A Visit From Sgt Wilko

Since our last update Rangers would motor through the start of October in devastating form, with Ally McCoist a central figure in what was a team shifting through the gears.

To kick off October Rangers faced Falkirk at Ibrox in a match where McCoist would score all four in a 4-0 win. This was followed up by a midweek demolition of St Johnstone at McDermid Park, with McCoist and Hateley scoring a brace each rounded off by a Ferguson winner to make it a 5-1 win. Hibs were to be the next side to visit Ibrox in a match that would end in a more conservative 1-0 victory for Rangers, the winner by McCoist would take his tally to 25 in 19 matches, an eye watering number given the season was barely 3 months old. Rangers had now opened up a 5-point gap on the chasing pack, with a goal difference over three times higher than their nearest opponents Celtic.

In season 92/93 Leeds United were entering their 5th year with Howard Wilkinson in charge, a man who had heralded the club’s meteoric rise back to the top of the English game, going from 2nd division mediocrity to the last champions of the old English 1st Division before the formation of the FA Premier League.

Wilkinson had enjoyed a modest career as a professional footballer, but his reputation was forged as an organized and studious coach during early spells with Notts County and Sheffield Wednesday. Wilkinson was an early trailblazer of the FA’s coaching school community, with his style rooted in the mold of FA Technical director Charles Hughes ideals of football, using an aggressive attacking approach that was welded within a 4-4-2 formation.

Taking over Leeds in 1988 he began carefully curating a squad that he would develop with each passing year, incrementally upgrading key positions when the opportunity presented itself. Heading into the 92/93 season Wilkinson retained the rump of his title winning squad from the previous season, deciding to add only two new signings. Scott Sellars arrived from Blackburn Rovers for 800k, a tricky winger who mainly operated on the left that was fresh from playing a pivotal role in the Lancashire side’s promotion into the Premier League. Sellars was joined by David Rocastle who made the move to Yorkshire in a 2m pound move from Arsenal. Rocastle had enjoyed many trophy laden years at Highbury so for George Graham to cash in on him at just 26 certainly led to questions from the fans. With that said Wilkinson saw him as the heir apparent to the legendary Gordon Strachan, so it was universally well received as a terrific piece of business.

Leeds kicked off the season with a 4-3 victory over Liverpool in the FA Charity Shield. Eric Cantona opened the scoring before Rush and Saunders pulled Liverpool back in front. An equalizer from Leeds left back Tony Dorigo was followed by two goals from Cantona to complete his hattrick. A late Strachan own goal would perhaps take the gloss off the scoreline, but by this point it was clear that Leeds stellar attack was perhaps no longer built on solid foundations.

Leeds started their inaugural season in the FA Premier League with a 2-1 home win over Wimbledon, followed up by a 1-1 draw with Aston Villa at Villa Park and a 4-1 thrashing by Middlesbrough at Ayresome Park. Leeds bounced back with a magnificent 5-0 win over Tottenham, with Catona netting another hattrick, but lost out again the following game to Manchester United 2-0 at Old Trafford. Two more score draws followed in the form of 1-1 at home with Aston Villa and 1-1 away at Southampton, before rounding off September with a 2-0 win over Everton at Elland Road. Leeds started October with another defeat, this time 4-2 away at Ipswich before returning to Elland road two weeks later to win 3-1 over Sheffield United.

Leeds domestic form had led fans and pundits alike to seriously question their ability to retain the title. Despite putting together an undefeated run of six matches at Elland Road they appeared totally incompetent on the road where they had failed to win in six, leaving them in an underwhelming 8th place in the division. Perhaps the only saving grace for Leeds is that other title favorites, Manchester United and Arsenal, had also suffered slow starts.

Leeds carried their Jekyl and Hyde form into the opening round of the Champions League, where they would face off against German champions Stuttgart. The 1st leg would take place at the Neckarstadion in Stuttgart with just over 30 thousand fans in attendance. Goals from Fritz Walter and Andreas Buck gave the Germans a 3-0 win, but in the return leg at Elland Road Leeds would put together an almighty come back.

