Seven days ago Leeds United capitulated to another miserable defeat on a Tuesday night at Elland Road, this time to Hull City. What a difference a week makes! On a night when the rain was incessant, Neil Warnock’s side produced a high octane all action performance to despatch Premier League Everton out of the Capital One Cup.
From back to front Leeds were superb, all eleven men working hard to a common goal and it all proved too much for David Moyes side. Everton were left chasing shadows in the first half and were unable to step up a gear in the second period, allowing the game to escape them, and with it the Merseyside’s best chance of silverware this season.
Both sides made changes from their winning teams of the weekend. Leeds brought in Jamie Ashdown to cover for Paddy Kenny, who picked up a slight thigh strain at the weekend. Danny Pugh came into the side at left back for Adam Drury with Michael Brown coming into the midfield to add a bit of steel, with Dominic Poleon dropping to the bench.
Everton rested a number of first team stars although Marouane Fellaini and Kevin Mirablis were retained in the starting line-up, with big guns Nikica Jelavic and Steven Pienaar available on the bench.
After an emotional tribute to former United and Everton legend Gary Speed before kick-off, Leeds started out very much on the front foot. After putting Everton under some early pressure, United got off to a dream start with Aidy White firing them ahead after just four minutes. The Irish U-21 international picked up the ball in midfield before setting off on a mazy run, jinking past two Everton defenders before firing a shot from the edge of the area past a stunned Jan Mucha into the top corner of the net.
Backed by a rock solid central defensive partnership between Jason Pearce and Tom Lees, United took control of the game. With Michael Brown tigerish in the tackle and Rodolph Austin gliding over the sodden turf, Leeds were dominant in the middle of the park, providing plenty of possession for Luciano Becchio and El-Hadji Diouf to trouble the Everton back line.
Perhaps unusually for a Neil Warnock team, Leeds were guilty of overplaying at times, looking to create a picture book goal rather than trying their luck from range and clear cut chances were few and far between. Michael Tonge fired a free kick across the face of goal from a tight angle on the half hour, before Everton created their first opportunity with Oviedo breaking down the left, squaring for Anichebe to side foot over the bar from the edge of the area.
There was a heart in the mouth moment for Leeds fans just before half time when skipper Jason Pearce suffered a cut head following an aerial challenge with Steven Naismith, but after being bandaged up the former Portsmouth man bravely continued.
Leeds pressed forwards as the half came to a close and almost had the boost of a second just before the interval, Diouf producing a good ball from the right hand side which was met by the head of Becchio, the effort from 6 yards out striking the keeper in the chest on the line, the Everton defence hooking the ball away from danger.
Angry words must have been used by David Moyes in the Everton dressing room at half time and he was forced to make changes to try to wrestle the iniative from Leeds. On came Phil Neville and Steven Pienaar in place of Junior and Gueye.
The change initially saw Everton gain control of possession, but they were still unable to create any opportunities to test Jamie Ashdown in the United goal. Pienaar fired high and Fellaini headed wide in the opening ten minutes of the second half, but Leeds continued to drive forward, Michael Tonge skipping through the Everton defence before firing just wide of the post.
Everton should have been level on the hour, with Naismith wasting a golden opportunity. Victor Anichebe sent over a lovely cross from the left hand side, picking out the former Rangers striker on the back post. Fortunately for the Whites the header was a shocker, drifting harmlessly past the post from four yards out.
Everton played their final card with 25 minutes remaining, bringing on Jelavic. Whilst the fans may have been nervous at the sight of the prolific striker coming on, it seemed to spark Leeds back into life. The next five minutes saw Leeds put the Everton goal under constant pressure, which eventually told.
Another surging Austin run was halted on the right hand side of the box by a Seamus Coleman foul, giving Leeds a free kick on the edge of the area. With the Everton defence waiting for a ball into the box, Diouf rolled the ball back to an unmarked Danny Pugh, whose scuffed low effort was touched in by Austin to double the lead.
Everton now had nothing to lose and poured forward in the last 20 minutes. They finally managed an effort on target on 72 minutes, Fellaini hitting a low raking effort from 25 yards which Ashdown did well to push away.
With Everton committed to going forward, Leeds looked to hit the Merseysiders on the break, with Heitinga booked for pulling back Diouf as the Whites launched another counter attack. With nine minutes left Everton finally pulled a goal back, Sylvain Distain meeting an Anichebe flick on to loop a header over Ashdown.
Leeds though have the look of a side who can close games out, particularly with El-Hadji Diouf pulling the strings. There were a couple of scares, Jelavic heading straight at Ashdown from six yards followed by huge claims for a penalty as Pearce appeared to clamber all over Anichebe to win a header as Everton pumped another ball into the United box.
However it was not to be for the Toffees and after four tense minutes of stoppage time, Lee Mason blew his whistle for the final time to euphoric cheers from the Leeds fans and send Everton crashing out.
With the possibility that the takeover saga which has dominated thoughts at Elland Road drawing to a close, this result and performance were further indication that the good times could be around the corner for Leeds United. A committed and whole hearted performance helped to encourage the fans to create a superb atmosphere, something that has been sadly missing in recent times. One can only imagine what the noise would be like with 40000 inside the ground, instead of the pitiful 21000 in attendance on Tuesday. If things keep moving in the right direction on and off the pitch it won’t be long until the crowds are flocking back.