Cambridge United 1 Leeds United 2

I think in their heads, most Leeds fans knew this was going to be a tough game. Garry Monk had signalled earlier in the week that he’d make changes and when we saw there were 8 coming in who didn’t start against Rotherham it was clear the side would not be anywhere near our strongest. Add to that the fact that Cambridge are a decent League Two side pushing for a play-off place and a side that scores plenty of goals and, as we stood looking down at the pitch, I am sure everyone was as nervous as me. Another factor was a pitch heavy with hours of rain and quickly cutting up making accurate passing more a case of luck than judgement. And finally, as the game got under way, it was very clear that the home side was going balls out for this one, their cup final in front of a rare sell-out crowd at the Abbey Stadium. No, it was never going to be easy.

The first half saw nothing go right for us and even the referee appeared to be rooting for the home side as he rapidly booked Berardi, Phillips and Jansson making them all think twice before making last ditch tackles on the unpredictable surface. Cooper made mistake after mistake while Phillips often gave the ball away too easily but Cambridge deserve praise too for the way they harried and pressed and the giant Uche Ikpeazu up front was a real handful. It sort of epitomised the first half when Leeds did everything wrong to allow Cambridge to score. A poor Cambridge free-kick ricocheted off the wall to the Cambridge inside right channel and big Ikpeazu easily got the better of Tyler Denton to fire in a shot. Even then Silvestri, as a professional goalkeeper, had no right to allow it to beat him at his near post… but we’ve seen it before and it was a little cameo of the whole first half.

There was much head-shaking at half-time with the only hope being that the Methodical Monk could once again tinker with his tactics and formation to create a different approach in the second-half; he’s done it successfully after quite a few poor first 45s this season.  This time he introduced Lewie Coyle for a welcome return for Berardi but more importantly told his troops to get the ball forward with more urgency and to try to play the game higher up the field. Easier said than done I’d suggest but whatever that means, it worked.

Once again Leeds looked completely different in the second period and it may well be partly due to the fitness of our players; Monk hinted at that too after the game. Cambridge seemed to wilt and were no longer quite as quickly in our faces, meaning that more Leeds passes found their targets and slowly some control of the game was asserted. Two crosses, two headed goals and the game was turned around and into the next round we went. AFC Wimbledon probably await if they can beat Sutton.  

A game at either of those sides will create a very similar headache for Monk as he tries to spread a very thin squad across so many vital games. If anything was made clear at Cambridge it was that most of the 8 players brought in are nowhere near the quality of the players they replaced; the one exception probably being Stuart Dallas. The rest, Silvestri, Cooper, Denton, Grimes, Phillips, Mowatt and Antonsson are not going to help us get promoted in any significant way and they merely prove that we desperately need reinforcements in this transfer window to cover for injuries and suspensions. It may already be too late for the Derby game on Friday; Pontus is a definite non-starter following his tenth booking and the way Cooper limped off he has to be a real doubt. They will be drawing lots to decide who partners Captain Cool and the fear is that a rampant Derby may exploit that area. Another huge game awaits us.

Game Statistics:

                   Cambridge Utd   Leeds Utd

Possession           37%                      63%

Shots                     11                          12

On Target               4                            5

Corners                   7                            4

Fouls                      16                          12