Columnist Graham Large takes a look back at the final game of the 1971/72 season when the Whites came to Molineux chasing a domestic double.
On Monday 8 May, 1972, double-chasing Leeds United needed only to avoid defeat against Wolves to become League champions for the second time in three years.
Derby County, whose players were already on holiday in Majorca having finished their season, led the table by one point from Leeds in second, with Manchester City in third, their campaign also over. However, fourth placed Liverpool, two points adrift, could still emerge as champions if Leeds slipped up at Molineux and they won at Arsenal on the same night.
Leeds had defeated Arsenal 1–0 in the FA Cup final just 48 hours earlier, and many supporters had followed the team from Wembley to Molineux hoping to see another historic night.
Despite a few injuries and the inevitable fatigue from the final, Leeds were still favourites to defeat a Wolves side that had lost their previous five home League games and the first leg of the UEFA Cup final at Molineux in recent weeks.
Yet, on a night of high tension, Bill McGarry’s side rose to the occasion and fought fiercely to win in front of a passionate 50,000-plus crowd.
Leeds attacked from the onset, determined to become only the third team in the 20th century to achieve the double. The first opening fell to Billy Bremner but, to the home crowd’s delight, he slipped as he attempted a spectacular overhead kick.
Soon afterwards Wolves goalkeeper Phil Parkes collided with Willenhall-born Leeds striker Allan Clarke in the home box, and referee Bill Gow turned down the visitors’ penalty appeal. Minutes later the visitors had a more justifiable case when Bernard Shaw appeared to handle Clarke’s cross. But astonishingly the referee didn’t award Leeds a penalty and play continued.
The home side were under pressure for most of the first half until a mistake from Johnny Giles led to them taking the lead two minutes before the interval.
Dave Wagstaffe’s short corner was crossed into the box by Shaw. Giles sliced an attempted clearance across his own penalty area to Frank Munro who steered an angled drive past Leeds keeper David Harvey and defender Paul Reeney who was positioned on the line.
Leeds came out fighting in the second half, desperately searching for an equaliser to keep their title hopes alive. Parkes made a superb save from a Peter Lorimer free kick, and the keeper was called into action again moments later to deny both Clarke and Giles.
But it was the home side who struck next to double their lead, after 67 minutes, when Danny Hegan’s through ball from inside his own half found John Richards. He spotted his strike partner Derek Dougan to his right and delivered a brilliantly timed passed for Dougan who showed great composure to run through and beat Harvey from 15 yards.
Leeds reduced the deficit almost immediately. Giles found Paul Madeley on the left and he crossed the ball to Bremner who blasted a first-time volley over Parkes and into the roof of the net.
The visitors only needed one more goal to be crowned champions, and abandoned any thought of defence. This approach forced a flurry of late opportunities – at both ends of the pitch!
At one end Richards hit the bar with a lobbed shot from just inside the box and then a shot by Wagstaffe was headed off the line by Madeley. Then at the other end, Leeds came desperately close to snatching the crucial equaliser.
In the dying minutes Jack Charlton crossed the ball into the box to Terry Yorath and his header had beaten Parkes. But Gerry Taylor popped up to head the ball off the line at the last second.
Moments later the final whistle blew and the double dream was over.
With Leeds losing at Molineux and Liverpool drawing at Highbury, the title was Derby County’s. Brian Clough commented: “”It is incredible. I do not believe in miracles, but one has occurred tonight. I believe they played four-and-a-half minutes of injury time at Molineux – it seemed like four-and-a-half years to me!”
The last 12 games between the sides have yielded six Wolves wins, three Leeds wins and three draws. Leon Clarke snatched a late winner the last time these two teams met, as Wolves fought back from being 1-0 down at half-time to win 2–1 at Elland Road.
Wolves are unbeaten in six games against Leeds at Molineux, the most recent of which came in February 2013 when Danny Batth’s last-minute header rescued a point for a Wolves team heading for League One under Dean Saunders.
Furthermore, Leeds have not recorded a win at Molineux since December 1984.
The recent history falls in Wolves’ favour but one thing’s for certain: there are still plenty of twists and turns to come in this season’s promotion race.
Let’s hope luck is on our side, just like it was in May 1972.