Hibs V Leeds 1993
In the build-up to the 1993/94 campaign, Hibernian’s traditional pre-season friendly against a top English side was played on Sunday 1st August at Easter Road. The visitors were Howard Wilkinson’s Leeds United . The Yorkshire side had won the last ever English First Division title in season 91-92, before it became the premiership, largely thanks to their French striker Eric Cantona.
Howard Wilkinson remains to this day the last English manager to have led a team to England’s top-flight title. Leeds had excelled in season 91-92, as Hibs had by winning the Scottish League Cup that season. Both Hibs and Leeds didn’t really follow up those successful campaigns with great vigour– Hibs finished 7th in 92/93 while Leeds finished an astonishing 17th in the premiership in 92/93 – possibly the worst league campaign and title defence by reigning champions in modern English football history. Without Cantona – sold to Manchester United for just over a million pounds in 1992 - Leeds had struggled, so in the coming 93/94 campaign Howard Wilkinson and his side had a point to prove. Bereft of goals the previous season, July 1993 saw Leeds splash out £3m on Sheffield United’s towering striker, Brian Deane.
Naturally, as with Alan Shearer the previous season, Hibs fans were interested to see this big money player in action, though most of the 9200 or so fans who made their way to a sun-soaked Easter Road were more interested in seeing what a slightly revamped Hibs side could do.
Hibs’ squad had indeed changed. Callum Milne and Neil Orr were gone, Callum to Partick Thistle, Neil to St Mirren. Cult-hero and SKOL Cup winning ‘keeper John Burridge had left Easter Road, too, gone back to Newcastle. But, by far the biggest loss in the close season had been Pat McGinlay.
The free-scoring midfield powerhouse had been sold to struggling Celtic for around £500,000. Fans may remember the last few homes games of the 92/93 campaign, as the East terrace sang ‘Paddy must stay’ ,as they expressed their sadness at his impending departure. Though he was a great loss, Alex Miller hadn’t been idle in the recruitment process that summer. Ex Scotland ‘keeper Jim Leighton had joined Hibernian on a free transfer, having spent the second half of season 92/93 at Dundee playing reserve football, having been dropped by the Dees after a 3-6 hammering at home to Partick Thistle. Some eyebrows among the Hibs support were raised at his arrival ; Jim’s confidence had understandably taken a battering after his fall from grace at Man Utd and loss of the Scotland no.1 jersey to Andy Goram. However, Hibs fans welcomed Jim to Easter Road and it was a move that would turn out to suit both parties. With John Burridge gone, Hibs gaffer Alex Miller wanted an experienced ‘keeper and clearly felt that young Chris Reid wasn’t ready to be Hibs’ no.1 yet. Signing Leighton was a coup for Hibs, not a gamble – and his capture meant that Scotland’s three top goalies in that era had all played for Hibs. – Rough, Goram, Leighton.
Also recruited had been Falkirk winger Kevin McAllister, signed for around £240,000 from the Bairns. ‘Crunchie’, as he was known, was a Hibs fan and a talented tricky winger very much of the ‘old school’ type. His arrival sparked speculation that club icon Mickey Weir may be about to move on, but that wasn’t the case. Dundee United’s want-away Irish winger Michael O’Neill was also on his way to Hibs , though not in time for this match – his fee would be decided by a transfer tribunal when he did get to Easter Road, under the old pre-Bosman transfer system.
There were some scuffles between Leeds and Hibs fans in Edinburgh before and after this friendly match, incidents which I won’t dignify by detailing any further. It was a long time ago and football has changed. Inside the ground itself during the match saw the usual Hibs V ‘an English team’ banter – both sets of fans goading each other and singing national anthems at one another – heated but largely good tempered, especially given the searing heat.
Hibs’ other pre-season fixtures had brought a draw with Whitehill Welfare and easy away wins over Gala Fairydean and Ayr United, as well as a 0-0 draw against English 2nd tier side Luton Town just two days before the Leeds match.
Hibs wore the green and white Macbean/Bukta home kit, while Leeds sported their blue and yellow striped away garb. It was to be the last friendly Hibs played at Easter Road where fans stood on terraces.
Jim Leighton was tested in the 4th minute, saving a 30-yard effort from Scotland midfielder Gary McAllister. Dave Beaumont and Gordon Hunter got mixed up four minutes later, neither of them picking up Welsh international Gary Speed at a Gordon Strachan corner, but thankfully Speed managed to flash his free-header wide.
