Centenary final glory shortlived for Hunter and Leeds

NORMAN HUNTER does not let the sands of time cloud his judgment on the 1972 FA Cup final.

It may have been an iconic moment for Leeds United, their first success in the famous competition, but he does not mince his words when delivering his assessment.

"It wasn't the best of finals," he says, recalling their 1-0 triumph over a celebrated Arsenal side who had completed a League and Cup double the previous season.

"In fact, it was far from a classic but it didn't matter.

"It was all about actually winning. It was our first and we didn't mind one bit."

With Leeds facing Arsenal in the FA Cup third round on Saturday, memories of that Centenary Final – it was the 91st final played due to world wars – have come flooding back to fans of both clubs.

Hunter, the former England defender who along with World Cup winner Jack Charlton helped dominate the Gunners' revered strike duo of Charlie George and John Radford, admits it was a scrappy affair but they were bolstered by a hold over their intimidating opponents few possessed.

"Arsenal were the only team we could beat in a final," he laughed.

"We'd beaten them 1-0 in the League Cup final and 1-0 in this one.

"I can remember them having one or two chances but we just kept on defending, David Harvey made a couple of saves and Paul Reaney kicked one off the line.

"Then we had that great cross from Mick Jones and Allan Clarke's diving header which proved the difference."

Although Clarke's spectacular effort will never be forgotten, one of the lasting images of that May afternoon was of Hunter helping a stricken Jones negotiate the Wembley steps after the striker suffered a dislocated elbow in the last minute.

"We'd all already been up for the medals but our doc asked if I would go back up with Mick as he was worried he might faint," said Hunter.

"He was in a lot of pain, to be fair, and he just put his hand on my shoulder."

Hunter believes that injury to his team-mate effectively ruined Leeds's chances of completing what would have been a legendary double.

"Losing Mick in that situation probably cost us the league that year," he says.

"If we'd have had big Jonesy fit, we could have gone to Wolves with him up front but we had to put a makeshift team together with Terry Yorath there in the end.

"That was a disgraceful situation as well – making us play on the Monday after the final was on the Saturday.

"It would never happen in the modern game."

Leeds only required a draw at Molineux to deny Derby the title but their leg-weary players, jaded from the infamously tiring Wembley pitch just two days earlier, went down 2-1, Billy Bremner scoring for United after Wolves had gone 2-0 ahead.

Hunter fears the current United side, while challenging well in the Championship, could suffer from fatigue again if Arsenal get into their stride at the Emirates Stadium.

Arsene Wenger's artistic and fluent team is littered with world-class footballers and many feel 2011 will be the year they finally lift the Premier League title after a seven-year wait.

"Arsenal are probably the worst side for us to play because once they get their noses in front, they'll just keep the ball," says the Elland Road favourite.

"It's very difficult to get it off them. People say it's a good draw but I think it's awful.

"I wish we could have had a look at them up here instead. It is all about how we approach it, though, and I think Simon (manager Grayson) will do it the same as every other game he goes in to – to go and win."

Hunter believes the Premier League side are fallible defensively and Leeds can hurt them if they can avoid conceding an early goal.

"If we sit back and invite them in, we're inviting trouble," he says. "And if they score first, it could be a long afternoon. Arsenal are a fine side but whether they're good enough to win the league is another matter.

"They still don't really have two central defenders sorted or the goalkeeper.

"They have big question marks there. They have some tremendous players, like Fabregas and Nasri, but their weakness is conceding far too easily, not picking players up or marking people at headers.

"The likes of Manchester United don't concede too many soft goals and, for Leeds, the likes of (Luciano) Becchio, first and foremost, and then (Neill) Collins from his set-pieces will look to exploit that.

"It'll be an interesting game and I'll certainly be watching."

Furthermore, given Leeds's recent exploits in the FA Cup, the Emirates will hold no fear.

This time last year, Jermaine Beckford scored a solitary goal to stun Manchester United and knock them out of the FA Cup, although that victory was the precursor to a horrendous run of form which threatened to knock them off the League One promotion track.

Hunter admits: "They gained plenty of experience from that, taking on Man United, and – if by some miracle we do win at Arsenal, too – I don't think they'd fall away again.

"I think they did start believing their own publicity last year, especially Mr Beckford but, to be fair to the manager, he handled it very well and they got promoted.

"If we can replicate that chain of events starting this weekend... so be it."

Wembley teams from 1972 final

Leeds United

1 David Harvey

2 Paul Reany

3 Paul Madeley

4 Billy Bremner (c)

5 Jack Charlton

6 Norman Hunter

7 Peter Lorimer

8 Allan Clarke

9 Mick Jones

10 Johnny Giles

11 Eddie Gray

Substitute: Mick Bates

Manager: Don Revie

Arsenal

1 Geoff Barnett

2 Pat Rice

3 Bob McNab

4 Peter Storey

5 Frank McLintock (c)

6 Peter Simpson

7 George Armstrong

8 Alan Ball

9 Charlie George

10 John Radford (73 mins)

11 George Graham

Substitute: Ray Kennedy

Manager: Bertie Mee