Leeds United’s coaching staff and players were able to achieve something historic as the Whites emerged victorious courtesy of a Jermaine Beckford goal at Old Trafford. The FA Cup was once again being described as close to losing some of its appeal and luster as there were no major shocks prior to Sunday’s showdown in Manchester.
Leeds did the FA Cup a great service by claiming Manchester United’s scalp and showing that lower division sides can still spring a surprise and fans will flock to exciting matchups. Close to 75 000 fans were present at the stadium including around 9 000 away supporters who made the trip to Old Trafford to urge the Whites to beat the Red Devils. The atmosphere was electrifying and the Leeds players were roared by the traveling fans. Without delving into an analysis of the match which has been covered time and again in the Press worldwide, manager Simon Grayson and the players deserve much credit for their committed display. The team played as a unit and fought hard while hassling a club which has dominated the English Premier League the last couple of seasons. The Red Devils underwent a number of changes to their line-up but Wayne Rooney, the side’s most talented played, was a starter so credit must be given to the manager and his charges for this triumph.
Grayson must be happiest with the performances of Patrick Kisnorbo and Jonny Howson as well as Jermaine Beckford’s scoring instincts. Paddy was a giant at the back, often intervening as if his life depended on it, while local lad Howson was imperious in the middle of the park. Top scorer Beckford was once again on the scoresheet and despite his initial awkward control of the ball he was able to capitalise on the opportunity to slip the ball past Manchester goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak. Beckford is a pure scorer and his natural ability cannot be overlooked – as mentioned in previous articles under this segment. The historic victory has been overshadowed by questions over whether Beckford will remain to help propel Leeds to the Championship next season or if he will no longer be part of the fight for promotion.
The latest reports indicate the Magpies remain interested in signing the striker as they have let go of Marlon Harewood but chairman Ken Bates stressed there are no new offers for Beckford and only worthy ones will be considered. The Whites will likely hold on to Beckford and allow him to leave for free in the summer unless new developments emerge such as the club’s top scorer wanting to stay at Elland Road or Newcastle making a better offer for his signature. Grayson is likely to insist on keeping Beckford considering it will be difficult to replace a player who has managed 20 goals in just 24 appearances. The Whites do not have a replacement within the squad and it would cost a considerable amount to bring in a striker with a similar strike ratio and natural instincts in front of goal.
The result at Old Trafford was marvelous and no doubt it will be discussed for some time ahead, at least until Leeds travel to London to play Tottenham in the fourth round of the FA Cup, but the focus must remain on guaranteeing promotion the Championship. Grayson has done an impressive job up to this point in making sure his players are not distracted by the cup competitions. The FA Cup will bring more money to Elland Road in the short term but playing in the Championship next season will be crucial for the club’s financial standing.
Grayson’s influence in the locker room and his commitment to the Leeds cause will go a long way to helping shape the season for the Whites. If Beckford does leave, then Leeds will be able to count on other committed players under Grayson’s astute management. Argentine Luciano Becchio, Robert Snodgrass and American Mike Grella would all welcome the opportunity to take on more responsibility as they seem well prepared and highly motivated. Grella in particular would relish the opportunity to prove himself and perhaps secure a late call to the United States squad heading to South Africa 2010 to play none other than England in the group stage.
In the meantime, it will be back to reality with another fixture in League One with a home match against Wycombe Wanderers, with the Whites expected to add another three points to their tally against a struggling side.