Ever since Simon Grayson‘s Preston North End sent the Blunts of Bramall Lane a-spinning out of the FA Cup last month, the question has been on every Leeds fan’s mind if not lips: could two Leeds United legends (and Neil Kilkenny) possibly do it again?? Because that Fourth Round replay set up a tasty if only partial rematch of an epic battle over five years ago (January 3rd, remember the date) between a lowly incarnation of The Damned United and – well – the club we just love to hate, as the song nearly has it. And tonight, at Deepdale, there is just a chance of that particularly fine piece of history repeating itself.
You may have noticed that we are occasionally fond of recalling this singular occasion at #LLUUE Towers – but anyway, here goes again. It was on January 3rd 2010 that third-tier Leeds United ventured to the home of the Champions of England and self-proclaimed “Greatest Club in the World”™ – lined up (so everybody outside of the Whites fraternity thought) for a ‘lambs to the slaughter’ bit part on the massive FA Cup Round Three national stage.
In the event, Leeds entered the Theatre of Hollow Myths as if determined to prove it was just that. There was zero respect for technically far superior foes, zero fear of the occasion and, vitally, zero awe of their surroundings for a team whose 9,000 strong following often made this feel like a home game, out-singing over six times that number of morose and disbelieving southern glory-hunters.
Leeds, set up to take the game to their hosts by manager Grayson – who may well also have made motivational use of a “minnows” jibe carelessly hurled by the ever-confident Man U – clinched this tie early in the first half. Johnny Howson‘s sublime long ball dropped like a dead bird into the path of predator extraordinaire Jermaine Beckford. The striker recovered from a slightly heavy first touch with a characteristic burst of pace, which allowed him to make a monkey out of Wes Brown and roll the ball, oh so exquisitely, into the far corner of the Pride of Devon net. The commentary of the moment deserves another airing for its sheer iconic beauty:
“And this is Beckford, it’s just run away from him but he’ll still get a strike in on goal … and score at the Stretford End for Leeds United! And it doesn’t get any better than that for a Leeds United centre forward….. Jermaine Beckford gives Leeds the advantage at Old Trafford to the delight of their 9,000 travelling supporters!”
The way those words paint that picture, the one that every Leeds fan carries on the back of his eyelids to this day, still has the hair-raising, spine-tingling ability to thrill. It’s so graphic, so evocative of the joy of the moment, just so bloody wonderful. Leeds United’s eleven warriors on the pitch, together with their comrades in the dugout, were just about the only people of a Leeds persuasion not to get carried away with the emotion and wonder of it all. They, after all, still had a job to do.
How they set about that job, calmly, resolutely, professionally, is every bit as memorable and significant as the goal that won the tie. A third-tier team in the champs’ back yard might be forgiven for mounting a rearguard action, protecting – if they could – the advantage they’d gained. But not a bit of it. It was just too early for that. Leeds had threatened before the goal, and they continued to threaten, taking the game to the shocked Premiership outfit, playing with a swagger and effectiveness that belied the gulf in status. They had to sustain some pressure, they had to defend desperately at times. That was only to be expected. But they also continued to pose that nagging threat, right up to the end – Beckford was played through beautifully by Doyle in the second half and placed his shot a fraction wide at the Scoreboard End. Robert Snodgrass, fresh into the fray, stepped up to take a free-kick with that sublime left foot – and hammered it agonisingly to thud against the angle of far post and bar with the keeper nowhere near.
In the end, nails were bitten down to the elbows as the Man U desperation grew and the penalty appeals mounted up. Surely, as per the unwritten law, Mr Foy would give at least one? Meanwhile, Ferguson, the man with the schnoz of vintage purple, prowled about on his touchline, brandishing that yard-wide stopwatch, snarling at all and sundry when “only” five minutes of Fergie time were granted. Rooney, the thug, clattered into a Leeds player right in front of the away dugout, and then hurried away as the Whites backup team tried to get at him. It was frenetic, it was aggressive, it was committed – and it was simply marvellous.
And then, Leeds had done it. Memorably, the ball had gone out for a Whites corner as the final whistle blew with Leeds at the right end of the field. Old Trafford emptied in about thirty seconds flat, apart from the dancing, cheering 9,000 at that right end, with their songs and their glory, celebrating the most famous victory of all their wilderness years.
The personnel behind that wonderful performance and memorable triumph have all long gone from the club now. The real principals – Simon Grayson and Jermaine Beckford – are both at tonight’s potential giant-killers Preston; and you can guarantee that the memories will be flooding back for them, even now, as they contemplate a chance to have another go at the Masters of Hype. This is what will make the difference tonight between a mundane 5th Round Cup tie involving two ordinary Lancashire outfits – and a chance to relive history, perhaps to recreate it to some extent. League One Preston have the home advantage; let it pay off for them – and let Simon Grayson, Leeds fan and United legend, have another Cup day in the sun.
And… if Jermaine could possibly pop up with another winner – well, that would be as perfect as it could possibly get – short of him doing it all over again, wearing that famous white shirt and wheeling away in triumph once more… right in front of the Beckford End.