Gary Speed opened the scoring after 17 minutes, which the Leeds faithful had felt was the perfect time to score. Andreas Buck appeared to burst Leeds bubble on 33 minutes with an equalizing goal, but goals from McAllister, Cantona and Chapman put Leeds back in the driving seat. Despite Leeds best efforts in the closing stages the score would remain 4-4 on aggregate, meaning Stuttgart would advance on the away goals rule. Or so they thought.

It has since been reported that a Leeds administrator reported Stuttgart to UEFA the next morning, citing that Stuttgart’s late substitute, Yugoslavian defender Jovo Simanic, would take their number of foreign nationals to four, one more than UEFA’s statuate of only field three. Quite how this wasn’t noticed prior to the match is baffling in itself, but to compound matters UEFA took the staggering measure of awarding the match as a forfeit and thus a 3-0 victory for Leeds. With the aggregate score now standing at 3-3 UEFA ruled that the tie would be completed with a final playoff match to take at a natural venue. On Friday the 9th of October Leeds would resurrect their Champions League campaign with a 2-1 win over Stuttgart at an eerily cavernous Nou Camp in Barcelona.

The record books show this first round encounter finished 5-4 on aggregate to Leeds United, with the match essentially taking place over three legs and going down in infamy as the only Champions League match to be decided in such bizarre circumstances.

Starting Line Ups

Rangers Line Up:

The only major changes to Walter Smith’s side, from the previous round, came in the wide areas. With Mikhailichenko and Huistra left out of the starting team it was clear Smith favored a more workmanlike performance from his wide men, with Durrant and Steven a more natural fit. Each are naturally gifted footballers, but also show good movement to come inside and find space when in possession.

Leeds Line Up:

Wilkinson would name the same starting eleven that progressed past Stuttgart in the previous round, and had very much established themselves as his settled side.

1st Half Tactical Analysis

Rangers Build Up Play

In the opening 45 minutes we saw lots of quick ball movements between Rangers back line and midfield, all with the aim of drawing in forward pressure from the Leeds attackers. Stuart McCall and Ian Ferguson offered strong balance to the midfield, with one stretching the space while the other moved to link with the back line. Rangers used a simple up, back and through pattern in the central areas, almost as a means of delaying the play to allow their attackers to make movements in the opposition half. Leeds attempted to counter this by shifting their entire defensive unit forward, quite often playing an extremely high defensive line.

Leeds Build Up Play

Leeds primary route to goal was through a direct pass into either Chapman or Cantona, from which Leeds creativity quickly becomes evident. When the ball was won by the first striker, either through a flicked on header or a chest pass back, Leeds have multiple attacking players converging on the center of the field to combine to goal. Speed and Strachan come off the wings to use their skill in moments of chaos, both of whom were also supported by the supporting runs of McCallister from central midfield.

On the rare occasions that the defense rolls a pass into midfield, Leeds displayed lots of creativity to form a second wave of attack often through the midfield contorting their positions to give them more angles to combine. Gary McAllister’s movement to pull out into the channels, almost like a full back, allowed him the space to play diagonal forward passes to Speed on the left wing. At 35 Gordon Strachan still maintains the sharpness to find spaces, evading pressure when he picks up the ball with a first touch as good as anyone on the field. While he operated as a right sided midfielder his movement would take him inside to combine with McCallister, usually resulting in a whipped cross into the box or a shot on goal from distance.

Rangers Attacking Full Backs

As Rangers worked to defend Leeds narrow attacking shape, Durrant and Steven often found themselves taking up central positions during defensive phases to pick up the runs of Speed and Strachan. As such this left vast amounts of space in wide areas which could be exploited in transition, so when McCall or Ferguson picked up play after a turnover they were on hand to provide quick switches of play to the opposite side full back. In McPherson’s case, on the right, this often led to a crossing opportunity or in Robertson’s case on the left, a chance to strike on goal.

Set Plays

In what was a ferocious game of football in the opening 45 minutes, what cannot be disputed is the impact each side’s Set Plays would have on the course of this match.

With players such as Whyte, Fairclough, Newsome, Speed, Chapman & Cantona, Leeds carry the ability to attack the ball in an aerial duel through multiple means. Add onto this the precision crossing ability of Gordon Strachan and you have a genuine threat. 5 of Leeds 12 attacks within the game would come from set plays, the most memorable of which being McCallister’s strike to put Leeds ahead 1-0.

