going close to a fourth when he headed against the woodwork.
McAllister and Rod Wallace both saw goals ruled out, with the East Anglians’ best moment coming from a free-kick from Barnsley-born Neil Thompson – who later became academy boss at Leeds after he hung up his boots – which was saved by John Lukic, who had one of his more quieter afternoons.
On the impact of Yeboah and the addition of a goals boost to pep up his side, Wilkinson sagely commented: “His goals and perhaps more importantly his goal threat have given the side that little extra injection of confidence which comes from seeing good work produce something,” Quite so, Howard..
Leeds United 4
(Yeboah 3, Speed)
Ipswich Town 0 Premier League Wednesday, April 6, 1995.
Leeds United: Lukic; Kelly (Couzens 45), Pemberton, Wetherall, Dorigo; Rod Wallace, McAllister, Palmer, Speed; Yeboah, Deane. Unused subs: Whelan, Beeney.
Ipswich Town: Forrest; Yallop, Linighan, Swailes, Thompson; Thomsen, Williams, Milton; Slater, Mathie (Gauntchev 77), Chapman. Unused subs: Palmer, Baker.
Referee: Mr G.S. Willard (Worthing).