The day Newcastle United dealt Leeds United a blow they have still to recover from
It was the defeat many Leeds United fans feel their club have still to recover from.
Even their conquerers that rollercoaster afternoon, Newcastle United, have never arguably reached such heights in the 15 years since.
This weekend the clubs meet as Championship rivals chasing promotion back to the top flight.
On December 22, 2001, the pair were not just in the Premier League but slugging it out together at its very summit.
Bobby Robson’s Newcastle were first and David O’Leary’s hosts third as the sides kicked off in cold winter sunshine.
With second-placed Liverpool not facing fourth-placed Arsenal until 24 hours later, both teams knew that victory would leave them top.
An added backdrop was that the encounter came only days after the end of a long-running court case involving Leeds stars Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate.
After a tetchy opening half-hour, the game finally burst into life on 38 minutes when, not for the last time, Newcastle exposed left-back Ian Harte’s lack of pace as Kieron Dyer breezed past him easily before crossing for striker Craig Bellamy to finish from close range.
Within a minute, however, parity was restored as Bowyer’s shot squirmed beneath Shay Given’s legs.
The midfielder, who had been cleared of any offence and would ironically later play for Newcastle with Woodgate, snarled at the silent 5,000 visiting fans who had predictably jeered his every touch until that point.
With striker Mark Viduka fortunate to receive only a yellow card for two reckless challenges on centre-half Nikos Dabizas, Leeds began the second half in the ascendancy and were rewarded on 50 minutes.
Viduka, doing what he did best, backed into Andy O’Brien before spinning his marker and firing brilliantly past Given from the edge of the box.
Six minutes later Harte, doing what he did best, blasted home from the opposite side of the box after a clever dummy run by Bowyer had drawn two defenders out of position.
Top spot beckoned for O’Leary’s expensively assembled side amid what were now blizzard conditions.
Newcastle were not finished though and reduced the deficit three minutes later when left-back Robbie Elliott headed home after Nigel Martyn parried a Dyer shot.
Then came the moment which angered the Elland Road faithful as substitute Erik Bakke was penalised for handling an innocuous Gary Speed flick in the home side’s penalty box.
Handball? Yes. Deliberate? No. Deserved? Given Viduka’s continued presence on the pitch then Newcastle would argue that two or even three wrongs had finally evened out.
Alan Shearer’s resulting equaliser from the spot sparked a visiting onslaught in the last 20 minutes and only desperate defending by Rio Ferdinand in particular kept the scores even.
With 90 minutes on the clock, a move sweeping virtually the full length of the pitch ended with Newcastle winger Nolberto Solano outpacing the retreating Harte before slotting the winner low past Martin in front of those now delirious travelling supporters.
The Magpies had won what is still regarded as one of the Premier League’s finest encounters.
Although the two sides would briefly swap positions over the hectic festive period, Newcastle’s 3-1 victory in the return clash less than a month later effectively ended the Yorkshiremen’s title charge.
With Robson’s team clinching the last Champions League place at Leeds’s expense come the season’s end, O’Leary was sacked in the summer after a trophy-less £100m reign as the club’s infamous financial implosion ensued.
Robson too would depart little over two years later after also “only” finishing fifth.
How both clubs and their loyal fans now crave the return of such failure.
Leeds: Martyn, Kelly, Ferdinand, Mills, Harte, Bowyer, Batty, Johnson, Kewell (Bakke), Viduka, Fowler.
Newcastle: Given, Hughes, O’Brien, Dabizas (Distin), Elliott, Solano, Dyer, Speed, Robert (Bernard), Shearer, Bellamy (Lua-Lua).