Rangers seized the upper hand in the UEFA Champions League ‘Battle of Britain’ against English champions Leeds United with a 2-1 first leg victory in front of a raucous home crowd. Gary McAllister had stunned Ibrox with a 2nd minute volley, before a calamitous error from goalkeeper John Lukic leveled the scores and Ally McCoist completed the comeback to give Rangers the 2-1 edge ahead of the second leg.
Scottish champions Rangers entered this game having already improved on their Champions League performance the previous season, where they were beaten on away goals by Sparta Prague in the opening round despite 2 goals from McCoist. This time out, the Glasgow club disposed of Danish champions Lyngby by an aggregate score of 3-0 in the first round with goals from Mark Hateley, Pieter Huistra and Ian Durrant.
Rangers entered this game leading the Scottish Premier League and riding a streak of 12 consecutive victories in domestic and European play, with star striker McCoist in red hot form having netted 24 goals in 19 games.
Both teams were bound by the new rule that meant a team can field no more than 3 foreign born and 2 ‘assimilated’ players in a European fixture. Rangers fielded Englishmen Hateley and Trevor Steven, while Dutch international winger Huistra was named on the bench.
McCoist partnered Hateley up front in a 4-4-2 shape, while Durrant was joined by Ian Ferguson in midfield and Scotland international goalkeeper Andy Goram anchored the defense.
Leeds United had not competed in Europe the previous season, but did make history by becoming the last English First Division champions before the competition’s rebranding as the Premier League. The title defense was not going well, with Leeds having won only 4 of their opening 12 league games ahead of this trip north of the border.
Worse news for the traveling Leeds fan base was their team’s form away from Elland Road, where Leeds had failed to pick up a win in 8 fixtures, conceding 19 goals over that span.
Navigating the opening round of this tournament had also not been short of drama for Leeds, who came through a highly controversial tie with Stuttgart. After a 3-0 loss in Germany, Leeds almost produced a miraculous second leg comeback with a 4-1 win at Elland Road in the return leg. It seemed Stuttgart had advanced on the away goals rule, only for events to take a dramatic twist after the final whistle.
Stuttgart admitted to UEFA that they had fielded an ineligible player in the second leg at Elland Road. After a lengthy deliberation from the governing body, it was ruled that Leeds would be reinstated into the tournament, and the two clubs would face each other in a playoff game on neutral ground.
In a game played at FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou, Leeds would advance courtesy of a 77th minute winning goal Carl Shutt who had been introduced as a second half substitute.
Lee Chapman and mercurial Frenchman Eric Cantona formed the front line in a 4-4-2 shape for Leeds, with 33-year old veteran Chapman having scored 9 goals so far on the season, Veteran Scottish duo McAllister and Gordon Strachan featured in midfield for Leeds to complete the foreign born trio allowed, while Welshman Gary Speed on the left flank was an assimilated player.
It was the back line that was proving the weakness of Leeds so far this campaign, and an injury to stalwart right back Mel Sterland forced Chris Fairclough to play out of position as cover, while Jon Newsome slotted in next to Chris Whyte at center back.
In a hostile atmosphere, Leeds went on the front foot early when a long throw from David Batty was headed behind by Richard Gough to concede a corner. The resulting corner would be converted into a dream start for the visiting English team.
The corner from Strachan was driven to the near post area where David Robertson headed clear, only for McAllister to meet the ball on the edge of the penalty area and fire a magnificent volley into the top corner of the net.
Rangers responded immediately and had a penalty appeal at the other end when a high ball was lifted into the penalty area. Hateley headed it to strike partner McCoist who went down under contact from Whyte, only for Belgian referee Alphonse Costantin to wave away the Rangers protests.
In front of a raucous crowd and in charge of 22 fired up players, Constantin produced a strong performance and had little time for the kind of dissent given to referees in the modern day game.
A high octane start to the game continued as Leeds left back Tony Dorigo drove down the flank and delivered a cross towards Cantona, but the French striker failed to find Speed with his knockdown.
