x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Super Leeds catch United cold

Jermaine Beckford shocks Old Trafford as Manchester United's FA Cup challenge falls at the first hurdle.

Jermaine Beckford, right, celebrates his 19th-minute goal which secured a dramatic FA Cup victory for Leeds United.
Jermaine Beckford, right, celebrates his 19th-minute goal which secured a dramatic FA Cup victory for Leeds United.

The old competition retains its capacity to shock. If the Saturday of the third round, traditionally a highlight of the footballing calendar, suggested the FA Cup had become a moribund affair, the Sunday provided a swift and emphatic rebuttal of such theories. This was the surprise the competition needed and the unpleasant jolt Manchester United did not. Tumbling at the opening hurdle provided a first in Sir Alex Ferguson's long reign, as was losing to a lower-division side in the FA Cup. Winning at Old Trafford also had a novelty value for Leeds, who had not triumphed on their rivals' home turf since 1981.

Now Brian Flynn, the scorer that day, has to cede his place in Leeds folklore to Jermaine Beckford, whose 20th goal of the season may be his most irrelevant, in the context of their quest for promotion from League One, but is sure to be the most celebrated. Top scorers often get the headlines but the plaudits should go to the entire team. Leeds have become more accustomed to facing Leyton Orient than the league champions, but they were magnificent. Displaying aggression and ability, determination and organisation, they were everything a substandard Manchester United were not.

"I didn't expect that," Ferguson said. "I'm shocked at the performance. They are human beings and they can always surprise you, but we didn't expect that." Indeed his side were uncharacteristically poor, reliant on Wayne Rooney for both inspiration and perspiration. Too few of his colleagues matched Rooney in either respect. Ferguson made sevenchanges, but his squad players - the ineffectual wingers Gabriel Obertan and Danny Welbeck in particular - did not justify their selection.

The United manager sent for the cavalry, in the shape of Ryan Giggs, Antonio Valencia and Michael Owen in the second half, but Leeds remained resolute. Defensive heroics were accompanied by an attacking threat. In the closing stages, Beckford almost added a second and the substitute Robert Snodgrass struck the bar with a free kick. The goal Leeds did score was calmly executed but brilliantly created. Jonathan Howson's measured diagonal pass was of the sort long produced at Old Trafford by David Beckham. Beckford accelerated between the two central defenders, beat Wes Brown to the ball and, though his initial touch was poor, his second certainly compensated as he squeezed a low shot past the advancing Tomasz Kuszczak and into the far corner. "It was a bad goal for us to lose but the whole performance was bad," added Ferguson.

"Beckford is liable to score at any level," said the Leeds manager Grayson. "We are immensely proud of our team and what we have done. I think we have had the better chances over the game." After his side struck, Manchester United were rattled. As the atmosphere became febrile, the rivalry was renewed. Brown was especially fortunate to escape a red card. Leeds, much to their opponents' frustration, would not give way.

Even a chance to equalise provided evidence of their defiance and alertness. Dimitar Berbatov picked out Rooney, who dinked his shot over Casper Ankergren. But it had insufficient power to beat the backtracking Jason Crowe, who hooked it off the goal line. There were other near misses. Ankergren thwarted Welbeck while Rooney and Fabio da Silva both came close in injury time. "He made some good saves but I didn't think he was being peppered on a regular basis," Grayson added. "We worked ever so hard as a group to get the victory." Ferguson concurred: "They fought like tigers." Man of the match: Richard Naylor (Leeds) @Email:sports@thenational.ae