My Favourite Match – Rangers 4 v 2 Leeds United (on aggregate). 21/10/92. 04/11/92. Glasgow/Leeds.
By Johnny Utah
Johnny’s favourite match is more of a favourite tie as it encompasses the two fixtures between Rangers and Leeds back in Europe in 1992. Cross border affairs have always been intriguing encounters and this one lived up to the hype. The gap may have closed considerably in recent years with the quality of the SPL deteiriorating but this fixture showed just how strong Rangers were at the time. They defeated Leeds twice and the two goals they scored at Elland Road were particularly impressive. You can follow Johnny on Twitter @JohnnyUtah100.
1992 was the year of the inaugural Champions League. The ban on English sides (bar Liverpool) from European competitions had only been lifted the previous year so when the English and Scottish champions were paired in the final knockout round, the excitement was palpable.
Leeds’ passage to this game had been controversial. Having lost the first leg to German champions VfB Stuttgart 3-0, they returned to Elland Road to win the second leg 4-1.However, with away goals deciding the victors, Leeds were out. There would be no English representative in the revamped, flagship, European competition.
As it transpired, Stuttgart were found to have fielded an ineligible player (a 4th foreigner) and UEFA, rather leniently, decided a play-off would be necessary to decide who progressed. Leeds duly, and rightly, won this 2-1.
The last winners of the old First Division, Leeds Utd, were a typically swaggering side with a blend of brute strength (Chapman, Whyte, Dorigo) and cunning guile (Strachan, McAllister, Speed & Cantona).
The winner, by decree of the tabloid press, would be crowned ‘Champions of Britain’. The fervour was stoked further by the amount of English players in the Rangers side (Hateley, Spackman, Steven & Gordon) and the Scottish central midfield duo (Strachan & McAllister) for Leeds. Forget qualification for the next round, there was something much bigger at stake here – national pride.
Generally, those in the media were of the opinion that it would be a close tie but that Leeds’ superior abilities would see them through. However, they had not reckoned on a Rangers team that was playing at the peak of it’s powers and in Ally McCoist and Mark Hateley, they had a front two that was genuinely among the best in the world. Hard to believe, when you look at the dross served up in the SPL these days, but true.
Travelling fans were to be banned from the respective games in a bid to avoid the potential/inevitable hooliganism problem so when McAllister scored a raking, top-corner volley in the second minute of the 1st leg, Ibrox fell eerily silent. Those in the front row seats would probably have been able to hear the first part of McCoist’s fabled anecdote when MacAllister, allegedly, muttered “How about that for a wee strike then?” as he patted his Scotland team mate, McCoist, on the backside and trotted off to the halfway line.
To turn the game around from the initial deficit was impressive but the away goal had galvanised Leeds and the English press. Plucky, lucky Rangers, minus any support, going to Elland Road and qualifying simply was not going to happen.
As is often the case, the merits of winning regularly, regardless of the standard of opposition, were underestimated by those commentating on the game. Rangers had dominated Scottish football for 5 years now and were not used to losing. The mentality of succeeding against the odds was ingrained into them by two typically hard Scots: initially Graeme Souness and then reinforced by Walter Smith.
The partisan nature of the Elland Road crowd was also something that was over-played. On your average trip to Pittodrie, Celtic Park, Tynecastle or Easter Road, the levels of vitriol spewed at Rangers betrayed the volume of the crowds. The Rangers players were well versed in being hated – indeed, you suspect that they thrived on it.
So, to Elland Road. The odds were stacked against Rangers but the feeling north of the border was that this team was being vastly underrated potentially to Leeds peril.
The game started at a predictably frantic pace and, after a few misplaced passes, the ball was in the hands of Rangers greatest ever keeper, Andy Goram.
Taking his customary three bounces of the ball first, he launched a kick over the Leeds midfield where it was flicked on by Durrant. Still, it wasn’t a great touch and Hateley gave chase towards the corner of the Leeds penalty area. The sensible thing to do would have been to take a touch and, using his fearsome strength, hold the ball up and wait for support.
‘Attila The Hun’ as he was affectionately known, had other ideas. As the ball bounced up he launched a ferocious left foot volley into the top corner of the net. There was simply nothing that Lukic could’ve done to stop it. Just like the first leg, the crowd fell silent. Their away goal advantage had evaporated within a minute of kick off and Leeds were 3-1 down overall.
What followed was not for the purist. This was a very British affair with plenty of endeavour but only a few sparks of creativity, mostly from the precocious Cantona. Rangers sat in and doggedly defended their lead.
Riding their luck and hemmed in for a fair percentage of the game, from nothing they scored my favourite Rangers goal of all time. Favourite game, favourite strike-force and favourite goal – the perfect triumvirate!
With Leeds playing passes around the edge of the Rangers box, John Brown nicked the ball off the toes of a Leeds player. He passed the ball to Hateley who dummied it and let it run to the halfway line where Durrant picked it up. Durrant then fed Hateley who had continued his run.
Similarly to the first goal, he took the ball to the lefthand side of the Leeds box. Again, it looked like he’d taken it too wide but he preceded to whip his left foot around the ball and sling in an inviting cross to the back post for the on-rushing Ally McCoist. Hateley couldn’t have known McCoist would be there though…surely. Could he?
Although not renowned for his heading ability, ‘Coisty threw himself at the cross and guided a lovely diving header into the opposite corner of the net. As he celebrated with gusto, falling to his knees awaiting the acclaim, Leeds and their fans realised that the tie was over. The counter attack wasn’t particularly swift (by today’s standards) but the simplicity, accuracy and clinical nature of it was astonishing and crushing for Leeds. Scotland had beaten England in their own backyard.
As the conclusion of McCoist’s story goes, on his way back to the Rangers half, he ran past Gary McAllister, patted him on the backside and said “How about that for a wee header then?” Leeds scored a consolation goal later on but their spirit was broken. Rangers won the tie and ended up unbeaten in their group, finishing second to eventual winners Marseille.
I doubt I’ll ever forget this game. It still gives me goosebumps and makes me yearn for those halcyon days once again.
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