The trouble with FA Cup ties, for clubs challenging for league honours in particular, is that the kind of side which will take the field for the knockout game is a matter of some uncertainty. It’s the kind of match a wise manager will use to “give game time to fringe players” or “fully utilise the squad”. In other words, don’t be surprised if the eleven on duty for the Cup is significantly weaker than the team to contest that vital promotion six-pointer.
All of which means that it’s difficult to predict Garry Monk‘s intentions for Leeds United‘s 3rd Round FA Cup clash away at Cambridge United. We might speculate that Rob Green will get the evening off, and doubtless there will be other changes from league normality. But one player most Leeds fans would love to see involved, with the aim of continuing his Elland Road settling-in process, is summer signing from Oxford United, Kemar Roofe.
Roofe shone at Oxford last season in the less demanding surroundings of League Two, scoring for fun and generally tearing the division apart. He finished as League Two Player of the Year. At Leeds, in the hurly-burly of the Championship, Kemar didn’t find his feet straight away – but just lately, he’s shown what a class act he undoubtedly is, with more than a few signs of the kind of explosive talent that made him such a hot property last year.
Against lower league opposition in the Cup, a side in Cambridge who will surely be up for it, and who are in rather good form themselves, it would be a golden chance for Roofe to persecute the kind of defence he was making hay against last term. As a confidence booster – and assuming all goes to plan – this sort of tie could be ideal. It might also be a chance to have a longer look at how Roofe could combine with the likes of Marcus Antonsson, a £2m striker who has been so peripheral to Leeds’ recent success story. That kind of Plan B assessment is vital, when the main men could be struck down by injury at any time.
This season more than most, the FA Cup will be running a poor second to the league in United’s priority list. Promotion has to be the aim that eclipses all others, and the sparkling Whites form has put them into a position where they’re ideally placed to challenge, not just for a play-off spot, but even (whisper it) for automatic promotion. This being the case, it will almost certainly be the task of the less regular league performers to dispose of Cambridge. Nevertheless, out of respect for worthy opponents if for no other reason, there will have to be a sprinkling at least of first teamers. The case for making Roofe one of these is strong; he’s young, fit and just beginning to look like a real prospect. If he can help put Cambridge to the sword, then that would be a significant step on the way to being a big hit in what could be a very big season for Leeds.
There’s still a magic to the Cup, despite the shoddy way it tends to get treated by certain clubs these days. It’s up to Leeds to make use of their resources in such a way that progress in the competition can be secured by beating a very competitive Cambridge side. The United squad has shown already that it can cope with knockout football, even succeeding in a couple of penalty shootouts. The foundations are in place for another cup run if we show we want it badly enough; those foundations just need to be topped off by defensive walls, windows of attacking opportunity which could open the door to the 4th round, and – last, but not least – that all-important Roofe.