The bare facts hardly do credit to a stunning afternoon at Elland Road on November 4th 2000. An injury-hit Leeds United faced old enemies Liverpool in Premier League game which saw Liverpool take a two-goal lead, get pegged back at 2-2, take the lead again – and then finally succumb 4-3 in the archetypal see-saw football match. Leeds had won, and Australian centre-forward Mark Viduka had gone one better than the traditional striker’s dream of a hat-trick in a high profile victory. Viduka – the Duke – had scored all four, single-handedly breaking the hearts of the Reds whose manager Gerard Houllier was left speechless with shock and disappointment.
In truth, Liverpool were well-set for victory as they cruised to an early two goal lead through Hyypia and Ziege, taking advantage of slapdash Leeds defending. The home team were weakened by the absence of regulars like Nigel Martyn, Lucas Radebe, Harry Kewell, Danny Mills, Michael Duberry and Michael Bridges. Bit-part player Jacob Burns started and Danny Hay would come on as one of only four fit subs – this was very much a patched-up United side. After such a start heads might have gone down in the Leeds ranks, but Alan Smith was still up for the battle, chasing every cause and closing down in his unique combative style. It was a typically aggressive piece of Smithy harrying that saw Leeds back in the game after 25 minutes, as he blocked a Ziege clearance and saw the ball bounce right into the path of an onside Viduka in the Liverpool area. No further invitation was needed; the burly Aussie executed the most delicate of chips to beat Reds keeper Sander Westerveld all ends up. The teams went in at the interval with Liverpool ahead 2-1 – but some of the momentum was back with Leeds.
Shortly after the start of the second half, United were level – and this was a goal to remember. Gary Kelly broke swiftly down the right, looked up and delivered a pinpoint cross which Viduka met with a towering near-post header, sending the ball arrowing high into the net for a fantastic equaliser. The effervescent Smith then missed a clear chance to put Leeds ahead, and that looked a costly error when Liverpool surged back in front just after the hour. Berger crossed from the left to find Vladimir Smicer who cleverly worked himself the space to slide his shot past a despairing Paul Robinson and into the net. A bitter blow for a makeshift Leeds side that had hauled itself, against long odds, back into the game.
Many indeed would have expected Leeds to crumble at this point, but to their eternal credit they stayed competitive and kept fighting. The next goal was always going to be crucial; a fourth for Liverpool would certainly have finished Leeds off. However, the game’s sixth and best goal saw Mark Viduka complete his hat-trick with a finish of amazing artistry for such a big man. Former Evertonian Olivier Dacourt saw a powerful shot blocked by Ziege, but managed to feed the rebound first time through to Viduka at the right edge of the penalty area. Most strikers would have tried to get a shot off, but Viduka, spinning unpredictably through 360 degrees, threw off the attentions of the Liverpool defence and finished sublimely into the far corner.
At this stage, the overjoyed Leeds support would probably have settled for a draw that had, at one point, looked like being more than they could dream of. But Viduka was not finished yet. Only three minutes later, he finally ended Liverpool’s chances with a fourth goal which, it must be said, owed as much to a generous linesman as it did to the Duke’s skill and lethal finishing. The Leeds striker was surely offside as the ball reached him yet again in a threatening position inside the Liverpool area – but he didn’t hang around to see if a flag went up or a whistle blew.
In the event, neither happened and Mark Viduka produced yet another delicately-crafted finish, the ball arcing beautifully over a committed Westerveld and dropping into Liverpool’s net. 4-3 now and pandemonium as Leeds led for the first time, as unlikely a scenario as you could possibly have imagined after only 20 minutes of this incredible game. Liverpool fought to the last, but so did Leeds to hang on grimly to their hard-won advantage. Dacourt finished the game barely able to move, the Liverpool players finished it hardly able to believe what had happened to them. The contrasting body language of the jubilant United manager O’Leary and his crestfallen Liverpool counterpart told the story of this result and of a game that will always be a part of the folklore surrounding this long-standing rivalry.
Liverpool had fought gallantly and lost. Leeds had defied the odds and their injury toll to win. But the undoubted hero of the hour, thirteen years ago today, was beyond any shadow of a doubt the United centre-forward Mark Viduka. The Duke – Leeds United legend with his own permanent place in Elland Road history.