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Easter Week turned into a tour of football grounds for the LUSC Tractor Boys Branch. Fridays trip to Anfield involved trekking up the M6 past Birmingham, Walsall and Villa Park and then parking up by Everton before witnessing a superb team performance at Anfield. The journey back involved a traffic jam busting detour that took us past Port Vale and Stoke.
A days rest and another early start saw us heading for Heathrow where our plane took us to Lisbon and an aerial view of Sporting Lisbon's ground and then the real Stadium of Light. A connecting flight took us onto Porto and the chance to add Boavista and Porto's grounds to the list as we drove into the city centre. For the first time ever our trip to a European game didn't involve us sharing a flight with other Leeds fans, I guess flying to the wrong country will shake most people off, and so for once there was still some beer left when the plane landed J.
A night out in Porto followed. Had a beer with some breath-taking views across the gorge to the Port houses, I'm sure Gav was tempted to swim across to them, then a traditional Portuguese Chinese meal. Up early the next morning to check out some more sights, impressive station, before we all piled back into the people carriers, for the trip into Spain.
A decent journey with some great views along the coast by Vigo and we made our next point of call, Santiago by early afternoon. Hotel was called the Congresso, so we went into the 5-star hotel next to the Congress centre (and the football ground), where they gave us directions to our hotel once they'd finished laughing. As promised our hotel had a swimming pool just a shame there was no water in it. Into Santiago where after re-painting one of the vans with part of the ticket machine in the smallest underground carpark in the world, the dulcet tones of a Yorkshire choir told us that we'd found some other Leeds fans at last. As the guide book said Santiago had a big f*** off Cathedral, but more surprisingly had a bar with a great CD collection. How many bars in England have every Pavement album and so we drank and danced the night away to the punk hits of the late 70s.
Tuesday morning and we took our hangovers with us on the road to Coruna, which turned out to be a gorgeous place. The local people were very friendly despite the fact that the local papers had been running English fans hooligans stories for the previous couple of days. A wander around town and a climb up the Tower of Hercules to the windiest spot on earth, before holing up in a bar pre-game.
A few beers and then we moved onto another bar to meet our Coruna host Paul Ryan, this proved a bit difficult as the bar was packed and most of us had no idea what Paul looked like. But eventually Betty tracked him down and Paul turned out to be a top bloke as did his mate Juan, who'd sorted the accommodation for us in Coruna. The first bar had a fair contingent of the Leeds United muppet brigade over-excited by the sight of sea, sun and sand all in the same place. However, the Deportivo crowd were happy enough and a couple of broken tables was the only damage.
Paul took us to one more bar before moving onto the ground, where we joined a somewhat dangerous crush to get in. Leeds stewards sent us to one turnstile, when we got to the front the turnstile operator tried to sent us back to the other entrance, which was impossible because of the crush outside. When I eventually got in, of course one half of the Leeds end was over-crowded whilst there was plenty of room in the other. Chaos.
A good compact ground and a pretty fantastic atmosphere throughout, the Deportivo fans being the noisiest we'd encountered all year. We started off pretty confidently with the fans in good voice but the early penalty induced panic on the pitch and in the stands. Too far away to say if it was a good decision or not but Djalminha but the penalty away confidently enough. A few minutes later what looked like a better penalty shout as a Coruna player went over a stray Leeds leg but luckily the ref didn't give it. We remained under pressure partly due to the inept performances of the Australian contingent. Kewell kept losing possession and the lack of TV coverage meant Viduka couldn't be bothered to move his huge arse out of the centre circle. Luckily Dacourt was immense and saved us on more than one occasion. Alan Smith was having a great game but missed a chance to settle the nerves when he intercepted a poor back header, went round the keeper but hit it into the side-netting from a poor angle after taking one touch too many. The ball was bobbing around our area far too much for comfort and we were relieved to get to half-time only one down.
