cambridge united 1-2 leeds united: the ick of the fa cupBack
When the magic of The FA Cup means Matt Grimes in midfield, you do have to wonder if the naysayers don’t have a point: take it out, put it out of its misery, let everyone stop pretending they’re not obsessed with league football — or, as it’s also known, money.
It’s the Cambridge fans you have to feel sorry for. Drawn against the mighty Leeds United, they would have been looking forward to the visit of legends such as Billy Bremner, Mark Viduka, Shaun Derry and Jermaine Beckford to the Abbey Stadium. At least they got to see Pontus Jansson in the flesh; not to mention being close enough to see the twinkle in Marcus Antonsson’s eyes. Perhaps they don’t know how lucky they were.
The game started brightly. Luke Berry’s family watched in horror as he made the terrible mistake of toppling Jansson, while at the other end a cross by Antonsson drifted leisurely onto the crossbar. Some too leisurely play by Liam Cooper let Uche Ikpeazu in for a shot at Marco Silvestri. Matt Grimes lofted a through ball just beyond Antonsson, that turned out to have been played by Alex Mowatt, then Pontus went down with what looked a bad Noel Whelan-style dislocated finger injury. All this in the first twenty minutes. Magic.
Five minutes later it was 1-0 to Cambridge as Leeds submitted to the kind of culture shock that it is a genuine risk of the third round. First Kalvin Phillips was booked for a reckless tackle on Ikpeazu; then, as Leeds struggled to clear the ball from the edge of their box, Jansson was harshly booked — and banned for two games, with tortuous, headache-inducing implications for his permanent transfer — and a free kick awarded when his arm connected with Ikpeazu’s head as they waited for a ball to drop. The free kick from Berry was poor, as was Tyler Denton for letting Ikpeazu turn in the penalty area when he collected the rebound; poorest of all was Marco Silvestri for letting Ikpeazu’s snapshot curve in off his near post. Madge, as they say, ick.
Cambridge’s insistence on setting a high tempo left Leeds tackling air, or rather late-tackling Cambridge players on their way past, as they Leeds to pick up their leaden pace to match, or even catch, Cambridge; Gaetano Berardi was booked (of course), Denton was spoken to. One player who didn’t risk a booking was Souleymane Doukara, mainly because he wasn’t risking any extra energy to lift his ambles up and down the left wing to the levels of Cambridge’s League Two players.
Eventually Alex Mowatt, left unmarked in Cardiff/Huddersfield glory range, dipped a long-range glory shot just below bar height, from where it was tipped over by Cambridge’s keeper Will Norris. From the corner, Norris’s feet blocked a towering header by Cooper, fired at the floor from eight feet; not a goal, but some signs of life, which after this half of football was the most Leeds could hope for.
As if to compound my misery, Lewie Coyle replaced Berardi at half-time, as if to laugh at my quiet half-time bet on a red card. More predictably, Silvestri began the second half by punching a corner that was effectively rolling slowly into his living room, then showboating Cambridge’s rebound attempt over the bar; Cooper, presumably watching all this and regressing to last season, began feeding him wretched backpasses that Marco smacked into touch. Cooper will probably wake in a cold sweat tonight yelling ‘Giuseppe NO!’ before remembering what year this is.
After ten minutes Mowatt, free in his favourite space again, messed with the system and tried a daisy cutter; a sighter for the glorious totaal voetball that was to follow. Could you count the passes? There were so many, before Mowatt raced on to the ball at the byline and clipped a first time cross, that a deflection turned into a chip to the back post, where Stuart Dallas firmly headed home to equalise. It was, all things considered, a fine goal, and as Doukara was subbed off for Kemar Roofe, reasons to be happy were breaking out all over the Fens.
Antonsson had the next chance for Leeds, trapping the ball on his velvet right boot, running a ring around the penalty area and trying to catch Norris at his near post; Norris was wise to it. Leeds kept pressing, and then from Dallas’ corner, Jansson headed right at the head of Mowatt, who flicked it into the net to give Leeds the lead and make my other half-time bet, on Leeds United to win, no laughing matter. The away end celebrated Mowatt’s goal by singing songs in praise of Pontus Jansson, but that’s football, Alex, that’s football.
Ahead of Pontus Jansson’s suspension, Liam Cooper inevitably limped off injured; that is also football. Mowatt getting to the byline and shooting across the goal (from an impossible angle) was perhaps taking football too far. Leeds certainly seemed to feel that way; they adjusted to controlling the lead while looking for occasional chances to kill the game off, in advance of the expected final ten minute onslaught from Cambridge, that got underway a minute or two late when a corner was headed narrowly wide.
As Cambridge struggled to get their momentum, Silvestri did his best to help, parrying a shot to their striker and sparking a goalmouth scramble with three minutes left. It was a morale booster, much as Jansson’s sliding tackle in injury time on Ikpeazu, sparking a surprisingly smooth counter attack from Roofe, Mowatt and Dallas, was a morale killer. Roofe tried to lob the keeper from a thousand yards and the ball seemed safely down the Cambridge end where Leeds needed it. Where Leeds didn’t need the ball was swinging into the box towards Cambridge’s goalkeeper in the fourth minute of injury time, but Jansson headed it clear to solve the game and put Leeds into the fourth round.
Which is presumably where Leeds want to be; despite what this game has done for suspensions and injuries, what it has done to the fixture list (do we still play Nottingham Forest this season now? I have no idea), what it gives us as a prize: the opportunity for Sutton United or AFC Wimbledon to give us the kind of bloody, embarrassing nose Cambridge came close to.