Rangers would also carry a threat from corner kicks, with the deliveries from Durrant and Steven providing a constant threat to Leeds goal. In Richard Gough, Mark Hateley and Dave McPherson Rangers had some reliable threats of their own, not to mention the quick thinking of McCoist should the ball happen to break free inside the box. Corners contributed greatly toward Rangers two goal comeback, which would see them finish the half 2-1 ahead.

As the referee brought an end to the opening forty-five minutes it became clear to me why Leeds have failed to keep clean sheets away from home this season. Between their high defensive line and rarely leaving anymore than three players back to defend transitions, this is a Leeds side fully conditioned to attack at all times. Rangers gave as good as they got in the opening exchanges, showing they could control the threat of Leeds attack play as well as transition effectively to create attacks of their own.  

2nd Half Tactical Analysis

Walter Smith’s approach to his side having a goal advantage was significantly more conservative than Wilkinson, so to start the second half McCoist and Hateley had dropped their line of confrontation to connect more with the block of eight behind them, who in turn had also dropped 10-15 yards deeper. This movement naturally afforded Leeds more space when building from the back, therefore increasing their time on the ball but perhaps reducing the overall tempo of their play.

Leeds Build Up Play

Due to Rangers deeper defensive lines Leeds were less inclined to loft direct balls into Chapman, instead they used their creative players to carry the ball into Rangers territory while their strikers positioned themselves inside the box. David Batty began to dictate play more from deeper areas, showing a good mix of passing along with driving forward to create attacks on the dribble. Tony Dorigo’s forward movement from left back was complimented by Gary Speed’s athleticism and dynamic attack play, both of whom would combine well with Cantona to create overloads on the left side before delivering crosses into the box.

Rangers Transition Play

With Rangers seeking to protect their lead it gave them a more solid base in which to build forward, however with all four midfielders involved in the defensive phases McCoist and Hateley were at times isolated in attack. The lack of forward movement negated any potential for Rangers to build play, which often resulted in a turnover back to Leeds. Similarly in transition McCoist or Hateley were often dispossessed as they dribbled the ball in wide areas, more in the hope a teammate had made a supporting run than any tactical plan. Overall Rangers maintained a threat, the quality of McCoist and Hateley will always provide one, however at 2-1 the match simply didn’t require it.

Tactical Adjustments

In the closing stages there were three substitutes that saw slight tactical tweaks.

74 mins Trevor Steven replaced by Peter Huistra – Huistra’s inclusion would see him take up a position on the left side to partner Robertson, with Durrant moving to a right wing position. Immediately Rangers left side looked more threatening, with some combination play that exposed the defensive structure behind Gordon Strachan and isolated Leeds make shift right back Chris Fairclough.

78 mins Eric Cantona replaced by Rod Wallace – Touch surprising given Cantona’s overall threat and ability to link the midfield and forward line. With that said Wallace had worked well with Chapman prior to Cantona’s arrival, so with the threat of his pace he offered more in behind Rangers back line.

86 mins Gordon Strachan replaced by David Rocastle – Given the added threat of Huistra on the left this sub was more to shut down the spaces and provide additional defensive cover for Fairclough. Rocastle only played for a total of 7 minutes and made little impact on the ball during that time.


There was an opportunity for Rangers to be overawed in this match, especially given the hype surrounding this “Battle of Britain” and going behind so early after McCallister’s wonder goal. Instead, Rangers showed a belief that they can compete at this level, displaying a measured defensive display that thwarted much of what Leeds threw at them, while maintaining a cutting edge in attack especially when inside the 18 yard box.

There is no doubt Leeds have some highly talented players, but the performance of Lukic as well as their apparent inability to hold onto a lead certainly gives Rangers hope as they travel to Elland Road for the second leg.

Data Analysis

Value of Chances:

xG Timeline:

There is a real mixed bag of attack play in the opening half, much of it coming from set plays. Rangers larger spikes in the trend line came from their set play goals, with things leveling out a little more in the second half. We can see Leeds bigger chances in the second half pull them back into closer contention, but despite having lower possession Rangers were still the more threatening side across 90 minutes.

