For any lad that grows up supporting his local club, nursing the dream of one day turning out in that sacred shirt – and who actually makes that dream come true – there can be no sweeter moment than that precious first goal for the team he loves. Tonight, in the humble surroundings of Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium, that longed-for moment arrived for Lewis Cook, when he stabbed home a rebound of the Donny ‘keeper to notch his first senior goal for Leeds United.
Sadly, the fairytale would have no happy ending. Leeds had already been pegged back thanks to Scott Wootton‘s agricultural challenge in the United area, leading to a Rovers penalty that stand-in guardian Ross Turnbull narrowly failed to save. And then came Cook’s moment of misery to erase his earlier joy. Surging down the right on a mazy run, the youngster took a slightly heavy touch, overstretched in his attempt to keep possession – and walked for a resulting foul that looked even worse than it was. Thanks to that mad moment, it would be ten-man Leeds for the rest of the piece, and a Yorkshire derby cup tie was ruined as a spectacle.
The Doncaster fans in the crowd, eager to see the home team compass the demise of local favourites Leeds, were suitably encouraged and filled with hope – but for the remainder of ninety minutes plus extra time, Rovers showed no real sign of being able to dispatch their numerically weakened opponents. Indeed, for much of the rest of the tie, it was Leeds looking marginally more effective going forward. But in what became a war of attrition, neither side was able to land the telling blow, and the game trudged its inevitable way to deadlock and the dreaded shoot-out.
Ironically, Leeds’ two eventual lottery losers were the second half substitutes who had done most to rekindle some hope among the Leeds faithful that United could yet emerge winners. Chris Wood and Sam Byram had given an extra dimension to United’s stubborn rearguard action, and both showed plenty going forward to suggest how vital they will be in the season ahead. But their two penalties in the shootout – Byram’s only mildly awful, but Woods’ truly abysmal – cost Leeds a real chance of victory, an unlikely chance that had been so ruggedly earned in the ten-man struggle following Cook’s first-half indiscretion.
So, Leeds are out of this competition again, to lower league opposition again, with ten men after having taken the lead, again – and in another derby as last season’s farce in Bradford was reprised only a little less farcically in Doncaster. And, really, what the hell. We were no more likely to win the League Cup than Rovers are now.
Few United fans will mourn such an early exit. It was not the defeat that rankled, more the manner of it. Another long struggle with ten men, with energy cruelly sapped ahead of a far more important game at the weekend. Head Coach Uwe Rösler had spoken prior to the match of taking the game to Rovers, an approach that is “in our DNA”. Fair enough, but it is the suicidal part of United’s genetic makeup that needs to be addressed, that fatal tendency to give away daft penalties and lose players to red cards through rash tackles. Herr Rösler has his work cut out to eliminate such innate, self-destructive traits.
After the dust has settled on a night to forget, we must spare a thought for young Lewis Cook, for whom a magical moment, eagerly awaited for literally all his life, was so swiftly eclipsed by a rash and reckless lunge he’ll long regret. Fortunately, there is ample time and opportunity for redemption where one of United’s brightest prospects is concerned.
Lewis Cook undeniably has the talent and character that ensures he can and will bounce back, to forget tonight’s temporary woe and enjoy many more of the best of times, in the Leeds shirt he promises – transfer follies permitting – to grace for many years to come.