The day when Gary Speed sent Leeds United hurtling towards top-flight football


Gary Speed lets fly with Lee Chapman in attendance.Outstanding: 

Gary Speed lets fly with Lee Chapman in attendance.
Outstanding: Gary Speed lets fly with Lee Chapman in attendance.
GO on Gary Speed, get one yourself son.

Those unforgettable words from club commentator John Boyd remain a treasured part of the 1989-90 promotion story for supporters of Leeds United, heightened by the tragic passing of the late, great Welsh midfield player in November, 2011.

It was 30 years ago today that a bumper crowd of 32,727 – the biggest outside of Division One that season – converged upon Elland Road for an Easter Monday meeting with Sheffield United which had nothing to do with claiming White Rose bragging rights, but everything to do with taking another sizeable step towards achieving the Holy Grail of top-flight football.

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The overwhelming majority of that crowd went home happy on April 16, 1990 after Howard Wilkinson’s Leeds recorded their biggest victory of a thrilling Division Two campaign, with the emphatic triumph over Dave Bassett’s Blades made all the sweeter after a barren and worrying haul heading into the game of two points taken from the previous 12 available.

On the way:

Gordon Strachan and Lee Chapman celebrate.On the way:

Gordon Strachan and Lee Chapman celebrate.
On the way: Gordon Strachan and Lee Chapman celebrate.

A turbo-charged finish saw Leeds plunder three goals in the last 16 minutes in a rousing power-surge to get their promotion bandwagon well and truly back on track, with Speed providing the coup de grace by way of a memorable fourth in front of a packed Kop.

That strike crowned a superlative month for Speed, whose star was shining in a big way, so much so that he went onto receive the Barclay’s Young Eagle Of The Month award for April – which saw him net in back-to-back home derbies against Bradford City and the Blades and in the away draw at Brighton, with Whites legend Trevor Cherry among the judges on the panel.

The margin of victory may have been handsome, but it was not without controversy, with the Blades left unhappy by the performance of referee Alan Gunn.

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Renowned for his meticulous planning and attention to detail, Wilkinson had ordered his strikers to pressurise Blades goalkeeper Simon Tracey at every opportunity, within the bounds of legality.

On target:  Leeds United's Lee Chapman scores  v Sheffield United, April 16, 1990.On target:  Leeds United's Lee Chapman scores  v Sheffield United, April 16, 1990.
On target: Leeds United's Lee Chapman scores v Sheffield United, April 16, 1990.

It was a tactic utilised to try and disrupt the direction of Tracey’s kicks, deemed by Wilkinson to be fundamentally important to the visitors’ game-plan and it had a telling impact in the division’s game of the season.

The Whites drew first blood on 18 minutes when the irrepressible Gordon Strachan settled the nerves of the anxious home contingent when he fired in after Paul Stancliffe blocked Chris Kamara’s shot almost on the line.

But the game remained in the balance until the 76th minute when Leeds earned themselves a two-goal cushion and it owed much to the fastidious homework of Wilkinson.

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Tracey, concerned after another of his attempted kick-outs was charged down by Lee Chapman, ill-advisedly elected to throw the ball out.

Back of the net: With

Vinnie Jones.Back of the net: With

Vinnie Jones.
Back of the net: With Vinnie Jones.

From that, Leeds quickly regained possession and Speed galloped away from Colin Hill before delivering an inch-perfect low cross which was turned in from close range by Chapman, who notched his 11th goal in 18 outings following his £400,000 move from Nottingham Forest.

On 82 minutes, it went from bad to worse for the flustered Tracey, who kicked the ball unwittingly against Bobby Davison, who was then promptly brought down with Strachan coolly converting from the spot to make it 3-0.

Speed was to provide the icing on the Easter cake in spectacular fashion when a gutsy challenge from Kamara sent the dashing midfielder clear and after a 70-yard dash, he sweetly struck the ball low past Tracey – an iconic moment in a vintage campaign.

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The win moved Leeds three points clear of the Blades, who dropped down to third place on goal difference behind Jim Smith’s Newcastle United, who beat Stoke City 3-0 at St James’ Park on Easter Monday, 1990.

Leeds United's Gary Speed.Leeds United's Gary Speed.
Leeds United's Gary Speed.

There would be plenty of twists and turns to come in the final four second-tier matches of 89-90 – right down to a nail-biting and unforgettable final-day denouement.

But that Bank Holiday belonged to Leeds – and Speed.

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