Chance Quality:

With Rangers recording almost double the attacks in the match, its interesting the see the overall value of these efforts come in with a similar overall xG (Chance valuation). When we delve deeper we see that each side would be presented with 1 big chance in the match, (“Big Chance” Opta Def: A situation where a player should reasonably be expected to score, usually in a one on one scenario or from very close range when the ball has a clear path to goal), however it was only Rangers who were able to capitalize upon that big chance when McCoist scored their second goal of the game from inside the 6 yard box. Leeds would create three attacks in the match that would score highly in terms of probability and contributed greatly to their xG, yet it was a chance from the edge of the box they did take (Gary McAllister’s strike on 2 minutes) which was graded as one of the lowest scoring yet would give Leeds a lifeline in the tie headed into the second leg.

Type of Chances Created

With 11 of Rangers 21 attacks coming from build up play it helps illustrate that Rangers did make good use of the ball even when their overall possession percentage began to diminish in the second half. We can also see from the Key Pass locations that Rangers were setting up a number of shots from 30 + yards to goal, which speaks to how high Leeds defensive line was positioned for much of this match.

In contrast the key pass locations from Leeds were significantly closer to Rangers goal, illustrating that they did their best work when creating attacks around the 18 yard box, either through combinations or working off the creation of a target man. Beyond this Leeds biggest challenge on the night was turning this chance creation into goals, with all 5 of their key pass attacks (as illustrated above) failing to generate a shot on target.

Where Chances are Created

Despite generating 9 more attacks Rangers xG is only marginally better than Leeds, which could lead us to assume that Rangers were more wasteful in front of goal. If we study the xG value of all shots on target, it actually shows us that Rangers scored a value of 0.91 compared to Leeds 0.20. This tells us that 49% of Rangers entire attacking value (xG) actually tested the keeper, whereas Leeds could only return 14% of their attacking value (xG) on target.

By looking at the Shot locations we can assess performacne further. If we examine chances inside the box a good place to start is the Golden Zone (Central portion of the 18 yard box) to better understand scoring probability. Each side would create 5 attacks inside the golden zone, however their fortunes were drastically different. Leeds United would only hit the target through 1 of those 5 efforts, with two chances being blocked and two further chances missing the target all together. Rangers would return 4 of the 5 Golden Zone efforts on target, with two chances being saved by Leeds United keeper Lukic, and two more finding the net. This turned out to be the critical point in evaluating both teams performances on the night, and it would set up the second leg perfectly given how important the goals return would become for both sides.

Who Created Chances

Ally McCoist would finish as Rangers best statistical attacker, taking part in 4 attacks on his own and creating 2 more for his teammates. His 4 attacks would generate 1 goal, and his personal xG for the match would 0.66, almost 35% of his teams overall attacking value.

Ian Durrant would finish as Rangers best statistical creator with 5 key passes, two of which turning into shots on target, and a goal assist which would open the scoring (A corner swung in and punched into his own net by Leeds United’s John Lukic).

Gary McAllister was Leeds United best statistical attacker, recording four shots on goal with an xG of 0.16. Only one of these efforts hit the target, but what a hit it would be as it rifled into the top corner and gave Leeds a vital away goal.

Leeds United’s best statistical creator gave slim pickings, however Eric Cantona tops the table with 2 key passes. One of these chances turned out to be Leeds only Big Chance of the game, as Cantona set up Lee Chapman for a front post effort that he sent wide.

Match Simulator

We fired up the RFA Match Simulator to replay the match 1000 times, and in doing so calculating the accumulative win percentage based on the probability of each shot. Here are the results:

Join us next time as we pick back up on November 4th 1992 when Rangers travelled to Elland Road for the second leg of this Second Round UEFA Champions League Battle of Britain.

About the Author

Picture of Alistair Bain

Alistair Bain

Alistair is a native of Hamilton, Scotland, and an A License qualified coach with vast experience in the football industry. Currently residing in Charlotte, North Carolina, Alistair's resume includes a variety of roles within football clubs in Scotland, England, and the United States.

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