Leeds came forward again and Speed came inside to link with Chapman before spreading the ball to Strachan out on the right wing. Strachan settled the ball before sending over a cross that was headed behind by Ferguson for another corner.
The clever movement of left midfielder Speed was effective for the visitors, with the Welshman showing the ability to drive to the byline off the dribble, and also float inside to support the strikers while left back Dorigo overlapped to provide the width.
Strachan sent the corner to the near post area and it was headed clear before Leeds recycled the attack and McCoist conceded yet another corner when he put in a sliding challenge on Strachan.
The visitors appeared to be targeting the near post area at set plays, with towering striker Chapman occupying that area while defender Whyte also made runs into the space in front of goalkeeper Goram as Strachan whipped crosses in. Another unconvincing defensive header found its way to Newsome from this corner and the defender guided a header wide at the back post.
Rangers had plenty of attacking intent of their own, and came forward in the 10th minute when Ferguson switched the point of attack to find an onrushing Robertson. The left back took a touch before driving a shot wide of the goalpost.
Soon after, Stuart McCall carried the ball up the right flank for Rangers before playing a pass to McCoist, the striker teed up Ferguson who fired a shot well wide of the target.
The physical presence, holdup play and aerial prowess of Rangers target man Hateley was causing problems for the Leeds defense, and came into play again when Durrant lifted a ball into the penalty area. Hateley headed it to fellow striker McCoist, only for Lukic to come off his line quickly and smother the attack.
The home team kept up the pressure and Steven lifted a cross into the penalty area towards Hateley, only for Fairclough to intervene and head behind for a corner.
Rangers would take full advantage of the corner kick and level the scores in the 21st minute courtesy of a calamitous error from Lukic. Durrant whipped an inswinging cross into the 6 yard box, and goalkeeper Lukic came off his line only to skew the punch back into his own goal as Dorigo desperately tried to clear it.
With the crowd buoyed, Rangers came forward again when Ferguson played in McCoist down the right channel, and the forward won a corner when his cross was blocked by Newsome.
Rangers tried a different approach from this corner, with Steven driving a lofted pass to the edge of the penalty area where Ferguson hammered a volley wide of the post. Ferguson pushed forward into a shooting position again just minutes later, but again guided his effort wide.
The home side were coming forward in waves and Durrant carried the attack before being tackled by Newsome 20 yards out from goal. The ball fell to Steven who fired a shot that was deflected on its way into the hands of Lukic.
Durrant was a driving force for Rangers, and won his team a corner when he carried the ball forward and exchanged passes with target man Hateley before winning a corner under a challenge from Strachan. Durrant took the corner but his driven cross was hoofed clear of danger by Leeds midfielder McAllister.
Durrant was soon involved on the wrong end of things for his team, when he was dispossessed by Strachan who drove forward and chipped a shot that landed in the hands of Goram.
A thoroughly entertaining game continued at a high pace and Whyte teed up Speed who took a touch into the penalty area before his shot was deflected behind for a corner.
Leeds continued with their strategy of whipping a cross into the near post area from the corner and were inches away from taking the lead again when Whyte flicked on to Newsome who headed the ball against the goalpost. The attack was recycled but Strachan’s eventual shot past Goram was nullified by an offside flag. Soon after, Leeds defender Whyte pumped a high ball forward that bounced around the penalty area before falling to McAllister who blasted a shot over the crossbar.
Rangers won a free kick 30 yards out when Durrant played a pass forward to Hateley who was fouled by Fairclough. McCall rolled the free kick to Ferguson who shot on target this time, but his effort was saved by Lukic. After his pivotal error, Lukic was doing his best to make amends, and was called into action again a minute later to tip a Robertson shot over the crossbar.