Leeds’ star-man on the day was 18-year old forward Noel Whelan, who buzzed around keeping Hibernian’s defence busy. After 20 minutes Whelan’s through ball sent Brian Deane through on goal, but the expensive forward was thwarted by a last-ditch Dave Beaumont tackle. 29 minutes in, Gordon Strachan out on the wing put in an inch perfect cross which the impressive Whelan headed past Jim Leighton into the net from six yards. 1-0 to Leeds.
From the restart after the goal, Hibs fought back, a clever move saw Darren Jackson thread a wonderful pass through to Kevin McAllister, the little winger looked clean through on goal and likely to score but was stopped by a superb tackle by Leeds’ Irish international defender Gary Kelly. Half-time 0-1.
Former Arsenal man David Rocastle was one of four subs Leeds brought on at half-time. Rocastle almost doubled the visitors’ advantage on 62 minutes, clipping a Rod Wallace cross just over the bar. You may remember his cousin, Craig, had a successful spell at Hibs when Tony Mowbray was in charge.
Five minutes later, the Hibs defence was ‘at it’ again, this time their slack marking left Jim Leighton exposed. The ‘keeper pulled off a superb double save from Rod Wallace and then Brian Deane, but Deane followed up to smash the ball into the net at the third attempt, with Hibs’ defenders guilty of ball-watching. That (eventually) silenced the east terrace’s fans chants of ‘what a waste of money’ towards him. Hibs did try, but this was a very strong Leeds side. Darren Jackson tested John Lukic in the Leeds goal with an angled drive after 73 minutes, then in the 80th minute Alex Miller’s men were thrown a lifeline. Keith Wright coolly rounded John Lukic only to then be unceremoniously hauled down by the ‘keeper before he could roll the ball into the net. The referee pointed to the spot and up stepped Darren Jackson. Justice was not done, though, as Lukic threw himself to his right and brilliantly saved Jacko’s spot-kick . The match ended Hibs 0 Leeds 2. The game had largely been a midfield battle and that was a battle which Hibs had lost, showing good effort but little invention. Jim Leighton had impressed in goal, the back four of Joe Tortolano, Willie Miller, Gordon Hunter and Dave Beaumont hadn’t really worked as a unit, the midfield of Mickey Weir, Kevin McAllister, Brian Hamilton and David Farrell – the latter playing in Pat McGinlay’s old role – had been out-muscled and out passed, while Jackson and Wright up front had little service. Gareth Evans, Steven Tweed and Danny Lennon, who came on as subs, had little impact. Yet there was no shame, one look at the Leeds match squad that day shows you what we were up against. It consisted of
John Lukic, Gary Kelly, Kevin Sharp, Noel Whelan, Chris Fairclough, David O’Leary, Gordon Strachan, Rod Wallace, Brian Deane, David Rocastle, Gary Speed, Gary McAllister, Steve Hodge, David Batty, David Weatherall.
Yes, Hibs lost this particular ‘curtain raiser’, but the match provided valuable lessons. Hibs started the season brilliantly after an initial draw with Partick, topping the table for most of its first three months and reaching the League Cup final, which we narrowly lost 1-2 to Rangers. Hibs eventually finished 5th, largely due to poor results against Hearts and Rangers. At the time we were amid a 22 match winless run against Hearts and a 13 match winless run against Rangers. The addition of Michael O’Neill to the squad added balance and guile ; Jim Leighton performed heroics in goal – particularly in the run-up to the cup-final – heroics which would continue for four years at Hibs in which he eventually won back the Scotland no.1 shirt. Hibs saved Leighton’s career, Leighton saved us on many occasions. David Farrell did his best in midfield but was no Pat McGinlay – yet his fierce tenacity in the tackle earned him the respect of most of the Hibs faithful. Steven Tweed became a first-choice defender. Kevin McAllister wowed us on the right, and Wright and Jackson just got better. 25 years on it seems odd that such a relatively good season began with a frustrating defeat to Leeds, yet ultimately it acted as a harsh object-lesson – if you know your strengths and your opponents’ weaknesses you can excel , but only if you treat every match like it’s a cup final – and dinny start ball-watching when top English sides have the ball in your box eh...jeez! Leeds went on to finish a very impressive 5th in England's Premiership in season 93/94.
And finally, yes Joe Tortolano was up against Gordon Strachan in this match , but there was no repeat of what happened five years earlier between the two during Gordon Rae’s testimonial , the now infamous red-card. In this match, Joe was too busy chasing shadows while Gordon just seemed pleased to be having a kickabout in the sun at Easter Road, as any Hibby would.