It must be said that Leeds’ victory in the FA Cup fourth round owed as much to a poor Tottenham Hotspur side as it did Leeds’ utter commitment but seeing the Elland Road side dispense the Premier League visitors proves that despite dwindling attendances, there is still a sprinkling of magic in the competition.
In a week where Leeds fans were growing increasingly frustrated at the clubs owners with yet another star player on the brink of the exit, Neil Warnock could have scarcely dreamt of a result which lifts the pressure for a few days at least and distracts massively from Luciano Becchio’s transfer request.
From the moment the team news was announced, many home fans feared the worst as Luke Varney, Michael Brown and Rudy Austin were all named in the starting line up. The question was then not whether we’d get any sort of result, but simply how many we’d lose by. With the likes of ex-Leeds lad Aaron Lennon, Gareth Bale and Clint Dempsey, even the most ardent and positive Leeds fan could scarcely have predicted a match where the Championship side matched their lofty opponents every step of the way. And even less so that they’d deserve the victory.
Even more surprising for most was it was the much ridiculed Varney who set Leeds on their way inside 15 minutes, breaking free before beating Brad Friedel with a neat finish. The jubilation was matched only in its exuberance by the utter shock that not only had Varney scored, but that his goal had real quality and was taken with aplomb. Had he missed, Ross McCormack probably would have made sure he never graced the side again, such was his lung busting run in support of Varney that not scoring would have been unforgivable.
Most pleasing was Leeds’ constant pressure as Brown set about being as irritating as possible – surely the reasoning behind him being given the captaincy; while the El Hadji Diouf and Varney were causing the Spurs defence all kinds of problems in possession.
Gone was the uncertainty, the nerves and the tension as Leeds played with confidence and belief; why the team can’t produce even an nth of that in the league matches is beyond infuriating but in front of a decent crowd, playing without the expectancy as underdogs, Leeds thrived.
It was a performance one would expect from Warnock and embodied by Brown. Football was being played, on the floor! Chances came and went as Friedel twice denied McCormack and when half time came, it did to rapturous applause and cheers, so unlike recent weeks.
Just five minutes into the second half and things were getting utterly our of hand. Spurs’ lack of concentration at the back allowed McCormack a run at Stephen Caulker; all in knots in the Scots’ wake, he was powerless to stop McCormack turning inside on his left foot and unleashing an unstoppable curler beyond the desperate efforts of Friedel.
Utter delirium ensued. Victory seemed achievable at least if not utterly unlikely. Even Dempsey’s looping header which brought Spurs back into the game was not enough to keep the North London team from being dumped out of the cup.
The whistles as full time crawled ever closer were deafening; Brown’s desperate lunge on Scott Parker at the death had even the most shell shocked fans on the brink of defecating themselves but even as the referee denied Austin a goal from the half way line by bringing the game to its end, the sigh of relief from the home fans was felt well beyond the boundaries of Beeston.
It was a joy to see the likes of Sam Byram excelling at right back to the extent where even switching wings bore no joy for the frustrated Bale. Byram was excellent in subduing the Welshman and even the few lapses in concentration couldn’t detract from by far his best performance in a Leeds jersey.
Varney showed glimpses of why Warnock coveted his signature for so many years in a performance full of energy, strength and quality; he seemed reborn. Lee Peltier too, left to concentrate solely in his most preferred role in the centre of defence was imperious. Untroubled by an unfamiliar Spurs front line, his utterly brilliant goal-saving tackle to take the ball away from Jon Obika was particularly pleasing. It’s easy to forget Peltier is only 26 years old, but hopefully he will settle into and continue to form a solid partnership with Tom Lees.
Particularly worrying or delightful, depending on your type, Brown played the role that only he, managed only by Warnock could. Irritating, harrying, niggling; Brown was in everyone’s face, not least the referees and despite the distance he covered, he more than matches Spurs’ lacklustre midfield as he desperately sought to protect his defence. Hampered only by Austin who looks generally to be out of his depth, Brown will undoubtedly keep his midfield spot while Warnock is in charge.
The victory was remarkable in its unlikelihood. It’s a lot more likely that Leeds will return to type and suffer a heavy defeat at the hands of Cardiff in the league at the weekend and it is so utterly infuriating that even batting so brutally above our weight, we can’t produce such fight when it matters in the Championship.
But then again, surely that is the beauty and the magic of the FA Cup? Like relegation-threatened Oldham sending Liverpool crashing out, and League One Brentford holding Chelsea to a draw, it is often only this type of match which produces the rare galvanising of a squad which has often looked incapable of even playing the most basic football.
We only need look back to earlier in the season when we beat Everton in the league cup, and of course, a few years back when we beat Manchester United in their own back yard but this belief, this togetherness and glints of quality need to be translated into league form. Our bread and butter. Cup runs won’t attract good new players and they certainly won’t hold our best ones either.