FA Cup Third Round
|Manchester United 0|
|Leeds United 1||
- guardian.co.uk, Sunday 3 January 2010 15.01 GMT
There will be Leeds United supporters who take issue with the description of this once mighty club as "giant-killers" but, when you consider that their last league game was at Stockport County and the next is Wycombe Wanderers, nobody could dispute this was a victory that has grabbed the FA Cup by its shirt collar and reminded us all about the improbability of football. How, you wonder, can the FA Cup possibly produce anything more stunning in the next rounds?
Manchester United, the 11-time winners, had not been knocked out of the third round since losing at Bournemouth in 1984 and yet the team from League One played with not a hint of trepidation. They were strong in the challenge, quick to the ball, and the most remarkable result of a weekend otherwise devoid of upsets felt like a defining moment for a club that will want to forget the last decade in a hurry.
What we can say for certain is that Leeds look like a team that have finally found their feet and rediscovered some pride. Jermaine Beckford's winning goal, 19 minutes into a wretched day for Manchester United, can automatically be added to the annals of great FA Cup moments, a goal that will be replayed a thousand times but never too often for those 9,000 supporters who had come across the M62 maybe hoping, at best, to get a replay.
Beckford was outstanding as Leeds inflicted the kind of embarrassment on Manchester United that few could ever have envisaged. Sir Alex Ferguson would later complain that every one of his players had a bad day and it was difficult to argue considering they did not subject their opponents to any sustained pressure until the five minutes of stoppage time.
Ferguson likes to boast that no other team conjures up as much late drama but every time a player in red got a sight of goal someone in white, or some part of the goalkeeper Casper Ankergren's anatomy, somehow got in the way. At one point Bradley Johnson went into a tackle with a diving header. The sight of Patrick Kisnorbo, bandaged head, blood pouring from his nose, epitomised the Leeds spirit of togetherness. It felt like a trick of the mind that this, indeed, was a side belonging to the third tier.
This, however, was not just a victory for hard toil and organisation. There was inspiration to go with the perspiration. Beckford, fast and lithe, was a constant menace, causing as many problems as any Premier League striker to visit Old Trafford this season. Robert Snodgrass, a substitute, curled a free-kick against the crossbar and even if the home side had marginally more chances there was a sense of desperation attached to their play. It is always a sign that Ferguson's men are not playing well when he leaves his electrically heated dug-out, and his eyes were burning holes in his players from the first moment he appeared in the technical area.
By then Leeds were in front, Jonathan Howson's long pass releasing Beckford in the knowledge the striker has the pace and movement to trouble the most accomplished defence and a player who was working as an RAC repair man three years ago supplying the rest. Wes Brown, Nemanja Vidic's replacement, had let his opponent get a yard away and, even though Beckford's first touch took him away from goal, Tomasz Kuszczak was slow to leave his goal-line when quicker reactions meant the ball could have been gathered. Beckford got there ahead of the goalkeeper and clipped a left-foot shot just inside the post.
If we are going to be generous, Ferguson could cite the fact he lost Vidic in the warm-up and that three-quarters of his defenders were coming back from other injury problems. There were seven changes in total but, even so, it was astonishing to see the lack of cohesion and fluidity in Ferguson's side. Wayne Rooney never stopped trying but his finishing was erratic. Dimitar Berbatov flickered only sporadically and by the end the substitute Michael Owen had resorted to throwing himself to the floor to try to win a penalty.
Those were frantic moments but nobody should think it was an onslaught. Leeds could also reflect on Beckford shooting wide when clear on goal 10 minutes from the end and there were long spells when they out-passed their opponents. The victory was no fluke and that, perhaps, was the most shocking aspect.