There was something about Leeds United‘s winning goal at Reading on Tuesday evening that awoke golden memories of Sergeant Wilko’s Warriors of 1992 as they upped the ante one January Sunday afternoon to ignite a title charge. On that long ago day Leeds, marking Wilkinson’s return to Hillsborough to face his old charges Sheffield Wednesday, were utterly irresistible and ran riot, emerging winners by six goals to one. The display at Reading this week, nearly 28 years later, was not of the same vintage. And yet Jack Harrison’s emphatic far-post finish bore a remarkable similarity to the second Lee Chapman goal of his Hillsborough hat-trick all those years ago.
If you can cast your mind back that far, you may remember that Leeds, 2-0 up and cruising, had just suffered the most outrageous penalty decision when Gordon Watson of the Wendies did a somersault with half-pike and triple twist with Chris Whyte nowhere near him in the Leeds box. The ref eagerly fell for it and, though John Lukic saved John Sheridan’s spot kick, the former Leeds man buried the rebound. So it was 2-1 and Leeds were seething over Wednesday’s fraudulent route back into a game that had looked lost to them.
Lesser teams may have been discouraged, but not Wilko’s United. Showing the mettle that would see them crowned Champions just a dozen or so weeks later, Leeds bit back, putting together a devastating length of the pitch move as the first half drew to a close, to re-establish a two goal cushion going into the interval.
This is where the similarity is so obvious, in the fluency and sweeping nature of both moves, with a bullet header finishing each off to perfection. Back then, Lukic rolled the ball out to left back Tony Dorigo, who instantly played a beautifully weighted pass down the left for Gary Speed. Speedo took one touch, looked up, and delivered the perfect cross which was met mid-air by a hurtling Chapman to bury the ball unanswerably into the Wednesday net. It was a rapier thrust down the left, the ball moving from goal to goal in mere seconds to kill off Wednesday hopes.
Fast forward to this week, and the resemblance is remarkable. After a Kiko save from Reading’s free kick 25 yards out, the ball squirted out to the left where Jack Harrison played a neat reverse pass to Stuart Dallas. The Irishman immediately hit a fine, first-time crossfield ball to find sub Gjanni Alioski in space on the right. Two touches from Alioski, and he fed a great ball forward for Helder Costa, who didn’t have to break stride or take a touch before delivering a great far post cross, which took a slight deflection and was met by the onrushing Harrison – the man who had started the move seconds earlier at the other end of the pitch. Harrison’s finish was just as emphatic as Chapman’s had been, all those years before, with the reaction of the United fans behind the goal just as ecstatic.
One sweeping, end-to-end goal redolent of a similar effort almost three decades ago does not, of course, a team of champions make. And yet the winner at Reading, just as beautiful in its construction and just as devastating in its execution as Chapman’s effort at Hillsborough, may just be a sign of what Marcelo Bielsa’s team are beginning to be able to do – impose their style, stifle resistance, and then apply the coup de grâce to exhausted opponents. That happy knack could well lead to many more such victories where United haven’t played all that brilliantly – and maybe, just maybe, finally lead us back to the Promised Land.