When Leeds United surged back into the top flight in style

LEEDS UNITED are heading back to the country's top flight after the longest wait in the club's history.

By Lee Sobot
Sunday, 2nd August 2020, 5:50 am

Never have the Whites gone as long as 16-years without first tier football.

Yet the club's return to the top table in 1990 came after what was, at the time, the second longest wait in their history.

After relegation to Division Two in 1982, United spent eight seasons in the country's second tier until Howard Wilkinson masterminded promotion in the ultimate style of champions in 1990.

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TOP FLIGHT STATUS: David Batty of Leeds United in action during the FA Cup 3rd Round match against Barnsley played at the Oakwell Ground in Barnsley. Picture by Shaun Botterill/Allsport.

Going back nearly half a century, the Whites had spent nine years in Division Two after relegation in the 1947-48 campaign.

Eventually, come the 1955-56 campaign, a breakthrough season from a young Jack Charlton and a hatful of goals from John Charles sent United back up in second under boss Raich Carter.

Carter's side then quickly established themselves in the top flight in finishing eighth in their first season back.

But 32 years later, Howard Wilkinson's side managed even four places better than that as the acquisitions of Gary McAllister, John Lukic and Chris Whyte helped United to a fourth-placed finish upon their top-flight return.

Only the legendary Don Revie can better that in terms of a first-season finish back in the top flight with Revie's blossoming team of would be legends finishing runners-up in the 194-65 campaign, immediately after promotion as Division Two champions.

Twenty five years on, Wilkinson's Whites had also gone up in style having won the 1989-90 Division Two championship.

And Wilkinson then ensured that the summer's spending had the desired effect as the club's first two £1m signings proved instrumental in leading the Whites to a fourth-placed finish.

The first of them, goalkeeper Lukic, was actually making a Whites return having initially been first choice keeper between 1978 and 1983.

Lukic then left for Arsenal but the Gunners' move for Lukic's former Leeds understudy David Seaman from Queens Park Rangers seven years later paved the way for Lukic to re-join the Whites.

Wilkinson quickly followed the acquisition of Lukic with another £1m signing as Scotland international midfielder McAllister joined from Leicester City for the same price.

Wilkinson also brought in centre-back Whyte from West Brom for £450,000 as part of a summer that saw Ian Baird and John Hendrie both move to Middlesbrough.

Vinnie Jones also left for Sheffield United but Leeds were in the winning groove and the opening day's 3-2 success at Everton proved a sign of the success and style of play to come as United raced into a 3-0 lead through goals from Chris Fairclough, Gary Speed and Imre Varadi.

The Whites did the double over Everton and also Chelsea who were walloped 4-1 at Elland Road on Boxing Day and also beaten 2-1 at Stamford Bridge in March.

United also made big inroads in all three cup competitions with the Whites beaten by Manchester United over two legs in the League Cup semi-final and eventually ousted by Arsenal after three replays in the FA Cup.

With the Zenith Data Systems Cup also to contend with, it meant United played 56 games in league and cup.

Lukic, Mel Sterland, Whyte, Chapman and McAllister played every single league game as part of a campaign that featured an epic 5-4 loss at home to Liverpool in April in which striker Lee Chapman bagged a hat-trick.

Chapman continued his fine goalscoring form into the top flight, netting 21 goals with Carl Shutt bagging ten.

Speed and Gordon Strachan were next with seven each as Leeds stormed to a fourth-placed finish, five points behind third-placed Crystal Palace who themselves were seven points behind runners-up Liverpool.

Arsenal - and Seaman - were ultimately crowned champions in finishing seven points clear yet just one year later Leeds would amazingly take their mantle in becoming champions of England in their second season back.

United's stellar top flight return in 1990 definitely laid the foundations.