Leeds United: Your Noughties Match of the Decade revealed

MAN OF THE MOMENT: Four-goal hero Mark Viduka takes the plaudits after an epic 4-3 win over Liverpool.
MAN OF THE MOMENT: Four-goal hero Mark Viduka takes the plaudits after an epic 4-3 win over Liverpool.
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It was the day Dukes reigned in his Elland Road kingdom in front of a 40,000 capacity crowd and a watching audience of millions across the globe.

As now, the English Premier League was simply box office at the start of the noughties, with the bewitching skills of a gifted Melbournian called Mark Viduka leaving football lovers truly captivated one autumnal Saturday lunch-time in November 2001.

Viduka’s twinkled-toed skills and ability to hold the ball up was there for all to see in the early salvos of his United career after joining for £6m from Celtic that summer.

But it was his ravenous predatory instinct in blasting a sensational four goals in United’s never-to-be-forgotten 4-3 success over Liverpool that came to the fore, with the match comfortably winning the vote for the YEP’s Match of the Noughties.

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Reds supporters may prefer to remember a seven-goal thriller against Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle United at Anfield in 1995-96, voted the best ever Premier match to be screened on Sky Sports, but among Whites supporters, there’s only one 4-3 top-flight result that stands out.

It was a time when David O’Leary’s troops were approaching the height of their powers, with the Irishman – famously was part of the Arsenal squad which won the league at Anfield in 1989 – positively beaming in front of the cameras after Viduka-inspired United’s roller-coaster victory over Liverpool.

He said: “I loved beating Liverpool as a player and certainly enjoyed this as a manager.

“I always thought Viduka and Smith upfront had the measure of their defence and could score at any time and we won despite Smith missing the chance of the season.”

And what about the verdict of main man Viduka after the game?

Modesty personified – to say the least – he even suggested he “didn’t really think he played that well”.

The blue-touch paper to an epic encounter was lit after just two minutes when the Reds raced into the lead when Patrick Berger’s free-kick on the right was headed into the far corner by visiting captain Sami Hyppia.

The Merseysiders displayed all their customary Elland Road prowess early on with the hosts then suffering a serious blow when Jonathan Woodgate limped off on 16 minutes with a pulled thigh muscle to be replaced by a rookie in Danny Hay.

Almost instantaneously, Liverpool rubbed salt in the wounds when German full-back Christian Ziege again exposed poor marking to ghost in and head home following Gary McAllister’s free-kick.

The writing looked to be well and truly on the wall.

But enter Viduka, who brought United back into the game on 24 minutes when he chipped the ball deftly over the advancing Sander Westerveld after typically dogged persistence from his strike partner Alan Smith set up the opening.

Further chances arrived at the other end for Vladimir Smicer, Dietmar Hamann and Emile Heskey, but United dug in and got their rewards just after the restart when a brilliant cross from Gary Kelly was headed in by Viduka.

The action continued apace, with Smith spurning a golden opportunity after cashing in on Markus Babbel’s poor backpass.

It was thrills and spills all the way and it was clear to everyone watching that a classic encounter was unfolding before them.

Liverpool regained the lead on the hour when Smicer cut inside Dominic Matteo to bury a shot, only for the hosts to level on 73 minutes when the deftest of footwork ended with Viduka completing a sublime hat-trick.

And there was still time for the coup de grace, with the Aussie delicately chipping in after latching onto Olivier Dacourt’s scuffed shot seven minutes from time.

More entertainment than the City Varieties!

Match of the Noughties poll

Leeds United v Liverpool 2000-01 – 44 per cent.

Arsenal v Leeds United 2002-03 – 21 per cent.

Leeds United v Deportivo 2000-01 – 17 per cent.

AC Milan v Leeds United 2000-01 – 13 per cent.

Carlisle United v Leeds United 2007-08 – 4 per cent.

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