PL25: Leeds’ Viduka single-handedly breaks Liverpool, the entertainers

To celebrate 25 years of the Premier League each week in Football Fancast we’re going to be looking back at a memorable game that took place on the corresponding date. This time out we revisit a glut of goals at Elland Road in a fixture fast making a name for itself.

From 1990 to the start of this century something strange began to happen to Leeds United v Liverpool fixtures. Among the everyday results and low-scoring draws a string of fantastical score-lines and high-drama began to make this already tempestuous match-up an unmissable proposition. Even on the occasions when both sides nullified the other, the contest would be settled by a worldy such as Tony Yeboah’s astonishing thunder-thwack in 1995, a strike so stunning to the senses it jolts the viewer from their seat even though they’ve witnessed it many times before.

This odd phenomenon all began on April 13th 1991 when Howard Wilkinson’s Leeds and Graeme Souness’ Reds ding-donged their way to a 5-4 thriller at Elland Road that saw Lee Chapman score a hat-trick to no avail. A little over a year later at Wembley in the Charity Shield another Leeds striker took home the match ball and this time as a winner as Eric Cantona reigned supreme in a 4-3 exhibition of adventurous attack and awful defending that nicely set up the new experiment known as the Premier League.

On November 4th 2000 the spell in which this fixture had fallen under was broken with yet another seven-goal white knuckle ride. Once again it finished 4-3 to the Yorkshire giants with a Leeds forward dominating the headlines but on this occasion Mark Viduka went one further scoring all four goals. Following his £6.5m move from Celtic that summer the Revie Stand faithful had a new hero.

This was the year when Liverpool, under Gerard Houllier, went absolutely mental, taking it upon themselves to single-handedly provide football with every memorable moment. They won the UEFA Cup in a final containing nine goals; they won the FA Cup with a sensational late turn-around against Arsenal; they won the League Cup on penalties. They even threatened to win the league in stages.

As for Leeds the first throes of the 21st century was when they ramped up their ambition to unchartered heights. Already blessed with a brilliant nucleus of young players they had little hesitation in breaking the British transfer record for Rio Ferdinand, additionally bringing in Oliver Dacourt from France and Viduka. In December they further added to an already fearsome frontline by loaning in Robbie Keane from Inter and if their third place finish the previous May had revealed they meant business they now clearly had a title in their sights.

So perhaps this was always going to be a ferociously competed, highly engaging contest yet how often do these disappoint, failing to live up to expectation and hype? That was definitely not the case here.

Sami Hyypia broke the deadlock early with a glanced header and then on 18 minutes Christian Zeige –sporting the worst haircut since peroxide was invented – doubled the visitor’s lead. Viduka pulled one back shortly after and it was very much game on.

As impressive a squad as Leeds had it was to their enormous credit that David O’Leary’s men didn’t crumble going two behind ravaged as they were with injuries. Ten starters were unavailable and on the bench sat four debutants with the fifth spot not taken to fully illustrate their depletion of options. There was an extra dimension of resilience to the celebrations then when their Australian striker headed home an equaliser just after the break.

Now it was Liverpool’s turn to receive credit. Having seen their lead snatched away, Vladimir Smicer restored it on the hour mark with a neatly dispatched finish. This time it lasted barely ten minutes before Viduka was at it again, controlling a strong pass on the edge of the box and confusing the hell out of Patrick Berger with an unorthodox turn before firing home a third. For the Czech midfielder it was ill-fortune that was compounded moments later as he crashed to the turf under a heavy challenge one of many dished out by a vigorous Leeds side that afternoon with the Telegraph later deeming their strategy ‘disgraceful’. Berger was stretchered off.

The game had only just resumed when a simple throughball had Viduka one-on-one with Sander Westerveld but hampered by a wide angle. A deft flick saw the ball nestle into the far corner and carnage ensued. “Every time I had a sniff of goal I scored. These days are very rare,” the striker said later failing to hide his delight with a broad beam. According to the BBC it was a ‘stunning drama’ that left Liverpool ‘broken and beaten’.

What happened next?

Liverpool completed a famous treble, entertaining one and all along the way. Their incredible season was tainted however with the sad news of Joe Fagan’s passing at the age of 80. Their former manager had also guided the Reds to three trophies back in 1984.

Leeds were very much a team on the up, finishing fourth in the Premier League and surprising the continent by reaching the semi-final of the Champions League. Surely glory years beckoned?