A customary Champions of Europe, becoming increasingly symbolic all the time, led onto a better performance in the second half. We kept possession better and looked like we were starting to take some of the passion from the Deportivo fans. We missed another good chance as Matteo put a free header wide but were still hanging on at times with the ball hitting our bar twice, once via a fantastic flying save from Martyn. Deportivo bought on extra attackers and the ploy worked as Tristan scored the 2nd following a quickly taken free-kick. About 20 minutes left and we were now incredibly nervous, probably more tense than the Milan game as having had the big lead the pain of losing would probably have been even worse.
Although Deportivo had a lot of possession they made few clear chances towards the end and both Viduka and Dacourt after an astonishing 50 yard run had chances to finish it. Smith was everywhere making tackles in our box and holding it up at the other end and the team battled hard to secure the win. Thankfully only 2 minutes of injury time to endure despite some time-wasting though conversely the Coruna ballboys were throwing the ball back so quickly there were often 2 on the pitch.
In the end another great night in a great season, but we made hard work of it. The Deportivo fans we met before the game were probably right in that they were a superior team but had blown it by sitting back too much in the first game. They played some great football yesterday and if they'd have tried to would probably have scored at ER.
Some serious text-messaging at the final whistle confirmed we were going to Valencia and within a few minutes we had 19 flights booked, with the price already rising. The Deportivo fans mostly clapped us off although there were a couple of dickheads with Turkish flags, luckily someone had translated "You are the Weakest Link goodbye" and put it on a banner. We were kept behind so that left time for some celebratory singing; "One team in Europe" and "We're all going to Benidorm" being favourites, before the team came out to do their turn, although Bowyer was drowned out by the local drummers. While we waited we got to amuse ourselves by taking the piss out of the quieter half of Leeds fans, who the "F***ing hell are you". We eventually got let out and got lost so failed to locate the rest of the listers after the game, but still found a bar to celebrate in.
Wednesday morning meant the drive back into Portugal, though we made a detour near the border to visit the football ground in the village of Godojamar - OK Gav got us lost - not surprising, finding an entire country from a range of 5 miles is really difficult. Pretty uneventful trip back though the pilot diverted over London to allow us to add Palace and Brentford to our list of grounds seen.
Another great trip - 4 days in the sun in a beautiful country or 2 with your mates and a previously unthinkable Champion League quarter-final victory. Thanks to Paul and Juan for helping out. Long may the fantasy continue.
Match report (as viewed from the buffalo-hide settee)....Deportivo La Coruna 2 Leeds United 0
We were lucky. We did not play very well.
They were unlucky. They played very well.
The opening minutes saw us put a few promising flowing attacks together on the break, but they soon started to take control. They were fortunate to get a slightly dodgy penalty award after 9 mins. An early goal was always going to be a big bonus for them. We were a bit stretched, and as a cross came in from the left, Kewell, tracking back with Victor, allowed his man to get the wrong side of him. it looked to me as if Voctor realised he couldn't get to the cross, so on feeling contact on his back, went down in a heap. at any rate, the ref gave em the pen. Now I was just reading an interview with Mendieta in 442 the other day, and he described his pen taking technique...........he runs up to the ball watching the keeper, waiting till the last second, and as soon as the keeper makes a move one way, he slots it in the other side (I hope bloody nigel read it as well!) Anyway, Djalminha did exactly the same thing, and Nige conveniently stepped to his right, so he slid the ball past him to his left. Next time, Nigel (especially if it's the sf) wait until they bloody kick it and then have a go.
The rest of the first half was pretty dire. We were back to our old Nou Camp (old Nou?) form, where they seemed to have 4 more players than us, and we couldn't string 3 passes together to save our lives. So they just kept on coming in waves. Part of the problem may have been that Batts & Ollie were both on yellows.........but it wasn't just their tackling, but surprisingly their passing which was not as effective as usual. It seemed like they had a plan for Fran to take on Mills and swing in crosses to expose Harte at the back post. One of his crosses drifted over everybody and hit the post (a la Bowyer v barca). Despite everything, though, Nige didn't have too much to do. He made a comfortable diving save from a header, and blocked a dangerous move after Rio had given the ball away dreadfully, but that was about it. At the other end..............zilch, until just before ht, when Smithy's pace and anticipation turned a baxkpass to the keeper into a chance. He raced onto it superbly, took it round the keeper, but from a nearly impossible angle (although I've seen Brian Deane [sic] score from there!), he could only hit the side netting.
