Thirty years since Gary Speed got one himself as title-winning Leeds United blitzed Blades
WITH the two Yorkshire clubs first and second in the league table and the season heading to a fascinating conclusion, it had been several years since a league game at Elland Road had captured the imagination like this one had.
Tickets were much sought after, there was even an advert placed in the local press with a marriage proposal to any female who could provide the desperate male with a ticket for the Easter-Monday, early-afternoon showdown.
Leeds, uncharacteristically under Wilkinson that season, had gone four games without a win whilst the Blades, managed by Wilko’s neighbour and good friend, Dave Bassett, had won their last two.
The South Yorkshire outfit had been the surprise package of the campaign, having been promoted from the Third Division the previous season and, with Brian Deane and Tony Agana scoring on a regular basis, they were fancied by many to get a result in West Yorkshire.
The atmosphere was breathtaking as 32,727 expectant but nervous spectators descended on Elland Road to witness the clash of the Second Division’s top two.
It was the biggest crowd of the season outside of the top flight and neither side could afford to lose points with Newcastle United breathing down their necks in third place.
Having lost on the plastic pitch at Oldham Athletic on Good Friday, Wilkinson rang the changes.
Peter Haddock, substituted at Boundary Park, was deemed unfit and the much-experienced Irish international, John McClelland, came in for only his second appearance of the season, and his first since the opening-day hammering at Newcastle.
In midfield, there was no place for David Batty with Gary Speed coming into the starting line-up and Bobby Davison partnered Lee Chapman up front, at the expense of Imre Varadi.
The Blades made a surprise change, leaving out Agana, with the menacing figure of Billy Whitehurst playing alongside Deane in the attack.
Bassett obviously thought Big Billy would handle the atmosphere better and bully the Leeds centre-backs – any plan proved fruitless.
In the Elland Road pressure cooker, it was Leeds who struck first.
Mervyn Day’s goal-kick was flicked on to Gordon Strachan who was denied by Simon Tracey.
The ball fell to Chris Kamara whose goal-bound effort was blocked by Paul Stancliffe but Strachan was on hand to put the Whites 1-0 up with a close-range finish in front of a delirious South Stand.
Cue bedlam behind the goal, bodies everywhere. Despite controlling proceedings, it wasn’t until late in the game that Leeds scored again.
All afternoon, master tactician Wilkinson had instructed Bobby Davison to apply pressure on visiting goalkeeper Tracey.
It was an approach that annoyed the custodian and would eventually be his undoing.
It was 2-0 when Tracey’s goal-kick hit Davison on the back and went out for a Sheffield United throw-in from which Leeds regained possession.
An unorthodox pass from Vinnie Jones put Speed away on the left-hand side.
The youngster raced to the by-line and his teasing cross was tapped in from a yard out by Chapman with just 16 minutes to go.
Eight minutes later, Tracey saw another goal-kick charged down by Davison, the ball ran across the penalty area with both players in pursuit.
Davison got there first and was hauled down by the goalkeeper who looked on in despair as referee, Alan Gunn, pointed to the spot.
On the pitch, Tracey and his captain, Stancliffe, argued with Gunn whilst, on the sidelines, the Sheffield United coaching staff berated the fourth official.
It was all to no avail as Gordon Strachan, inspirational all season, calmly put his penalty beyond Tracey’s reach into the net.
The atmosphere inside Elland Road was incredible; the players had put in a truly wonderful performance.
Strachan, as always, was ice cool and McClelland came through his home debut with a calmness which showed all the experience he had under his belt.
However, the icing on the cake was still to come.
After 89 minutes, Kamara won the ball in his own half and played a superb pass through to Speed.
The Welshman powered his way towards goal, accompanied by an iconic piece of commentary, and planted the ball across Tracey into the net.
It was a much-needed win for the Whites and nobody could have predicted such a scoreline.
Elland Road was bouncing and the promotion charge was truly back on track.
Despite dropping to third place after the mauling, the Blades recovered to go up with Leeds who lifted the title on goal difference, ending an eight-year famine from English football’s top table.
Leeds United 4
(Strachan (2) (1 pen), Chapman, Speed)
Sheffield United 0
Elland road, Easter Monday, April 16, 1990, Division Two,
Leeds United: Day, Sterland, Beglin, Fairclough, McClelland, Kamara, Jones, Strachan, Speed, Chapman, Davison (Shutt 83).
Sheffield United: Tracey, Hill, Barnes, Booker, Stancliffe, Webster, Gannon (Woods 62), Whitehurst (Agana 52), Deane, Bryson, Morris.
Referee: Alan Gunn