When the story of this season is written, the worth of last night’s narrow squeak FA Cup victory at Cambridge United will be capable of objective assessment. As things stand right now, you’d have to say it’s unlikely to be of much if any intrinsic value; it may even be that the net effect upon our campaign will be decidedly negative.
On the credit side of the ledger, yet another fine second-half performance to paper over the cracks of yet another slow start, and this time it was the shadow squad that proved itself able to pick up its game. The downside is there for all to see; a tenth booking of the season for the iconic Pontus Jansson will deprive Leeds United of his services for two vital and rather tricky league games in Derby at home and Barnsley away. Jansson’s obvious deputy, Liam Cooper, also picked up an injury that may well see him sidelined for Friday. Given those painful drawbacks, the “reward” of a fourth round trip to past Cup opponents Wimbledon or Sutton United seems more of a booby prize than anything to exult over. Last night’s may have been a Pyrrhic victory – although at least it cut the rest of the footballing world off in mid-gloat.
The first half of any Leeds game is becoming a matter of some concern. Whatever team takes the field for United appears unable to come out of the blocks in full-on battle mode, and manager Garry Monk is having to do some sterling work in his half-time team talks. So far, that interval helping of bollockings/encouragement has more often than not done the trick; certainly last night Leeds were a different team in the second half and Cambridge were duly blown away after dominating the first 45 minutes. Some wags have suggested only half jokingly that Monk should deliver his half-time peroration before the team trots out at the start of the match, and you can sort of see why. But, looking at the positives of the manager’s input, it would seem he is adept at diagnosing the faults in a first-half performance and then remedying those faults, rather than deficient in his timing. The next step, presumably, is to eliminate the faults from the start – but that’s all part of the learning curve necessary for any “young group”.
In the event, goals from Stuart Dallas and Alex Mowatt saved United’s blushes, or at least postponed them till later in the competition. Now, with the serious business of accumulating more league points a priority, Leeds have to address the imminent problem of an in-form Derby County side managed by our bogeyman coach Schteve “Dutch” McClaren. In the certain absence of Jansson, whose weird pending permanent transfer has now been put back until perilously late in the window, and the probable absence of dead leg victim Cooper, it may be a case of asking Luke Ayling to slot in next to Kyle Bartley in central defence, with Coyle and/or Denton stepping up to one or both of the full-back berths. Not ideal against stiff opposition.
We will know more fully after the next two Pontus-less Championship games at what price this FA Cup progress has been secured, and we’ll just have to hope that it was a price worth paying. Four points out of Derby and Barnsley, two highly-motivated, Leeds-hating, chip-on-the-shoulder obstacles, and we’ll be able to breathe a sigh of relief and look forward to the next round for the fascination of revisiting Cup opponents past. Fingers crossed that last night’s damage really can be limited to the loss of a mere two points.