Richard Sutcliffe - Keith Edwards’ scuffed shot epitomises Leeds United’s play-off adventure

THE clues as to just how much heart-stopping drama the play-offs would bring to English football were there from the very beginning thanks to Leeds United.

Those were the days: Keith Edwards scored a dramatic injury-time goal in Leeds Uniteds maiden play-off tie. (Picture: YPN)

Not only did Yorkshire’s first participant mark the introduction of the new promotion deciders by conceding and then scoring in the final minute of the semi-final second leg to go through on away goals.

But Leeds then went head-to-head for seven hours in a bruising final against Charlton Athletic before being cruelly denied promotion by two goals in the final six minutes from a defender, Peter Shirtliff, who only scored 15 times in a career spanning 17 years.

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Following the pure theatre featuring Billy Bremner’s United in May, 1987, all the thrills and spills that have since had fans on the edge of their seats should not have been a surprise to anyone.

Leeds, for the fifth time, will this tea-time propel themselves on to the emotional rollercoaster marked ‘play-offs’ when travelling to Derby County in the first leg of the Championship semi-final.

No doubt many among those making the trip down the M1 will have also been at Oldham Athletic for United’s first taste of the newly-introduced concept.

A last-minute winner from Keith Edwards at Elland Road meant a travelling army of 6,000 fans headed to Boundary Park for the return in confident mood.

Garry Williams, however, levelled matters for the Latics, who then took the lead on aggregate with just one minute remaining through Mike Cecere.

“I can still see (Oldham manager) Joe Royle now on the touchline,” recalls former striker Edwards to The Yorkshire Post. “He was celebrating and our season was over. Thankfully for us, we did not have time to reflect on it. We kicked off, launched the ball forward and ‘Bairdy’ (Ian Baird) knocked it down for me.

“I will be honest – I scuffed my shot. But I scuffed it well enough to fool the ‘keeper, who had probably been expecting me to put my foot through it. What a feeling when that ball went in.

“There was still extra-time to come but we got through that. The hug Billy gave me afterwards had a lot of feeling. Back then, he always wanted to beat Oldham and Bradford that little bit more than the rest.”

As a crestfallen Royle bemoaned the introduction of the play-offs – “The league has just become the longest Cup competition in the world, we have played 44 games and been knocked out on an away goal,” he said afterwards – Leeds’s focus was on the final against Charlton.

The Addicks had finished fourth bottom in Division One that season, which under the first incarnation of the play-offs had pitted them against Ipswich Town in the semi-finals. Charlton, lodging with Crystal Palace at the time, beat the Tractor Boys, who had finished fifth in the second tier, 2-1 on aggregate.

Two legs were not enough to separate the two finalists, Jim Melrose’s winner at Selhurst Park being cancelled out in the return at Elland Road by Brendan Ormsby.

Birmingham City’s St Andrews was chosen as the venue for a replay that remained goalless until John Sheridan put Leeds ahead nine minutes into the first period of extra-time.

“I never got the opportunity to play at Wembley,” says Edwards, the winner of three Golden Boots in a career that brought 163 goals for Sheffield United and another 96 in the colours of Hull City. “So it was a shame the final was two-legged back then. It was an even bigger shame that Leeds did not go up.

“We were leading thanks to Shez and there were only six or seven minutes to go. But then a big lummox of a centre half goes and scores twice. He (Shirtliff) never scored two in a game, before or after.

“It just was not meant to be for us. I look back now and think to myself, ‘But for such thin lines, Billy Bremner could have been the man who did at Leeds what Howard Wilkinson did a few years later’.”

Thirty-two years on from that heartache, Leeds will try to win promotion at the fifth attempt via the play-offs.

“Now Sheffield United are up, I really hope Leeds can do it,” added Edwards, an expert summariser on BBC Radio Sheffield for all Blades games.

“Providing Leeds can snap out of missing out on automatic, I make them favourites.

“They are a match for 
anyone.”