THE UNBELIEVABLE HAPPENED YESTERDAY!
for the first time in twenty nine years, Leeds United Beat Manchester United at Old Trafford. I was 11 then. I was going to do a write up of the game, but as i can’t put it as gracefully, or inpartially, i will pass the report onto The Telegraphs Henry Winter.
Jermaine Beckford used to patrol the roads for the RAC, assisting the stranded, but yesterday, amid tumultuous scenes, he took great pride in engineering a breakdown.
Manchester United will recover — they always do — but Beckford’s decisive strike left them looking an emotional wreck. Not even the usually reliable home-start service offered by Wayne Rooney could rescue them on the road to Wembley. In slumping to their most humiliating day in the FA Cup since falling to Bournemouth 26 years ago, Manchester United felt particularly enraged by the identity of their conquerors. Usually only Leeds Rhinos prevail here.
Not since Brian Flynn struck in 1981 had the side from Elland Road enjoyed victory at Old Trafford. Familiar faces from Leeds past gathered to witness this famous moment. Eddie Gray, Peter Lorimer, Howard Wilkinson and Flynn himself all watched enthralled as Simon Grayson’s men summoned up the spirit of fabled days gone by. This was no flukey win, no ground-out 1-0. This was a deserved triumph rooted in the supreme effort of a tight-knit bunch of players responding to a popular manager’s tactical commands and exhortations.
Grayson’s players kept passing and pressing. Even when the cramp bit deep into their legs, when the lactic acid threatened to flood their engines, Leeds held firm, making a mockery of the 43-place gulf and the financial divide. Manchester United could buy back EllandRoad and their Thorp Arch training ground with the £18 million Sir Alex Ferguson lavished on Anderson.
Even when the fourth official, Stuart Atwell, signalled five additional minutes, prompting 9,000 Yorkshire voices to chant “Fergie Time’’, Patrick Kisnorbo kept blocking and Casper Ankergren kept saving.
Leeds have suffered so much over the past decade, what was another five minutes’ pain? When referee Chris Foy at last decided enough was enough, the final whistle can rarely have sounded sweeter for Leeds.
As so often in defeat, particularly when his players have so obviously underperformed, Ferguson employed diversionary tactics, railing about a shortage of injury-time which had actually seemed excessive. Most observers were predicting four minutes – 30 seconds each for the five subs, a minute for the physio attending Luciano Becchio and 30 seconds for a skirmish to subside.
If anything, Ferguson should have been grateful to Foy, who could easily have dismissed Wes Brown. After late challenges on Becchio, Bradley Johnson, Michael Doyle and Beckford, it was a miracle to find the England centre-half still on the field by the end, but then this was a day for shocks.
As Foy blew for full-time, some of Grayson’s players fell to the floor in exhaustion, having given everything. Others calmly shook Rooney’s hand, even Gary Neville’s. Doyle then led the charge towards Leeds’ jubilant support, a hugging, high-fiving, texting throng. Yesterday was rich reward for fans who have faced the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: relegation, administration, points deduction and Dennis Wise.
The intense loyalty of Leeds’ followers, many of whom paid £51 a ticket for this date with destiny, is one of the most eye-catching and uplifting features of the modern game. Here was a reminder that clubs will never die as long as the lifeblood, the support, stays strong. So how fitting it was that passionate Leeds fans orchestrated victory: Grayson, coaxing from the edge of his dugout; Richard Naylor, organising the defence; and Jonny Howson, whose stunning 50-yard pass created the decisive goal. In an era when some clubs lose their roots and their soul, Leeds are driven on by those with the club in their hearts.
Yorkshiremen like Grayson, Naylor and Howson knew what this fixture meant to their supporters. Gabriel Obertan, Dimitar Berbatov and Anderson seemed not to understand its significance despite the beseeching of the Stretford End. As if the odd scrap outside had not reminded everyone of long-standing enmity, the home hordes unveiled a banner designed to antagonise the visitors. Alongside a picture of Eric Cantona, who defected from Elland Road in 1992, were the words “Thanks A Million’’. Within 15 seconds of Foy’s opening blast the air rang with chants of “Cantona’’.
Their voices were soon drowned out. The Leeds 9,000 never stopped singing, their hymns of defiance growing in volume and substance as Grayson’s side took a grip of midfield and never let go. Howson angled passes in from the right. Doyle and Neil Kilkenny, all energy and simple passes, bossed Anderson and Darron Gibson in the centre.
Johnson, brimming with inventive running down the left, exposed Neville’s lack of pace. How Ferguson’s side missed the combativeness of Darren Fletcher, rested in readiness for Carling Cup duty against Manchester City on Wednesday.
Having built a platform, Leeds began to perform, taking the lead after 18 minutes. The move began when Naylor nicked the ball off the over-elaborating Berbatov. Howson took over, immediately looking up and spotting the ragged state of Ferguson’s backline.
Launching a superb delivery, Howson invited Beckford to run at goal, to bury the jibes of being a flat-track bully who disappears on the big occasions. Beckford has featured in big games before, in tense play-offs and a Carling Cup tie against Liverpool, and never shone. He did now.
Yet even if he leaps through the transfer window to Newcastle United, Beckford will always be remembered fondly at Elland Road. Racing away from Brown, Beckford appeared to have dragged the ball too far wide with a heavy first touch. This actually served the accidental purpose of luring Tomasz Kuszczak from his line. As the keeper ran towards Beckford, the striker stroked the ball back across Kuszczak and in. The ball seemed to take an age to cross the line, as if slightly disbelieving of its role in making history.
As it finally rested in the net, Leeds celebrated wildly yet they knew how much work remained. Rooney was never going to take the prospect of defeat lightly. Leeds’ defence was put to the test — but never the sword and Jason Crowe somehow cleared a Rooney shot off the line. Manchester United began to get rattled, their frustration spilling over when Brown clattered Becchio and then Johnson. Neville shouted some pithy words at Grayson. The second half opened with an awful lunge by Brown at Doyle. Leeds gave as good as they got. Naylor was cautioned for sending Rooney flying.
So often Ferguson’s saviour this season, Rooney needed help so the manager sent on Ryan Giggs and Antonio Valencia and then Michael Owen. Leeds’ defence still repelled all incoming threat. Kisnorbo headed out a shot from Gibson, Ankergren saved from Rooney and then Fabio.
Ferguson’s men were guilty of some bad misses, Rooney shooting over and Owen heading wide. Amid intermittent pressure, Leeds could easily have added to the score line through substitute Robert Snodgrass, who hit a post, yet one was enough. Beckford the old breakdown man had left Manchester United with a hard shoulder to cry on.
*well, maybe not all of us!
i suppose i best remind everyone that the boy, the enemy, her mother, sister, and niece all support Man Utd. and they all came to our house to watch it. they left in worse moods than they came with. i didn’t gloat, i didn’t brag or rub it in their faces. they were sore losers. and to that i say…