Roles reversed in Leeds United's first Premier League clash at Crystal Palace in over two decades

SEVEN years have passed since Leeds United last met today’s hosts Crystal Palace in any type of competitive fixture

By Lee Sobot
Saturday, 7th November 2020, 11:34 am

Back in March 2013, a Steve Morison double earned Neil Warnock’s side a point through a 1-1 draw in a Championship clash at Selhurst Park.

Yet the last top-flight encounter between the two goes back almost 23 years with early goals from Rod Wallace and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink giving George Graham’s Whites a 2-0 triumph in January 1998.

The success came in the infancy of the highflying Whites era at the turn of the Millennium under first Graham and then David O’Leary who took over the following term.

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EARLY OPENER: Rod Wallace, above, pictured in Leeds United's home clash against Derby County of the 1997-98 campaign, fired the Whites in front in January's 2-0 win at Crystal Palace of 1998. Picture by Phil Cole /Allsport.

Leeds were back in Europe having finished fifth the previous season while a Palace side who had spent the last six years yo-yoing between the top two divisions were back in the Premier League as 1996-97 Division One play-off winners.

Twenty two and a half years on, the boot will be on the other foot in this weekend’s clash at Selhurst Park with Leeds the top flight new boys and Palace now in their seventh consecutive season in the top division.

But towards the end of the 90s, United were the established top flight force of the duo who were enjoying a second coming at the top end of the table six years on from the 1992 First Division title triumph under Howard Wilkinson.

Graham had replaced the sacked Wilkinson in September 1996 and the 96-97 season ended with an 11th-placed finish.

But after the acquisition of Hasselbaink, Leeds then shot up the table to end up fifth in Graham’s first and in the end only full campaign in charge given that he then left for Tottenham Hotspur the following October.

On January 31, 1998, Graham’s side headed for Palace looking for a return to winning ways following a 2-1 loss at Graham’s former side Arsenal which was followed by a 2-1 reverse at home to Sheffield Wednesday.

United had since brushed aside Grimsby Town 2-0 in an FA Cup clash at Elland Road but a three-point haul at Palace was important in the club’s bid to once again seal European qualification.

Palace were in dreadful form having gone nine league games without a victory since their 1-0 success at Tottenham at the end of November.

As it happened, Palace would only win three more league games en route to going straight back down by finishing bottom and the writing was on the wall very early against Leeds.

Palace’s side featured former Whites flop Thomas Brolin as well as Marcus Bent and with Brolin off the pitch being treated for a head wound it took United only seven minutes to open the scoring as Gary Kelly played in Rod Wallace who neatly beat keeper Keith Miller.

A bandaged Brolin then came back on yet after 12 minutes his side were 2-0 down via a superb strike from Hasselbaink who wriggled free to create an opening away from the Palace defence.

And that really was that with Palace never looking likely to get back into the game and Leeds almost added a third when David Hopkin volleyed wide.

The contest also saw Dutch defender Robert Molenaar pick up an injury though he would be back the following month and the Palace clash also featured a Whites debut.

With just four minutes left, Middlesbrough-born Leeds Academy graduate Lee Matthews was handed his first appearance in coming on for Hasselbaink.

Two more outings from the bench were to quickly follow but that was it for Matthews who then had loan spells at Notts County and Gillingham before joining Bristol City.

United, meanwhile, again finished fifth meaning another UEFA Cup campaign would be in the offing in the following season - and very soon the Champions League under O’Leary would be next.

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Thank you Laura Collins