Wolves feature: 20 years on, that Foxes fightback!
In terms of the scores on the doors, it remains the greatest comeback in Wolves’ Premier League history.
Granted there may have been bigger profile and more joyously acclaimed climbs off the canvas – coming back from two-down to overhaul Manchester City in the Molineux cauldron pre-Christmas of 2019, or doing the same to prompt scenes of wild celebrations at Villa Park two years ago last week.
But to come back from a 3-0 deficit, and actually win 4-3? That only appears once on Wolves’ Premier League CV. In one of the most proverbial ‘games of two halves’ you could ever wish to meet. Twenty years ago, yesterday.
It’s time to re-live Wolves against Leicester from October 25th, 2003. With thanks to players from both sides, including the providers of three of Wolves’ four goals, members of the broadcast media from both sides, who still managed to stay friends, and even the referee, Peter Walton, who was presiding over his first ever fixture in the Premier League. What a way to start.
“It was pretty much pandemonium and the whole place erupted with the winning goal,” recalls two-goal Wolves midfielder Colin Cameron.
“An absolutely shocking defeat, awful, I don’t think I ever had another like it,” comes the contrasting view from Leicester striker James Scowcroft.
“I remember sitting in the dressing room after almost holding my head and wondering what on earth had happened,” says referee Walton.
“On the radio, you have to stay neutral,” explains Leicester fan and talkSPORT broadcaster Geoff Peters, who was doing off-air commentary as well as delivering reports.
“There I was, shouting about what an incredible Wolves comeback and fantastic game of football, whilst on the inside thinking, ‘how the hell have we thrown this one away’?”
It was some game. And some story. And, perhaps magnified by the fact that both Wolves and Leicester, promoted out of the Championship the previous season, were so desperate to take points off each other.
Wolves, as reported in this column previously, had only won their first Premier League game of the season, at the eighth attempt, against Manchester City three weeks earlier.
Leicester had suffered an equally difficult start, also winning only one league fixture before heading to Molineux, and found themselves bottom of the table, a place and a point adrift of their opponents.
For the man in the middle, after many years working his way up the refereeing ladder, at the age of 44, his topflight bow had finally arrived.
“I had been named on the Premier League list that season, but getting towards the end of October I was wondering when I was going to get my first game,” Walton recalls.
“Then Keith Hackett pulled me aside on the Tuesday and told me I’d got Wolves against Leicester.
“Then it was all about an exciting week preparing for my first ever Premier League match, but talk about butterflies on the day itself!”
The stakes were high everywhere in the clash of the Midlands, an ‘East versus West’ of the ilk not seen since Ivan Drago took on Rocky Balboa in Moscow in the mid-1980s.
And the early punches? Well, they were all delivered by Leicester, delivering a series of crushing and seemingly fatal blows to the Wolves’ rearguard.
After a quarter of an hour, Leicester were comfortably ahead thanks to two goals in four minutes, both from the powerful head of Les Ferdinand, from corners from opposite sides delivered with Exocet precision by Muzzy Izzet.
Wolves defender Jody Craddock was well known for his fearlessness and combative strength during his fantastic career at Molineux.
On that day however, he just found Ferdinand too good, on those two occasions at least.
“We would have prepared everything just as we normally did, including set pieces, and it would be me marking Les,” Craddock recalls.
“I felt I did everything I could to mark him at those corners, but I just couldn’t outdo him and he made a run and the ball was delivered straight to him.
“He was so awesome in the air that in that situation there was very little I could do, it was just one of those things.”
Things were to get worse before they got better, a low drive from Riccardo Scimeca after Ferdinand turned provider added to the Leicester lead and, five months on from going in at half time at the Millennium Stadium three goals to the good in the play-off final, Wolves were now on the other end of that scoreline in such a crucial game at Molineux.
“For any team in any game you don’t want to be behind at half time,” says keeper Michael Oakes, who could do nothing about any of the goals.
“It’s bad enough going in a goal down but 3-0 down is something else and, more often than not, that’s game over.”
The passage of two decades, and being involved in hundreds of fixtures, has perhaps affected the memory banks in terms of what may or may not have been said at half time, even in circumstances as dramatic as these.
Boss Dave Jones wasn’t a regular deliverer of the hairdryer treatment or a thrower of teacups – yes, when he went, he certainly went – but this was more an occasion for cool and calm heads and sifting through precisely what had gone wrong.
“We were lucky, we had 45 minutes to put it right,” the manager reflected at the time.
In the referees’ room, the discussion was equally composed.
“We were chatting and perhaps wondering by how many goals Leicester would win by, but we also knew what could happen during the course of a football match,” says Walton.
“So, it was all about going back out there and refereeing like it was 0-0 all over again.”
In the press box, debate was considerably more frenetic.