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Comebacks happen every week in football but usually it is just a one or two-goal turnaround, leaving the team that has fought from behind in a state of bliss. But every once in a while a game develops that completely defies the rulebook and has neutrals purring at the great unpredictability of sport. A team with a commanding lead, instead of holding on for an easy win, will suddenly forget how to defend, while the losing side will throw caution to the wind in an effort to get back into the match and everything they try appears to work. Spectators at Elland Road witnessed such an encounter this week, prompting skysports.com to count down ten of the greatest ever comebacks.
Let us start with the match of the moment and at one stage it appeared as though Leeds would be the ones celebrating a dramatic fightback, having recovered from Jon Parkin's early effort to establish a 4-1 lead thanks to goals from Luciano Becchio, Alex Bruce and a Davide Somma double. Crucially, however, there was still more than half the match remaining and, after Parkin had reduced Preston's advantage before the interval, Keith Treacy and Callum Davidson soon made it level early in the second period. Parkin then completed his hat-trick to put the visitors in front and Iain Hume added the tenth goal of an extraordinary night late on.
The most famous comeback of recent years came in Istanbul in 2005 when Liverpool reversed a 3-0 half-time deficit to win the UEFA Champions League final. Paolo Maldini gave Milan a first-minute lead, and two goals from Hernan Crespo put the Italians in a seemingly unassailable position at the interval. However, Steven Gerrard gave the Reds hope and Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso struck to send the match to extra-time and later penalties, when a remarkable success was sealed with the help of two Jerzy Dudek saves.
Tottenham looked set for a stunning win at White Hart Lane in 2001 after opening up a three-goal advantage courtesy of goals from debutant Dean Richards, Les Ferdinand and Christian Ziege. However, United underwent a transformation at the break and came out playing like champions as Andy Cole, Laurent Blanc, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Teddy Sheringham and David Beckham scored to silence White Hart Lane.
Poor old Spurs were on the receiving end of another comeback three years later as Manchester City repeated the trick of their local rivals in an FA Cup replay. The initial tie finished 1-1 and Spurs then made the most of home advantage to storm into a 3-0 lead thanks to early goals from Ledley King, Robbie Keane and Ziege, while Joey Barton was sent off for City. But the visitors somehow turned the tie around as Sylvain Distin, Paul Bosvelt and Shaun Wright-Phillips made it level before Jon Macken headed in a late winner.
The Gunners needed to pull out all the stops in August 2004 to equal Nottingham Forest's 42-match unbeaten record, after falling 3-1 behind to Middlesbrough at Highbury. Thierry Henry had set Arsenal on their way to a seemingly routine victory but Joseph-Desire Job equalised and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Franck Queudrue then put Boro firmly in charge. But Arsene Wenger's side produced a response befitting of their 'Invincibles' tag as Dennis Bergkamp, Jose Antonio Reyes, Robert Pires and Henry secured the most exhilarating of victories.
Middlesbrough showed they were capable of mounting comebacks of their own during a thrilling run to the 2006 Uefa Cup final. In the semi-final, trailing 1-0 from the first leg, the Teessiders' hopes looked to be extinguished when Nicolae Dica and Dorin Goian put the visitors 2-0 up on the night inside 24 minutes. However, substitute Massimo Maccarone pulled one back before half-time before Mark Viduka, Chris Riggott and Maccarone - in the 89th minute - put Steve McClaren's side through to the final.
Les Ferdinand was the star of the show in the first half of this fixture in 2003 with two goals, while he also set up Riccardo Scimeca to make it 3-0 to the Foxes before the interval. Many of the Molineux faithful might have been contemplating an early departure, but they witnessed something special as Colin Cameron's goal inspired a miraculous escape. Cameron scored again from the penalty spot on the hour mark and Gavin Rae and Henri Camara later got in on the act to clinch all three points.
The match itself might not have involved a comeback but this was the second leg of a Champions League quarter-final in 2004 that had seen Milan lead 4-1 from the first game in Italy. The Rossoneri defence included such legends of the game as Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Nesta so Depor were given no chance of scoring three times. In the end they managed four as Walter Pandiani, Juan Carlos Valeron, Albert Luque and Fran all found the target.
To find perhaps the greatest ever comeback we have to venture back to The Valley in 1957, when Charlton were 5-1 down with half an hour to go but managed to emerge triumphant. Bill Shankly was in charge of Huddersfield at the time but saw his team capitulate in the closing stages as an incredible five-goal salvo from winger Johnny Summers turned the game in the Addicks' favour. John 'Buck' Ryan scored the other two for Charlton, including a last-gasp winner.
The Red Devils might have only had one goal to make up but their victory over Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League final makes our list because of the sheer drama of the climax. United trailed for nearly the entire game after falling behind to Mario Basler's sixth-minute free-kick, but kept their hopes alive with a last-gasp Teddy Sheringham goal just before full-time. An extra 30 minutes beckoned but, amazingly, there was still time for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to fire home a winner and help the club to an unprecedented treble of European Cup, Premier League title and FA Cup.
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