FA Cup season is once again upon us and, as the excitement builds all around the country, teams and fans are gearing up for their Third Round ties. On Monday, Leeds travel to the Abbet Stadium to play an on-form Cambridge United side, whose manager is ex-Leeds United player Shaun Derry.
Leeds, as always, will have wonderful away support as they try to advance in what might be a tricky fixture. Cambridge are determined to take a big scalp in Leeds United, but the The U’s won’t know what hit them when the Leeds faithful rock up and Marching on Together is echoing through the stadium.
The discussion around the relevance of the FA Cup to any team outside England’s top division is always a contentious issue. Teams in the Premier League benefit because they have a realistic chance of winning the trophy, whereas teams at the lower end of the spectrum in English football benefit from the exposure and the financial benefits - especially if they are chosen for TV.
For teams in our current position, it often feels like a needless burden on a squad of players who are already expected to keep their current intensity levels up for the rest of the Championship season. However, I do expect sufficient changes within the XI. Youth will likely again be given a chance as players like Tyler Denton and Malik Wilks will be in contention for starts on Monday night.
Speaking of Denton, the young man will be hoping to replicate his EFL Cup wonder strike, if given the opportunity on Monday night....
I personally enjoy the FA Cup weekend, but with Leeds currently in the best form for years, I am struggling to get on board the FA Cup party bus in 2017. I appreciate the uplifting effect a decent cup run can have for team. The team’s exploits in the EFL Cup are testament to that.
However, the league is the main focus in 2017, as promotion is a real possibility, and I wonder what benefit a Monday night reserve fixture and a 288 round mile journey would be for no gain in that regard.
I never want to see Leeds lose, and I will clearly be cheering them on come Monday night but if we do lose, I won’t be completely dismayed. Whatever the outcome on Monday, it feels like a lose/lose situation - a loss means we are branded a casuality of the Cup. If we draw and have to play Cambridge again at Elland Road, or if we win and move on, both will feel like we’ve simply earned more wasted minutes toward the push for promotion.
We have had our moments in the FA Cup over the last few years. Years on, we all still celebrate our 2010 FA cup victory over Man United; the victory at Old Trafford even inspired a politic party ‘We Beat The Scum One Nil’ who have stood to be elected in last two general elections in 2010 and 2015.
Earlier this week, my colleague Matt Robinson listed his best Leeds FA Cup goals, and the responses on Twitter and Facebook show that we all have fond memories of the tournament.
But the year that we achieved the accolades of beating Man U at Old Trafford (and then came close to upsetting another Premier League side in Spurs, losing the Fifth Round replay 1-3), we were the massive underdogs and we played elite teams who were in the top division. This year, in this match, we have the privilege of facing a League Two side who will give everything to upset the odds in a similar vein to what we did 7 years ago.
We gained promotion that season, so I understand there is an argument to suggest FA Cup success can translate into the league form, but often it just distracts from the importance of the league position.
This team is not the team who beat Manchester United 1-0: we are now a better team whose biggest triumph won’t be beating our fierce rivals in their back yard. Our biggest achievement will be a return to the Premier League and that comes with strong standing come May.
I had an awful realisation the other day that we have Leeds fans who can’t remember this club - our brilliant club - as a Premier League side. To me that is an absolute tragedy. I don’t want us to be remembered as the fallen giant who beat Manchester United in the FA Cup seven years ago. I want us to be the team who makes that journey twice a season, every season.
We can celebrate that victory against Manchester United today, and some may claim that moments like that one are reason enough to put full effort into the FA Cup. But for me, this year’s FA Cup will take a back seat and may even need to be sacrificed. I want to win the Championship. I want the Premier League. MOT.