The latest in our look back at classic matches from days gone by remembers a November afternoon at Elland Road in which Mark Viduka made himself an instant Leeds United hero.
Liverpool, meanwhile, were strangers to classic 4-3 results in the Premier League – but this is one that they don’t care to remember.
David O’Leary’s young Leeds side had performed brilliantly in the Premier League the previous season, confirming Champions League football in the process. Their start to the 2000/01 season had been slightly more inconsistent, however, and went into this match off the back of a 3-0 defeat to Manchester United and 1-1 draw at Bradford.
Liverpool, for their part, were determined to reach the Champions League for the first time in its modern format, and went to Elland Road full of confidence off the back of three straight league wins (including a 3-1 win in the Merseyside derby), and victory over Chelsea in the League Cup days earlier.
Leeds started the match in disastrous circumstances, going behind inside just two minutes thanks to a glancing Sami Hyypia header into Paul Robinson’s far corner. One became two for Liverpool just inside the 20 minute mark, and again from a set piece. Defender Christian Ziege found himself unmarked in the box, and had plenty of time to aim his header past Robinson and give Leeds a real mountain to climb.
Leeds needed a quick response, and they got just five minutes later with no small amount of fortune. Ziege, under pressure from Alan Smith, saw his attempted clearance deflect off the England forward and straight into the path of Mark Viduka in the box. The Australian made no mistake, firing past Sander Westerveld to reduce the deficit.
Liverpool had their chances to put the game to bed in the first half, but Leeds nearly forged an unlikely equaliser before half time as Olivier Dacourt’s 30-yard strike was well saved by Westerveld.
The home side would not have to wait for that leveller, though, as Viduka ghosted into the box to head in Leeds’ second in the first minute of the second half. In a particularly poor afternoon for both sides’ defence, visiting manager Gerard Houllier will have been furious with his backline’s effort (or lack thereof in marking Viduka).
With the scores level once again, the game began to open up in search of the goal that would put them ahead, Emile Heskey coming close for Liverpool before Jamie Carragher was on hand to make a last-ditch clearance from Smith.
It was Liverpool who struck once again as Czech international Vladimir Smicer had time to turn and shoot past Robinson on the hour mark. Liverpool celebrated but the nature of the game suggested that the goalmouth drama was far from over.
With Leeds pushing forward in search of another equaliser, Viduka controlled Dacourt’s through ball, took out two Liverpool defenders with a combination of skill and muscle, and slotted past Westerveld to make it 3-3.
The Reds barely had time to gather their breath before it became much worse for them just two minutes later, with Dacourt again the architect. The French midfilder played another through ball to Viduka – and while the Liverpool defence stood still with their arms raised, waiting for an offside cal that was not forthcoming, the striker produced a brilliant chipped finish ove the onrushing Westerveld to sent to Leeds fans into raptures.
4-3 to Leeds it was to finish, with O’Leary’s men showing that they were more than ready to compete on multiple fronts over the course of the season.
Unfortunately for O’Leary, Leeds were unable to build on that win in the immediate aftermath. The Whites won just two of their next nine league matches, leaving them in the bottom half by Christmas. They did fare much better in the second half of the campaign, however, and a storming run saw them finish just outside the Premier League top three, while also reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League.
Liverpool also took a while to recover from this result, losing three of their next five league matches. That said, it was to prove a fine season for Houllier’s Reds. As well as securing a top three finish (at Leeds’ expense), they also ended the campaign with a fine trophy haul. The FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup were all added to the well-stocked Anfield trophy cabinet that season.
Leeds: Robinson, Kelly, Woodgate, Matteo, Harte, Bakke, Bowyer, Burns, Dacourt, Smith, Viduka
Subs: Hay (Woodgate 16)
Liverpool: Westerveld, Babbel, Hyypia, Carragher, Ziege, Smicer, McAllister, Hamann, Murphy, Berger, Heskey
Subs: Fowler (Murphy 67), Gerrard (McAllister 68), Barmby (Berger 74)