2nd half saw some improvement...........we managed to hold onto the ball better, and had a few periods when we kept the ball down their end. They were restricted more to long range shots, although one such was a screamer which Nige did brilliantly to touch onto the bar. Going into the last half hour, and with an extra striker on, they started to really dominate again. Mackay had a header which thwacked against the bar with Nige beaten........and then they scored again. Bowyer made a rather bad foul in midfield, and, probably worried about a booking, he very solicitously picked the bloke up. Meanwhile, another lad ran up and took the freekick quickly.......Bow was out of position and a guy was free wide on the left. He played it in to the near post, and their sub striker slid it home.
So.........0-2 down, taking a bit of a pasting, and something like 18 mins to go. It looked grim...........but actually, we held out pretty soundly for the rest of the match, without any really major alarms. Viduka had a good chance to make it safe, played in a by a superb ball by , I think, Dacourt. From 12 yds out, he had to stretch a bit, he got good contact but couldn't quite get the direction and the keeper made a very good save.
So we held on and are miraculously through to the semifinals. Despite the relatively poor performance, it is a great, great achievement. Good news is that I don't think we got any yellows which will mean anybody missing the next match. The only worrying thing is that we have now lost 3 out of 3 in Spain, so we'd better do the biz at Elland Road again v Valencia.
Copy from Football Unlimited of 18/04/2001.
The argument against Leeds United's chances of winning the European Cup continues to disintegrate into dust after an agonisingly tense night here in La Coruna brought them to their first place in the semi-finals for 26 years.
Whether their nerves will have recovered in time for the last four clash with another Spanish outfit in Valencia is another matter. This was a torrid evening and Deportivo will reflect they had the chances not only to extend Leeds to extra time but to have concluded the most astonishing of comebacks.
In the end, however, the damage inflicted upon the Spanish champions at Elland Road proved to be irretrievable, Leeds winning the numbers game thanks to their 3-0 triumph in west Yorkshire 13 days earlier. Mission accomplished, but only just.
Copy from The Independent of 17/04/2001.
Talk about a tie of two halves. On a night in north-west Spain that was as balmy as the first meeting in Yorkshire had been rain lashed, Leeds United clung by their fingernails to the lead they had secured a fortnight earlier to reach the semi-finals of the European Cup for the first time in 26 years.
Deportivo, the Spanish champions, scored in the opening minutes through a Djalminha penalty and still had 17 minutes in which to become only the second club in Champions' League history to cancel out a three-goal first-leg deficit when Diego Tristan added a second. But Leeds, for whom Mark Viduka was denied by Jose Francisco Molina's stunning reflex save shortly before the second goal, held out to earn a tilt at Valencia for a place in the final.
The Deportivo coach, Javier Irureta, had evoked Churchill by promising to make Leeds shed "blood, sweat and tears" in order to reach their goal. He did not further guarantee to "fight them on the beaches", as well he might have, given the fact that the Atlantic Ocean lies barely a drop-kick from the ground, but the mood among the home supporters during the build-up to the match was extraordinarily buoyant considering that their side had capitulated 3-0 in the first leg.
The pounding of the drums and the shower of shredded newsprint which greeted their appearance were reminders that "Super Depor" are renowned both for their scoring exploits and for retrieving seemingly lost causes. David O'Leary had talked of chasing an early goal, which would mean their hosts having to score five to go through, yet it was his own team who conceded first and all too swiftly.
Leeds had already endured one escape, when a shot by Walter Pandiani was diverted behind by Dominic Matteo, before they were undone by a cross from the Dutchman Roy Makaay after eight minutes. As the ball dipped in towards the far post, O'Leary might have hoped for a defender to be present to deal with the danger. Instead it was Harry Kewell, who betrayed his inexperience of such situations by impeding Victor.
The Leeds manager had been concerned that Deportivo players would go to ground without too much prompting. After the obligatory delay for protests and pushing, Djalminha stepped up to stroke the spot-kick to Nigel Martyn's left as the goalkeeper moved to his right. The nonchalance with which the Brazilian seized his opportunity merely added to the Galician glee.
