Sunday, January 3, 2010

Leeds begins road back with defeat of Manchester United

Entering the day, Leeds United visit of Old Trafford to face nemesis Manchester United in the FA Cup offered a cornucopia of story lines. Yet in a magical moment that seems destined to live in the lore of Leeds, the troubled League One side rose up, against the odds and resurrected the hopes and dreams of its faithful for a gallant 1-0 victory over mighty Manchester United.

The fall of once great Leeds has been a tale that has been told countless times, a great warning for all clubs who suffer financial fallout as they tumbled from the lofty perches of the Champions League to the third division of English football. On the opposite side of the equation, Manchester United with its billowing hardware case and array of international stars, were clearly the heavy favourites of the day. However, as situations as these so often go, today was not one for favourites and predictable events, as Leeds found within their claret a bit a magic in route to the victory.

As the day began, Man Utd’s erstwhile leader, Sir Alex Ferguson was clearly aware that his opposition posed an eye towards playing David to their Golaith. Still with the likes of Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov in the Reds line-up Leeds was dreadfully out-matched, on paper that is. Leeds, too their credit, took a noteworthy opening stance and pushing aside comments of more defensive approach and instead launched forward with the striking tandem of Luciano Becchio and Jermaine Beckford. Tactically the move seemed both noble as an aggressive stance but equally suicidal, as the third division side would be easy pickings for the hosts.

At the opening whistle, Man Utd showed a sense of belonging, if not belief that they would given their fans the victory they hoped for. Yet slowly the tables turned, just ever so slightly at first as the curmudgeonly Leeds eleven began to press forward. Then finally it struck like a watchtower bell at the eighteenth minute, the 74,000 were shocked as Leeds notched what would become the matches lone goal. Remarkably, in a week that featured the first Premier League match in which not a single player born in the England graced the opening line-up, it was Jonny Howson, the hometown hero who turned the screw. With a magnificent long diagonal ball, he found Jermaine Beckford who once again outdistanced himself from statuesque defender Wes Brown and after chesting the ball down, the striker slid his twentieth goal of the campaign under ‘keeper Tomasz Kuszczak. Man Utd rolled-up its well-appointed sleeves and went to work, intent on the equalizer and only moments later Wayne Rooney’s goal bound effort was cleared from the line by veteran Jason Crowe. The thin margin continued and with much talent at Sir Alex’s disposal, he summoned Ryan Giggs in three minutes shy of the hour with Michael Owen not that long after. Pressure ensued in the Leeds end but despite the many efforts, Leeds clung to the lead. As regulation time ended, young Aiden White, eighteen years of age and a product of the Leeds academy was called upon for Andy Hughes as the Whites desperately held the lead. Tension thickened with five minutes of added-time called, surely an equalizer was in the offing but heroics were in store for Leeds ‘keeper Casper Ankergren with a stunning match saving save in the fourth minute. With the final tick of the clock, the white knuckle affair ended and for the 9,000 Leeds supporters who had made their way along the M62 to the Theatre of Dreams, their side resurrected the glory of the past once more in the greatest of fashions.

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