Cardiff City 2 (Philagene 24, Ojo 31)
Leeds Utd 2 (Rodrigo 65, Perkins 90+3)
8th January 2023, F A Cup 3rd Round.
Blimey, where do we start with that one? Well, For a start I did forecast a 2 – 2 draw in my piece for the Yorkshire Evening Post jury preview. At half time though, with the team booed off and after another dire defensive display by yet another different back-four combination, I must admit I felt a draw was well out of our reach and that we were en route to another inglorious FA Cup 3rd round exit!
My fellow jurors all thought we’d win this one… absolute folly of course if we just pause to reflect on our 3rd round disasters over the years! We’d already been alerted to the fact that we’d not be playing our strongest available team too, just as we always do at this stage, mistakenly believing that resting some of our “star” players makes them more effective for the upcoming league game. It’s never proved to be the case, has it? This time Jesse Marsch told us in his presser ahead of the game that several players were carrying niggles and might not make it for this game. To me, that was a comment to ready us for the usual weakened team selection! Jesse was also careful to tell us he’d select a “strong” team… ie not the “strongest”! He’s good with words but his are often easy to read between! I was fully expecting therefore to see us field a side that was not used to playing together, once again as we always see in the 3rd round. And hence, I suspected we’d struggle to beat even a poor Cardiff side just as we have failed in the past to beat Hereford, Histon, Rochdale, Sutton, Crawley, and Newport County at this stage!
And so it proved to be although, to be fair, we started the game well, creating chances (though seldom hitting the target) and pretty much controlling the game despite the inclusion of the likes of Robles, Llorente, Firpo, Greenwood, Gyabi and Gelhardt who have hardly been regular starters this season. Perhaps it just took Cardiff’s makeshift side a while to get their act together. But in the 24th minute, we saw a Cardiff goal that showed that it doesn’t matter whom we play in the backline, they will always manage to gift a goal away! Junior Firpo was caught out of position, and Pascal Struijk was left facing two blue shirts and lost one of them behind him. Robles made a decent stop to keep the first shot out but then neither Llorente or Greenwood were quick enough to boot the ball away and there was Philogene to stab the ball home. Another shocker of a goal to concede.
I consider the second Cardiff goal to also be a sloppy one – though I’ve seen some commentators applauding the lobbed ball over the head of Llorente. It dropped for Ojo and he took it on his chest before slamming it past Robles from close range. We shouldn’t get done like that and in that instant, I decided that maybe Pascal isn’t best suited to the CB role and maybe he should stay at left back and Llorente definitely isn’t! Maybe the captain's armband was weighing too heavy on our young defender.
So, two goals down and booed off at halftime, it looked grim and felt pretty much like any of those traumatic 3rd round games mentioned above.
Leeds came out for the second half and nothing much changed – we once again looked to have control of the pitch but were not exactly threatening the home goal. We just didn’t look to have enough guile to get through the Cardiff defence. Cue Rodrigo, Drameh, and new man Max Wober who replaced Kristensen, Gyabi, and Summerville. Gyabi had done well but Kristensen looked lost and Summerville is clearly not back to his explosive best yet so the changes all looked sensible and suddenly Leeds began to push forward with more urgency and effectiveness and the chances started to come. Pascal headed narrowly wide from one corner and Rodrigo in particular was in the thick of the action and it was he who started the comeback. A short corner routine saw Greenwood swing in a clever cross and Rodrigo was alert to beat three blue shirts to the ball and head home. Minutes later and it looked as though we’d escaped the clutches of the FA Cup Grim Reaper as a Rodrigo shot was blocked and Junior Firpo, suddenly looking way more effective going forward than he ever does at the other end defending, hit the rebound true and firm towards the bottom corner. Only a great one-handed save from fullback Joel Bagan kept it out. Bagan was rightly dismissed for deliberate handball and, after a brief scare for the Leeds faithful when it looked like Junior was taking the kick, eventually, we breathed a sigh of relief as Rodrigo took the ball off him… maybe Junior should have taken it! Rodrigo hit the ball well but nowhere near the corner of the net and Alnwick saved.
I shrugged at that point and was resigned to defeat, it all felt very Leeds United 3rd round to me! But, as we say week after week, whatever we can rightly criticise this team of ours for, we cannot ever say they give up! Back we came and with Mat Joseph and Sonny Perkins now on for Aaronson and Gelhardt and, with seconds remaining, Willy Gnonto got to the byline, squared the ball across and Junior Firpo performed a lovely little back heel knocking the ball towards goal. Sonny Perkins was on it in a flash to stab it further over the line and 6,500 Leeds fans exhaled a mighty breath of air.
Let’s not kid ourselves, this was not a great performance. Yes, it was not our regular or “strongest” team and yes, it was a group that had probably not ever played together as an XI. But this was a poor and makeshift Championship side that hadn’t won in ages. Defensively even our experienced players again let us down, Pascal was probably as poor as we’ve ever seen him. Our shooting was dire – hitting the target only five times from 26 attempts, and the midfield just didn’t get going; no one was providing any line-breaking passes. There were bright spots – Willy Gnonto worked as hard as always and got through for that equaliser; Junior Firpo made a difference in the second half and showed the lad does have something there; Darko Gyabi was busy at times too; and Rodrigo continues to look sharp. The rest…meh, not good enough today.
So, we get a second chance to progress and, surely, this time we’ll play our strongest XI to make a real effort to get through to face either Boreham Wood or Accrington; with so many Premier League sides biting the dust at this first hurdle we will possibly never have such a good chance to make real progress this year. As someone on TV says: “Don’t f*** it up!” Oh, and by the way, I’ve never been to Boreham Wood and they are promotion candidates from the National League, come on Leeds, let me get that ground ticked off ready in case they do go up and I need it for my “92”.
Cardiff City Leeds U
Possession 27% 73%
Shots 5 26
On Target 4 5
Corners 2 9
Fouls 8 12