The pressure would tell again eventually and Rangers completed the turnaround from the resulting corner in the 38th minute. Dave McPherson rose to meet Steven’s corner and his header was saved by Lukic, only for the rebound to fall at the feet of McCoist who stabbed it home to send the Ibrox crowd into raptures.
The clever movement of McCoist was tough for the Leeds back four to come to terms with all game, and he latched onto a Steven ball forward into the penalty area and took a touch before firing wide.
The visiting back four continued to struggle and Fairclough attempted to intercept a Robertson throw in, only for the ball to fall to Durrant who curled a shot wide from the edge of the penalty area.
Leeds manager Howard Wilkinson would have been desperate for the halftime whistle to arrive as his team continued to creak under the pressure. Durrant split the defense with a through ball to overlapping left back Robertson who had his cross headed high into the air by Whyte, before Lukic claimed it and walked a tightrope on the goal line to avoid conceding a corner.
With the home team now fully in the ascension, the attacks kept coming and McCall sliced through the defense before skewing a shot wide of the target. Rangers soon came again and Durrant sprayed a pass out wide to an onrushing McPherson. Right back McPherson fed Steven, and the resulting cross was half cleared before falling to McPherson who had his shot blocked by Speed. Midfielder Batty finished the job and punted the ball clear before the halftime whistle blew to the doubtless relief of the Leeds players.
The central positions adopted in attack by left midfielder Speed were effective going forward for Leeds throughout the first half in particular, but came at the expense of allowing space to attack down the same flank for Rangers right back McPherson and Steven in front of him.
Leeds boss Wilkinson had a big job to do during the interval, and would be looking for his back four to tighten up and keep the tie on a knife edge with the second leg still to come at Elland Road.
Rangers manager Walter Smith would have been looking to keep up the attacking momentum after the restart, while also staying tight at the back to avoid conceding another potentially crucial away goal.
Neither team made any substitutions at the interval, and unsurprisingly it was Rangers who came forward first in the second half. Durrant played in Steven only for Lukic to come off his line sharply and save at the strikers feet before Strachan swept up and cleared the rebound.
The first attack of the second half for Leeds came courtesy of a familiar buildup pattern when Speed floated inside before feeding Dorigo on the overlap. Dorigo’s deflected cross fell to the feet of Batty who had his shot blocked.
England international midfielder Batty was a key figure for Leeds in the game, showing the ability to connect passes going forward while also being a key defensive presence as McAllister, Speed and Strachan all pushed on in attack.
Left back Dorigo was becoming a key figure as Leeds chased an equalizer and surged forward again in the 56th minute, dribbling past Steven and Ferguson before launching a shot over the crossbar.
Leeds came forward down the opposite flank minutes later and Cantona’s cross was cleared only as far as McAllister who skewed a shot wide.
Rangers left back Robertson made a raid forward of his own and sent in a cross that was just out of the reach of Hateley and Speed knocked it behind for a corner. Steven drove in a low cross from the corner that was hacked away by Dorigo before Rangers recycled the attack. Steven was the provider again and lifted in a cross to McCoist who chested it down for Ferguson who fired a shot off target.
Despite the high stakes at play, the game remained wide open and Speed released Cantona down the left channel. The French striker chipped a cross to Chapman who met the ball at the near post and directed a shot wide.
The influential Durrant broke forward yet again in the 65th minute and skipped past a weak tackle from Cantona before crossing to McCoist who headed straight into the hands of Lukic.
Leeds won a free kick 30 yards out when Chapman was fouled by McPherson challenging for a high ball forward. Strachan’s high ball into the penalty area found its way to Cantona who fired an acrobatic volley over the crossbar.
McAllister drove the attack forward for Leeds and swapped passes with target man Chapman before referee Costantin called no foul after the midfielder went to ground under a challenge from Durrant.
Rangers manager Smith made the first substitution of the game in the 75th minute, replacing Steven with Huistra on the left flank. Huistra was involved immediately and released Robertson in behind who set up McCoist to fire a shot over the bar.
