'We have our just deserts' - when Leeds United were just one game away from swift Premier League return
LEEDS United are sitting pretty as they wait to learn next season’s schedule ready for a second year back in the top flight.
All will be revealed when the Premier League fixtures are released at 9am on Wednesday morning.
The Whites waited 16 years to return to the top echelon of the English game and look as if they are here to stay.
But 15 years ago Leeds were just one game away from going back up at just the second attempt following victory in the Championship play-offs
semi-final against Preston North End.
After an Eddie Lewis free-kick had sealed a 1-1 draw in the first leg at Elland Road Kevin Blackwell’s Whites emerged triumphant following a second-leg epic at Deepdale.
The contest featured as many red cards as goals – in addition to a power cut – but it was lights out for the Lilywhites as Leeds booked a final date against Watford at the Millennium Stadium in Wales.
Two years on from their relegation of May 2004, matters were not looking great for Leeds after 73 minutes of the first leg at Elland Road.
A fine solo goal from Dave Nugent had put Billy Davies’s side 1-0 up in West Yorkshire but a terrific free-kick from American ace Lewis ensured the Friday night first leg ended all square at 1-1.
Leeds then crossed the Pennines for the second leg three days later and the hosts were dealt an injury blow in just the 10th minute.
Brett Ormerod was stretchered off following a foul by Jonathon Douglas, yet Preston caused the early problems until Carlo Nash saved a dipping effort from Frazer Richardson midway though the first half.
Danny Dichio squandered a good opportunity for the hosts but the first half ended goalless and the interval then proved more eventful than the opening period on the pitch.
Deepdale was hit with a power failure which meant a 25-minute delay, the second half eventually getting back underway at ten past nine.
But just over 10 minutes later Leeds put themselves in front on aggregate and on the night as Rob Hulse steered home Gary Kelly’s corner.
United’s night got even better just five minutes later when Hulse this time turned provider and set up Richardson to double the Whites lead.
The striker’s low cross was just about converted by full back Richardson, despite the attempts of Nash, who raced across his line to reach the ball... only to carry the effort into the net.
Leeds were 3-1 up and heading for the play-off final, but the Whites then had to dig in and haul themselves over the line with nine men.
First they lost Stephen Crainey, the defender being sent off for a second booking with 22 minutes left.
Preston began to pile on the pressure and United ’keeper Neil Sullivan kept out a Paul McKenna free-kick before a Nugent strike was deflected over the bar by Matt Kilgallon.
Tyrone Mears then looked to have finally pulled a goal back for the hosts when he headed home a corner, but the delivery was adjudged to have curled out of play and the effort was disallowed.
Leeds were holding firm, but they had to see out the closing seconds with nine men when striker Richard Cresswell kicked the ball away and was also shown a second yellow card in added time.
But Leeds were almost there and referee Mike Thorp blew the full-time whistle moments later to put Blackwell’s side one game away from going back up at the second attempt.
Blackwell said Preston’s celebrations after the first leg at Elland Road made the victory all the more sweet.
“I am proud to have done the job here, we were written off by many people and we wanted to prove them wrong.” said the Whites boss.
“Some of the things we saw after the first leg at Elland Road were inspirational.
"We have our just deserts.
"Preston were jumping up and down at Elland Road thinking they were in the final, but we came here to prove otherwise."
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Thank you Laura Collins