A state of siege developed, expertly orchestrated by Djalminha, the Brazilian who had been so ineffectual at Elland Road. Leeds, by contrast, relinquished possession far too easily. It was symptomatic of their unease that the normally unflappable Rio Ferdinand smashed the ball into the advertising hoardings after being harshly adjudged to have fouled Fran midway through the first half. Ferdinand was cautioned for his trouble and Leeds continued to live dangerously.
Pandiani rounded Martyn only to find the angle too tight; Matteo headed a Victor cross from under the bar; and Martyn, who would also swoop to smother Pandiani's glancing header, watched a fulminating drive by Manuel Pablo veer inches over his bar off Alan Smith.
Three minutes before half-time, however, Donato's poor back-pass gave Smith a chance to equalise. Like Pandiani, he skipped round the goalkeeper but elected to shoot when the angle demanded a cut-back to Viduka. The ball hit the side-netting.
There was no respite for Leeds after the break. Ian Harte cleared Fran's centre as it threatened to creep in the far post, and almost immediately Martyn clawed Enrique Romero's 25-yard drive on to the opposite upright. A solo break-out by Olivier Dacourt gave Leeds hope but his hurried shot under pressure did not unduly stretch Molina.
For all their tendency to give the ball away too cheaply - in which respect Kewell was especially culpable - there could be no doubting Leeds' tenacity and commitment. Smith exemplified their willingness to harry Deportivo out of their stride, though the booking of Martyn for time-wasting as early as the 63rd minute was testament to the nerve-wracking position in which they found themselves.
Irureta even withdrew Djalminha, to the crowd's annoyance, in an attempt to break Leeds' resistance. Makaay came tantalisingly close with a header that Martyn tipped on to and over the bar with 20 minutes remaining, but the goalkeeper was helpless three minutes later as Tristan turned in Juan Valeron's low cross to heighten the tension.
Copy from Yorkshire Evening Post of 18/04/2001.
UNDER merciless and relentless pressure that amounted to an affront, beleagured Leeds United swayed, wavered and rocked but refused to roll over to the Spanish champions in a spine-tingling encounter.
They will not forget their visit to the Riazor Stadium, home of Spanish champions Deportivo La Coruna, in a hurry.
Their passage to the semi-finals of this glorious competition has been littered with high drama, though none of it could match last night's maximum-tension proceedings.
United needed all of their three-goal advantage from the first leg as Deportivo attacked from left, right and centre with an awesome purpose, threatening throughout to run amok.
By hook and by crook Leeds survived, just, and now they go head to head with another Spanish outfit in Valencia for a place in next month's Final knowing that, surely, they cannot be made to negotiate so stern a test again.
Said United manager David O'Leary: "I knew we were in for a tough night because, as I've been saying all along, Deportivo are one of the best sides in Europe.
"I was more than a little disappointed with our performance, and that was made plain to the players at half-time. There were some tired people out there. But we've knocked out a very good side having ridden our luck a little.
"I knew that coming here with a three-goal lead was in no way safe for us, but that was perceived as only me talking it down when all I was being was truthful.
"Deportivo could very easily have won this competition."
His opposite number Javier Irureta afforded himself a smile and said: "We have gone out of the Champions League with our pride intact. It's a tribute to Leeds that they defended well enough to see their way into the semi-finals."
United were unchanged from the side which plundered a sparkling Premiership victory over Liverpool at Anfield on Good Friday, with manager David O'Leary reasoning that the deployment of a safety-first 4-5-1 formation would invite all-out attack from the Spanish champions.
Further, United's only defeat on their travels this year had come through Raul's infamous handball goal at Real Madrid and playing their normal game was the most likely route to success for a side at the top of its form.
Deportivo, with a seemingly hopeless task on their hands in having to score three times without reply even to draw, predictably had a more attacking look about them than they did at Elland Road two weeks ago.
They made four changes, bringing in free-scoring striker Walter Pandiani to partner Roy Makaay up front and fielding ageing Brazilian Donato at the back. Midfield was bolstered by the call-ups of Victor and Mauro Silva.