The home team won an attacking free kick when McCoist took a touch past Newsome before being brought down by the defender. A short free kick was worked to Ferguson who drilled a low shot wide.
Leeds made their first substitution of the game in the 79th minute when Cantona was replaced by Rod Wallace as the visitors searched for an equalizing goal.
Rangers substitute Huistra was making his presence felt on the left wing and sent in a cross that was headed behind by Newsome for a corner. Durrant sent over an inswinging cross from the corner but Leeds midfielder McAllister was there first to head clear.
McAllister was soon involved on the attacking end of things and collected a pass from Robertson before firing a shot from distance over the crossbar.
Rangers had the chance to land a hammer blow in the 86th minute when McCall drove through the midfield before releasing Hateley clean in on goal. A recovering Newsome put Hateley under pressure before the striker’s weak finish was comfortably saved by Lukic.
Wilkinson made his second and final substitution as the game entered its final stages, replacing Strachan with David Rocastle.
Leeds still had defending to do, and Huistra came forward on the left wing once more and whipped in a cross that Hateley headed well wide. The visitors won a free kick from the resulting goal kick when Chapman was fouled by Gough during an aerial challenge. Dorigo lofted the ball forward only for Gough to clear, before a second cross by Batty was cleared by Hateley.
An offside call gave Newsome one more chance to loft a ball forward for Leeds, before John Brown headed clear and the final whistle blew on an absorbing and hard fought encounter.
Rangers would have been pleased to be taking a 2-1 lead into the second leg at Elland Road, with their strike partnership of Hateley and McCoist having proved capable of giving Leeds all they could handle. Before the second leg, a home game against Motherwell was on deck for the Scottish champions as they looked to build upon their sizable lead at the top of the Scottish Premier League.
Leeds would be happy to have scored an away goal, which allowed for the possibility of a 1-0 win in the return leg to see them advance on away goals. For that to happen however, Wilkinson would need to galvanize a back four that was shipping goals and had been troubled time and again at Ibrox. Ahead of the second leg, Leeds would be looking to get their league title defense back on track in games against Queens Park Rangers and Coventry City.
The second leg would doubtless be as hard fought and intense as this fixture, with both teams fighting for not only bragging rights in Britain, but the prestige and sizable financial boost of a place in the group stages of the UEFA Champions League.
2’ LEE Gary McAllister (Gordon Strachan) 0-1
21’ RAN John Lukic OG (Ian Durrant) 1-1
38’ RAN Ally McCoist (Dave McPherson) 2-1
MAN OF THE MATCH
#11 CM Ian Durrant (Rangers FC) – All action performance in the heart of midfield from Durrant, who forced the error from Lukic that tied the scores before driving the attack forward again and again. Also contributed on the defensive end, winning tackles and tracking runs to dull the threat of a quality Leeds midfield.
1: CM Ian Durrant – Man of the Match.
2: CF Ally McCoist – A thorn in the side of Leeds throughout the game, McCoist buzzed around into pockets of space before capping a quality performance with the game winning goal.
3: RD Dave McPherson – Good defensive performance against a livewire opponent in Speed, McPherson also joined the attack on the right flank to good effect, and his header on target resulted in the rebound that McCoist tucked away.
1: CM Gary McAllister – Opened the game with a magnificent goal and remained influential throughout, showcasing clever movement and passing range to drive the Leeds attack.
2: LM Gordon Strachan – High energy performance on both ends of the ball from Strachan who caused problems for the ‘Gers while also tracking back to support Fairclough.
3: CM David Batty – Strong defensive presence in a Leeds midfield that sent bodies forward in search of goals consistently throughout the game.
RAN: Goram, Robertson, Brown, Gough, McPherson, McCall, Ferguson, Durrant, Steven (Huistra), Hateley, McCoist.
LEE: Lukic, Dorigo, Newsome, Whyte, Fairclough, Speed, Batty, McAllister, Strachan (Rocastle), Cantona (Wallace), Chapman.