Palace are a team I never actually faced in a Leeds shirt, but we did have one really significant win at Selhurst Park while I was captain of the club.
It was the fifth round of the FA Cup in February 2003 and I’ve read since that our performance and result that day extended Terry Venables’ lifespan as Leeds manager, even if only for a further month. I say ‘our’, I was out injured at the time and watched the game from my then home in Thorner.
Our FA Cup ‘run’ had started at Scunthorpe that season – I’ll never forget James Milner being serenaded with ‘Happy Birthday’ from the Leeds fans at Glanford Park – and we beat Gillingham in the fourth round after a replay. The first game down there had been particularly brutal and contained one of the most ridiculous sending offs I have ever seen when Mark Viduka got a red card for ‘flooring’ Andy Hessenthaler. Now I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the difference between the pair of them, but to say Vidukes was twice the size of Hessenthaler wouldn’t be inaccurate, yet he was sent off for an alleged elbow. Far be it from me to say the referee was conned, but you can safely say that if Vidukes had elbowed Hessenthaler, the Gillingham midfielder wouldn’t have got back up, especially after he’d spent the previous 89 minutes kicking anything and everything in a white shirt!
With big Mamady Sidibe, who I later played with at Stoke, Gillingham weren’t at all bad, but we managed to get past them in the replay to set up the trip to Selhurst Park. It was in that replay I picked up an injury that was to rule me out of the Palace game.
Watching on the TV it was one of those perfect FA Cup games…for a neutral. Championship side at home to Premier League team, a full house, a packed away support…it had all the ingredients. We went 1-0 up after Gary Kelly rammed home this unbelievable free-kick taken so quickly that I don’t think most of the players from either side realised what he had done until he was off and celebrating with the Leeds fans. Palace equalised within minutes and as was our form at the time, it was like a ‘here we go again’ moment and you could sense the world was rooting for a cup exit.
But, cometh the hour cometh the man, and just as he was to do at Arsenal a few months later, Harry Kewell popped up with a great strike with 20 minutes left to win us the tie. The game was played out to the constant chanting of Harry’s name to the old “Daddy Cool” song by Boney M. We may have been struggling in the league and the papers were full of talk of our financial state, but we’d shown some real bollocks at Palace that day and people were suddenly talking about the FA Cup.
I was back on the sofa for that quarter-final trip to Sheffield United when I was joined by Eirik Bakke to watch what was a pretty uninspiring 1-0 defeat when we blew a great chance to get to the FA Cup semi-final for the first time in 16 years. It probably summed up our season. And no sooner had our interest in the FA Cup ended than Terry was sacked as manager, fuelling the theories of how important the win at Palace a month earlier was for his position.