When the draw took place last month in Hull, Leeds United were paired with Sunderland conjuring up comparisons to Premier League days gone by and the final of. And whether you want some hope or a reason to feel nervous, here are three relatively recent third round ties that have been crucial to the immediate future of Leeds United.
04 January 2014 – Rochdale 2-0 Leeds United
"We had a game plan," Rochdale boss Keith Hill said to the BBC straight after this defeat at Spotland. Well, that’s more than Leeds had who lined up as if they were still suffering the after effects on a New Year’s celebration or two. Somewhere between a 5-2-3 and 3-4-3, Sam Byram was pushed high up the right flank and looked like he’d wandered onto the wrong pitch whilst Lee Peltier and Danny Pugh opted to take a little vacation to No Man’s Land all afternoon. Meanwhile Marius Zaliukas was doing something. I’m not sure what he did that day and, to be honest, I don't think he did either.
The rest were of the team weren't much better.
From the outset Leeds looked sluggish, slow and unfamiliar with one another. Josh Lillis, the Rochalde ‘keeper enjoyed an additional Bank Holiday and had a crisp Saturday afternoon off. Down the other end, the Whites’ defence was being stretched this way and that as Peter Vincenti exchanged a number of passes with Rhys Bennett before teeing up Scott Hogan to score the opener right before the break. The timing of the goal knocked the stuffing out of Leeds.
With their heads down the second half went from bad to worse. Renowned for his cat like reflexes Paddy Kenny did his best to keep McDermott’s baffled team in the tie. But, rather obviously, the home side killed the game off when Ian Henderson rifled in Dale’s second with five minutes remaining.
The boos rang out and Leeds trudged off, beaten by lower league opposition.
At least 2014 wouldn't get much worse.
Oh wait a minute....
A solitary defeat can be chalked off, chronicle and referenced as a footnote. But this elimination at the hands of Rochdale turned out to be a pivotal moment for Leeds United. Not long afterwards a sunglasses wearing Italian would arrive on the scene and promise to change the world. With dreams of investment and retaining the team’s star players, fans believed that the days of mediocre defending and baffling formations would be a thing of the past. How times have changed....
09 January 2012 – Arsenal 1-0 Leeds United
Twelve months previously Simon Grayson took a Leeds United that was fresh off promotion to the Championship and flying high in England’s second tier to the Emirates and left with an immensely credible 1-1 draw. Luciano Becchio led the line with Robert Snodgrass and Max Gradel supporting the Argentine from out wide, Jonathan Howson and Bradley Johnson were the double pivot in midfield and Sanchez Watt (yes, really) buzzed around like a pesky fly. There was actual depth to the squad too as Davide Somma and a certain Ross McCormack on the bench. Even the defence was solid. Unglamorous it may have been, but it was relatively steady.
2011 was a great time to be a Leeds fan. There was a wonderful childish innocence to that first season back in the Championship and we actually went pretty close to securing back to back promotions. Imagine what could have been.
The following year things were beginning to get a little bit sticky for Grayson and that attacking nucleus which looked remarkably carefree, exciting and, importantly, ours, had siphoned off. Twelve months on from that 1-1 draw at the Emirates Leeds had a central midfield of Mika Vayrynen and Adam Clayton, supported by the likes of Danny Pugh, Ramon Nunez and the winger for the Vine generation, Andros Townsend. And we had a terrible kit that day.
Poor Luciano. Poor Simon.
Yet somehow Leeds rallied in the face of Premier League opposition for the third straight year and came so close to securing a successive draw against Arsenal in London.
Then Arsene Wenger brought on the returning prodigal son, Thierry Henry.
Clearly, with football being such a narrative driven construct, the Frenchman had to score moments after leaping off the bench. The Gooners ran around, presumably to find the nearest tissue. Leeds were dumped – valiantly – out of the FA Cup.
Less than month later with Leeds 10th in the second tier and three points off a playoff place, Grayson was sacked.
If it wasn't for Thierry Henry’s glorious return would Ken Bates have given Leeds’ most successful manager since David O'Leary more time? Probably not.
Yet that day at the Emirates marked a change when Leeds stopped being carefree and became a little more aloof, a little more boring and much, much easier to hate. Howson was sold that January and Leeds dropped down the division. From being within touching distance of promotion the Whites' ended that year in fourteenth place and fourteen points off promotion.
A victory, or even a draw and a replay, could have altered that year.
04 January 2010 – Manchester United 0-1 Leeds United
January 4th, remember the date,
We beat the team that we f*cking hate
Howson’s long ball cut the Manchester United defence in two. Wes Brown was caught flat footed against an expectant Jermaine Beckford who raced past the once England international. As the ball began to drop Tomasz Kuszczak dithered.
Beckford’s first touch was
poor horrible. On any other day the chasing centre-back would have nipped in and cleared the danger, but this wasn't a normal day. With a light touch of his left boot, Leeds’ number nine diverted the ball towards the goal. The wait seemed to take forever; I remember rising out of my seat and contemplating every single possible permutation whilst the ball agonisingly rolled towards the line. When it finally crossed it the relief was nothing short of euphoric.
Luckily, seventy minutes still remained.
Once the 2009-10 season was done and dusted Leeds had moved one step closer to the Promised Land. It had been one the most memorable campaigns and it had ended in spectacular fashion. The Whites would eventually depart the FA Cup in the 4th Round after taking another Premier League side in Tottenham Hotspur to a replay at Elland Road, with Jermaine Beckford once again the Cup hero.
Without that goal in front of 9,000 travelling supporters, that promotion year could have turned out very differently. Yes league form plummeted after the giant-killing and Leeds won only twice in a twelve game league spell between February and April, but when it mattered everybody delivered.
Old Trafford was the prelude to our cup final against Bristol Rovers at Elland Road, that January third round date served us well.
Whether we win or lose, it'll be interesting to see how our visit to the Stadium of Light impacts our season. How do you think the tie will affect our fortunes?