Michael Brown valiantly captained Leeds to victory over his former club Tottenham Hotspur. The fourth round win sees Leeds through to the last 16 of the FA Cup, and is the third time this season that Premier League opposition have left Elland Road empty handed.
In stark contrast to recent league form, Warnock’s men were outstanding throughout. Tasked with shackling former Leeds favourite Aaron Lennon and Welsh superstar Gareth Bale, both Aidy White and Sam Byram admirably showcased the talent of the Leeds academy set up. Byram in particular, fresh from signing a new contract, was superb beyond his tender years and constantly ended promising Spurs’ attacks with his faultless sense of positioning.
Leeds top scorer Luciano Becchio was absent from the squad entirely, with speculation continuing over his future following his transfer request. On this evidence, he may not be missed as much as many have feared. Ross McCormack and El Hadji-Diouf were paired together in attack, removing the lure of hoof ball tactics.
The rest of the team sheet saw favoured cup goalkeeper Jamie Ashdown retain his place, Lee Peltier and Tom Lees continue to build their defensive partnership, and Brown joined in midfield by Paul Green, Rodolph Austin and the frequently-if-perhaps-unfairly maligned Luke Varney.
Varney’s selection did seem incongruous, given that Michael Tonge and David Norris were left to warm the bench, but the decision would be vindicated early on in the first half. With just fifteen minutes gone, Varney raced clear and finished confidently past Brad Friedel in the visiting goal.
Up until the opening goal, Andre Villas-Boas’ men had settled into an attractive passing rhythm, which continued after Varney’s strike.
With Emmanuel Adebayor at the African Cup of Nations and Jermaine Defoe inexplicably left at home, the visitors were without a recognised striker and Clint Dempsey attempted to lead the line. A team of midfielders is full of passing but lacks cutting edge, and Jamie Ashdown was rarely threatened in the first half an hour excluding the occasional long range shot.
Despite Spurs’ passing quality, Leeds were not being outplayed by their big name adversaries, frequently breaking up the play and launching passing moves of their own. Shortly after his opener, Varney saw another chance come and go as he fired over the crossbar.
Spurs best chance of the half came as Bale skilfully tricked his was into the penalty area and tried to slide the ball beyond Ashdown, who was equal to the effort.
A half time lead could have looked even better had Friedel not reacted well to thwart McCormack when through on goal.
In their last match against Premier League opposition, Leeds saw a 1-0 half time lead turn into a 1-5 defeat. Any fears of a repeat were smashed soon after the break as Diouf played in McCormack, who turned Steven Caulker and slammed the ball into the top corner with a sublime left foot strike. Cue delirium from the 30,000 strong crowd.
The Scotsman looked sharp and comfortable all afternoon, clearly revelling in a striking role following recent poor outings on the left hand side of midfield.
Dempsey should have responded immediately, but skewed wide of an open goal following good work from Lennon. However, just before the hour mark Dempsey did manage to halve the deficit as he headed home a Bale cross from the left.
AVB threw on a trio of substitutes as Spurs desperately chased the game, but Leeds continued to hold them at arm’s length. Repeated flying attacks from Lennon, Bale and co were ended by well-timed tackles from Byram, Peltier, Brown and Varney (having his best match in a Leeds shirt).
McCormack could have added a third, but was frustrated by Friedel.
Spurs poured forward in numbers and finally fashioned their best chance of the match, but Lee Peltier heroically lunged into a last ditch challenge to deny substitute Jonathan Obika a shot on goal.
Four minutes of stoppage time were punctuated by Warnock substitutions as Leeds looked to see time out. One final opportunity arose as Brown hacked down Scott Parker, but the resulting free kick evaded the Spurs attack (including Friedel who had joined the fray in the Leeds penalty box) and the whistle was blown.
On today’s showing, Leeds can beat any team in this country. When faced with the ‘underdog’ tag, the team shines. Thankfully, next week’s visitors at Elland Road are league leaders Cardiff City – let’s hope the underdog vigour translates into league matches.
Many thanks to those who entered my ‘predict the score’ competition on Twitter. The best guess came from Joe Gillett (@lufcgillett) who correctly foresaw a 2-1 victory and a McCormack goal. Send your predictions for the next home match to me at @Matt_K_Burton.