Leeds United proved that football league tables aren’t as important as form in their FA Cup match at Old Trafford this afternoon, defeating the current Premier League Champions by one goal to nil in their FA Cup third round encounter.
The Yorkshire team opened the scoring through top-goalscorer Jermaine Beckford just shy of the twentieth minute cueing the cup tie many Leeds fans must have dreamt of on the couple of hours journey across the Pennines to their old enemies.
Ten years ago to the day, Leeds United were top of the Premier League, before a fall from grace which sees them currently leading League One, two whole leagues apart from Man United. With the Manchester United defence still struggling to come to terms with the lack of centre backs Vidic and Ferdinand, at half time it was difficult to tell which side was the Premier League outfit, particularly given the trouble that Beckford had given Wes Brown.
Beckford’s goal was all about his pace and the failure of Brown to mark his man tightly. Beckford spun and took five or six yards while Johnny Howson hit a long hopeful ball between the centre half and his goalkeeper, Thomas Kuszczak. Beckford had the pace to get there first and stab his left-footed toe poke past the advancing goalkeeper towards the far post from the near. The ball spun slowly goalwards before nestling in the Red Devils’ net.
Leeds’ manager Paul Grayson told interviewers “It was a good ball from Johnny Howson and nine out of 10 times Jermaine Beckford finishes them off. Full credit to the players, who were outstanding.”
Few in the ground believed that would be an end to the scoring, however, as chances were developing at either end before the half time whistle, though none found the net in the first forty-five minutes.
In the second half, Manchester United had much more possession and developed several reasonable chances without really pushing Leeds for any extended period. Ankergren, another Great Dane playing in goal at Old Trafford, only this time in an away shirt, showed some class to save from Anderson with his feet on around the hour mark.
United brought on Michael Owen with twenty minutes remaining. He was presented with the chance of the match when Anderson played the ball to him ten yards out, but the United striker fluffed his lines and totally mishit his shot.
Leeds would then have the closest two efforts of the second half in quick succession. First, man of the match Beckford hit a turning shot that was agonisingly close within one foot of the home goal before Snodgrass, recently on as a substitute, smacked the angle with a beautifully struck free kick after more good work from Beckford had won Leeds the set piece.
With five minutes of added time indicated, the nine thousand Leeds fans in Old Trafford looked understandably nervous, but never stopped cheering their men on. They had a heart stopping moment as Wayne Rooney hit a wonderful volley from a cross which Ankergren was smart to save before rushing to block the rebound. As the ball was bundled away, sighs of relief were palpably drifting from the away end.
The final whistle blew to a roar from the Leeds faithful and few in United colours could argue with the scoreline: ruthless finishing had made the difference between two closely matched sides. As the curtain fell on another excellent FA Cup tie, those around Man United will feel a draw was not out of the question, but nobody who saw today’s game could argue that Leeds were not worth at least a replay and were good value for their place in the fourth round draw they took home with them today following this hard fought victory.