When Luciano Becchio enjoyed perfect return as Leeds United stunned Crystal Palace

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NEARLY 24 years have passed since Leeds United last played Crystal Palace in a top-flight game at Elland Road.

Paul Warhurst and Attilio Lombardo were on target for the Eagles as part of a 2-0 victory on August 23, 1997 yet Palace ended the season going down and finishing bottom.

Leeds went the same way six years later and the two sides have been in the same division five times since with United winning four of the five Championship clashes between the two at Elland Road.

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Palace, though, looked well on course to bag a win in West Yorkshire when the two sides met in a thriller between the two back in September 2011.

DREAM RETURN: Luciano Becchio headed Leeds United all square at 2-2 en route to a 3-2 victory against Crystal Palace on his comeback from injury in September 2011. Picture by Varleys.DREAM RETURN: Luciano Becchio headed Leeds United all square at 2-2 en route to a 3-2 victory against Crystal Palace on his comeback from injury in September 2011. Picture by Varleys.
DREAM RETURN: Luciano Becchio headed Leeds United all square at 2-2 en route to a 3-2 victory against Crystal Palace on his comeback from injury in September 2011. Picture by Varleys.

Yet Leeds came roaring back from 2-1 down to record a 3-2 victory and had the last laugh through Ross McCormack’s 84th-minute winner.

United were back in their second season back in the second tier having finally ended three years in the doldrums of League One by sealing automatic promotion in May 2010 under Simon Grayson.

A near miss of the play-offs and seventh-placed finish had followed and Leeds lined up against Palace following a poor start to the new season of just one victory from their first five league games.

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The Whites had been beaten by Southampton, Middlesbrough and Ipswich Town with the sole victory coming against Hull City though Leeds lined up against the Eagles following a 2-2 draw at West Ham United in which they fought back from 2-0 down and bagged a last-minute equaliser through Adam Clayton.

Nevertheless, defeat to Palace would have made it United’s worst start to a season in over 30 years.

Palace, meanwhile, were in their seventh consecutive season in the Championship having been relegated from the Premier Division in 2005.

The Eagles had only narrowly avoided the drop the previous season in finishing 20th as Dougie Freedman took over from George Burley but Palace lined up against Leeds having already taken ten points out of a possible opening 15.

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Palace’s side at Elland Road featured an 18-year-old striker by the name of Wilfried Zaha who would make a big money move to Manchester United in 16 months’ time.

Yet it was another youngster in the white of Leeds that set up the game’s opening goal as 17-year-old Charlie Taylor delivered a fine cross from the left flank on his first senior start and the delivery was met by the head of Ross McCormack whose effort flew into the left corner.

United were 1-0 up after just eight minutes but Palace levelled just four minutes later through Patrick McCarthy who capitalised on poor defending from a free kick to slam the ball past Andy Lonergan.

Ramon Nunez almost immediately put Leeds back in front yet instead Palace went in front in the 21st minute as Sean Scannell finished a rapid counter with a simple finish to a cross from the left from Jermaine Easter after his pacy run down the flank.

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Only a fine save from Lonergan then prevented the Eagles from going 3-1 up just before the break as Zaha’s rising shot from the edge of the box was tipped over the bar.

But Leeds then produced a stirring comeback in the second half and drew level in the 71st minute as substitute Luciano Becchio leapt high to head home a McCormack free-kick on his return from five months out injured.

Becchio had come on in the 58th minute as part of a double change that also saw Mikael Forssell make his Whites debut and it was Forsell’s header that set up McCormack to blast home what proved the winning goal in the 84th minute.

The victory triggered a six-game unbeaten run yet Grayson was ultimately dismissed after a poor run in February and United’s quest for promotion would continue for another eight years - not like Palace who went up the following season in the play-offs.

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