Once again United's travelling support, this time numbering 1,700, made their presence felt with a cacophony of sound and they could not have been made to feel more at home in the Riazor Stadium's blue, white and yellow-coloured seating.
Kewell's early skinning of Manuel Pablo augured well and Smith got in a header from Bowyer's cross as Leeds started brightly. An excellent block by Bowyer frustrated Pandiani's shooting ambitions and it was unfortunate for United that Kewell's deep cross just eluded Bowyer at the far post when they rallied.
But Deportivo were ahead on eight minutes when Makaay crossed from the left and Kewell was adjudged to have pushed Victor in the box. Djalminha sent Martyn the wrong way.
Spurred on by their early success, Deportivo proceeded to rock United back on their heels and both Ferdinand and Mills were put through the most searching examinations by the adventurous Victor and the pace of Pandiani.
Donato's push on Smith at last relieved the pressure, though Leeds were unable to capitalise on their free-kick. Then when Smith broke into the box Naybet was swiftly in.
On the half hour United were grateful for Makaay's dreadful miscue from point-blank range and it was becoming a real backs-to-the-wall fight. Ferdinand cleared off the line, Martyn made two crucial stops and Manual Pablo's thunderous volley took a critical deflection as United's goal came under siege.
Then Martyn flung himself to his right to keep out Pandiani's glancing header and it was astonishing that only one goal still separated the sides.
Such was the disarray in the United camp that Bowyer and Viduka argued openly, but three minutes before the break Donato's underhit backpass put Smith in with a chance. After rounding the keeper, though, Smith was left with an awkward angle to negotiate and his shot flew into the side netting.
Harte's crucial header from under the bar denied Victor and Martyn tipped Romero's shot onto the post as Deportivo reappeared with no less intent. But after Dacourt brought Molina to his knees to save, Smith cleverly won a corner on the right and Kewell with equal cunning on the left as United finally broke free.
It wasn't long, though, before United were on the back foot again and Harte again made an important headed clearance. Naybet was too high with his header from Fran's corner and when Fran fed Makaay, Martyn was equal to his stinging shot.
Martyn was booked for time-wasting on 63 minutes after the overlapping Djalminha's powerful shot whistled inches wide. Significantly, though, Deportivo were increasingly being restricted to long-range shooting and it was only after a double substitution that Martyn was fully tested by a Makaay header which he tipped onto the bar and behind for a corner.
Smith's excellent saving tackle stopped Fran in his tracks but then, on 73 minutes, Valeron hit the ball near-post for his fellow-sub Tristan to clip home left-footed.
Viduka was instantly presented with a glorious chance to wrap it up for United when Dacourt sent him into the clear but Molina, springing to his left, produced a spectacular save.
As sinews tired and hearts pumped, Fran tried to catch out Martyn in the closing stages with a shot inside the near post after shaping to cross, but the United keeper had it covered.
The final whistle was the sweetest sound.
Nigel Martyn: Great night 8
Danny Mills: Stood up well 7
Rio Ferdinand: No mercy 7
Dominic Matteo: Did well 7
Ian Harte: Immense 8
David Batty: Stretched 6
Lee Bowyer: Closely marked 6
Olivier Dacourt: All-out effort 8
Harry Kewell: Well below par 5
Alan Smith: Action man 9
Mark Viduka: Not at best 6
Eirik Bakke (for Kewell, 78)
Subs not used: Robinson, Wilcox, Burns, Maybury
Deportivo la Coruna
Francisco Molina: Steady 7
Manuel Pablo: Industrious 7
Nourredine Naybet: Innovative 8
Donato: Belied his years 8
Romero: Strong 7
Djalminha: Caused problems 8
Fran: Big contribution 8
Victor: Scheming 7
Walter Pandiani: Tricky 8
Roy Makaay: Handful 8
Tristan (for Victor, 62)
Valeron (for Djalminha, 69)
Turu Flores (for Pandiani, 80)
Subs not used: Songo'o, Cesar, Scaloni, Fernando
REFEREE: Mr S. Braschi (Italy)
BOOKINGS: Leeds United - Ferdinand, Martyn.