Leeds famous again after Old Trafford win
Leeds United and self-deprecation have rarely gone hand in hand - it would be difficult at a club where Ken Bates is chairman - but their supporters have acquired a modest streak during their exile in the lower leagues. "We're not famous any more," came the chorus at the kick-off. This was a day for them to be immodest. Theirs was a famous victory, helping to restore the self-esteem of a proud club that has fallen on hard times and to revive interest in the FA Cup after a Saturday of poor crowds and predictable results.
FA Cup shocks have had a cruelty for Leeds of late. Defeated by Hereford and Histon in their last two campaigns, held by Kettering in this, they executed a remarkable role reversal. Jermaine Beckford scored the goal as, in one unlikely afternoon, they bridged a gap of 43 league places, ended a 29-year wait for a win at Old Trafford, inflicted Manchester United's first defeat at the third-round stage since 1984 and became the only lower-division side to knock Sir Alex Ferguson out of the FA Cup.
Each was a notable achievement, but this was a colossal performance. Great as Leeds' past has been and sizeable as their support is, it is worth remembering their last win in Greater Manchester came at Stockport. That is their lot after a stark, steep decline. For 90 minutes at Old Trafford, they lived a new dream born of teamwork and hard work, of defiance and dependability, of pace and penetration. Managed by a Yorkshireman, captained by a Yorkshireman, with a goal created by a Yorkshireman, the White Rose bloomed anew in a homegrown triumph.
"We are immensely proud of our team and what we have done today," said manager Simon Grayson, after they exceeded even their outstanding league form. "We had to be at full tilt and Manchester United had to be slightly off it. We have worked ever so hard to earn the right to get the victory."
Industry tends to be appreciated in Yorkshire, but Grayson's side, in the tradition of the finest Leeds teams, possess a cutting edge and a touch of class to accompany an aggressive streak. Their winner was revealing. Jonny Howson directed a diagonal ball into the path of the speedy Beckford. He applied too much weight to his first touch, but the second more than sufficed, squeezing the ball past Wes Brown and Tomasz Kuszczak before it rolled in to the far corner of the net. "Jermaine is liable to score at any level," said Grayson. "We were caught napping," lamented Ferguson. "It was a bad goal for us to lose."
They could have lost others. Robert Snodgrass came off the bench to rattle the bar with an excellent free kick a minute after Beckford dragged an effort narrowly wide. The striker's contract expires at the end of the season; amid interest from Newcastle, there was speculation this would be his final game; if so, his 20th goal of the campaign amounted to a memorable parting shot.
"Jermaine Beckford will get the credit with the goal he scored but we have got the results as a group," Grayson added. Right-back Jason Crowe was a contributor, clearing off the line from Wayne Rooney, as was goalkeeper Casper Ankergren was a contributor, with fine saves to thwart Danny Welbeck and Manchester United's No. 10. "He made some good saves but I didn't think he was being peppered on a regular basis," said Grayson. Indeed most visiting goalkeepers at Old Trafford are distinctly busier.
Yet it was a tale of two Uniteds. Where Leeds were inspired, their Mancunian counterparts were insipid. Their manager was unusually critical. "I'm shocked at the performance," said Ferguson. "They are human beings, they can always surprise you, but we didn't expect that today. Leeds had a far bigger appetite than us; they fought like tigers." Ferguson only exonerated the substitute Antonio Valencia from criticism, but the blame could also be applied to a manager who made seven changes.
The supply line from his stand-in wingers, Welbeck and Gabriel Obertan, was erratic, while Ferguson's defence endured too many shaky moments. A seventh defeat of the season was deserved as Leeds, who have only lost twice, extended their unbeaten run to 16 games.
Grayson added: "Our football club has had a lot of negativity over the last five or six years with administration and relegation but I think the club has reached rock bottom. Leeds is a big football club. We have a European and worldwide fanbase but we are in League One for a reason."
They won't be for much longer. After beginning 2000 top of the Premier League and ending 2009 in League One, the Noughties were the cruellest decade in Leeds' history. It bodes better for the 2010s already.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Jonny Howson - A lifelong Leeds fan, the young midfielder provided some terrific crosses in addition to his assist. He was among the feistier competitors in a game that became a battle.
MANCHESTER UNITED VERDICT: Ferguson only exempted Valencia from culpability, but Rooney's efforts shouldn't be faulted. Too many of his colleagues were found wanting, however: Obertan was particularly awful while of the senior players, a rattled Brown scarcely enhanced his reputation. Wholesale changes are expected for the Carling Cup semi-final with Manchester City though Ferguson's explanation of Nemanja Vidic's late withdrawal ("I couldn't tell you," he said) may cast his participation in doubt.
LEEDS UNITED VERDICT: Too few visitors to Old Trafford display the belief and spirit Leeds showed. Having only dropped 13 points all season, a return to the Championship seems highly probable and Grayson is doing an outstanding job. The central defenders, Richard Naylor and Patrick Kisnorbo, led the resistance. While keeping Beckford is a priority, the team is equipped to survive at a higher level without him.
FERGIE TIME: That was the chant from the Leeds fans when five minutes of injury-time was signalled. Ferguson, with his individual sense of timekeeping, thought that was insufficient. "That is an insult to the game and the players out there," he said.