A Leeds team missing several first team regulars produced a scintillating performance in torrential rain to dump high-flying Everton out of the Capital One cup. The 2-1 victory at Elland Road sees Neil Warnock’s men through to the last sixteen of the competition, continuing a cup run which had already seen Leeds dispense of Shrewsbury Town and Oxford United prior to the visit of David Moyes’ top quality Premier League outfit.
A week is a long time in football. Just 7 days ago I was sat writing up a report of a lacklustre and drab home defeat at the hands of Hull City. Tonight, I may run out of superlatives to describe how impressive Leeds performed. The team were, quite simply, superb in every position. Commanding in defence. Industrious in midfield. Intelligent in attack.
Already without the services of Paul Green, David Norris and Ross McCormack, Warnock was forced to field a side also missing his first choice goalkeeper and his captain as Paddy Kenny and Lee Peltier failed to overcome knocks picked up against Nottingham Forest at the weekend. Jamie Ashdown lined up between the sticks whilst there were also surprise starts for Danny Pugh (left-back) and Michael Brown (centre midfield).
Whilst David Moyes didn’t name his strongest eleven, it wasn’t far off. Their starting line up featured the intimidating names of Sylvain Distin, Kevin Mirallas, Victor Anichebe and the big-haired fulcrum of fantasy football teams across the nation (Marouane Fellaini).
Leeds made the best possible start to the match, attacking Everton from the beginning and flying into a fourth minute lead. Aidan White picked up the ball thirty yards from goal before jinking expertly beyond two challenges and firing a left-foot shot into the roof of the net from the edge of the penalty area. Amazingly, for a player who has been in the Leeds first team squad for some time, this was White’s first competitive goal. It was a brilliant effort which set the scene for what was to be a brilliant evening for the home side.
As the eleventh minute arrived, the chants of “Gary, Gary Speed” reverberated around the stadium. Speed was a legend for both Leeds and Everton and is remembered warmly by both sets of supporters and a video medley of his greatest moments was played before kick-off. The tribute continued as planned for eleven minutes before culminating in a burst of applause on twenty-two minutes.
On the pitch, Leeds were more than matching their Premier League visitors. Half-chances came and went as El Hadji Diouf, Rodolph Austin and Michael Brown controlled the match. Everton did occasionally threaten to show their undoubted class, but all they had to show for it was a wayward Anichebe strike.
As the match approached half time, Leeds threatened to score a second. Michael Tonge, who had his best match in a Leeds shirt to date, struck a fierce free kick wide of the goal. In stoppage time at the end of the half, Luciano Becchio saw a header agonisingly hooked off the line.
David Moyes’ response to Leeds dominance was to throw on the big boys. Steven Pienaar and Phil Neville entered the fray for the second half as two of Everton’s lesser names were hauled from the action.
Moyes’ substitutions began to have an effect as Everton began the second period on the front foot. Leeds were penned back for ten minutes as waves of attacks from the away side careered towards Jamie Ashdown’s goal. Anichebe again went close, narrowly firing beyond the far post. However, Leeds’ defensive four of Byram, Pearce, Lees and Pugh (putting in an unexpectedly assured display) coped relatively comfortably with Fellaini et al.
At the other end, Michael Tonge dribbled into the penalty area before firing wide. El Hadji Diouf was at the centre of everything good about Leeds from an attacking sense, whilst Rodolph Austin and Michael Brown were simply everywhere and gave Everton’s midfield no time on the ball.
Moyes rolled the dice a final time and sent on his star striker Nikica Jelavic, but Leeds would soon score a deserved second goal. Diouf played a free-kick along the floor to the edge of the area for Danny Pugh to fire towards the bottom corner. As the ball entered a tangle of legs in the six yard box, it was Rodolph Austin who managed to flick the ball beyond the goalkeeper to give Warnock’s men a 2-0 lead with twenty minutes remaining.
As Leeds hoped to see the match comfortably through to the end, Everton hit back. A free-kick into the Leeds penalty area was met by a looping header from Sylvain Distin which found the top corner.
In spite of some heavy pressure over the final ten minutes, Leeds held on for victory as Diouf once again showed why Warnock has such faith in him by running down the clock in a magnificently professional manner.
So then, anyone fancy a trip to Wembley?
Many thanks to those of you who entered my ‘predict the score’ competition on Twitter. The closest guess came from George Dyer (@Ole1985) who correctly and optimistically predicted a 2-1 victory. Send your predictions (including goalscorers) for the next home match to me @Matt_K_Burton for the chance to be mentioned in the match report.