2012/13: (Capital One) League Cup 1st Round – Leeds United v Shrewsbury Town
Saturday 11 August 2012 (10:00)
For clubs, managers, players and fans alike the Football League Cup has always been the ‘ugly-sister’ of the domestic cup competitions. Whilst the FA Cup can boast a history stretching back to the 1871/72 season, the League Cup is a young whippersnapper having only come into play in the 1960/61 football calendar. This is the 53rd season of the competition which has new sponsors and is to be known as the Capital One Cup (or rather unfortunately COC).
Later today I’m off to Elland Round to watch a First Round game between Leeds United and Shrewsbury Town, but my mind is drawn back to the first League Cup tie I saw forty years ago in August 1972. The game was at Craven Cottage as Fulham took on Reading. At that time, the League Cup was not sponsored and as with the FA Cup, back then, there was no limit on replays. The game, which took place on 23 August, was in fact a First Round replay, as the original game at Reading ended in a draw. If I’m honest I remember very little about the game, other than it also ended 1-1.
Five days later on the Bank Holiday Monday, I went with my dad to the Second Replay at Elm Park when Fulham won 1-0 with a goal from Barry Lloyd. My abiding memory? Strangely, it was of the terrace roof which was in need of some repair. On any occasion on which the ball landed on the roof, those below were showered with a rusty deposit and lead to the christening of ‘The Royals’ as ‘rusty Reading’ by my dad.
The League Cup also holds a sentimental memory for me in relation to another First Round game. This one took place on 27 August 1991. By then the League Cup was sponsored by Rumbelows and the First Round fixtures were played over two-legs. Fulham hadn’t quite hit the low-point that the early nineties brought to SW6, but it was a club in decline, with Craven Cottage in a sorry state. In the First Leg, the Whites had gone down 4-2 to an exiled Charlton Athletic who were playing at Upton Park, so it was more in hope than expectation that I joined a crowd of 3,543 for the Second Leg encounter. Fulham battled but a 1-1 draw meant an aggregate loss of 5-3.
However, the real significance of this game was that it was the last game I saw at the Cottage before moving to Leeds in September 1991. As I watched the game that evening, I tried to take in the views and all the quirky nooks and crannies that this patch of West London had to offer and commit it to memory…because I didn’t know when I’d next return. Like the team, the ground was in a desperate state, but despite that, it was home, it was were my beloved Whites played and I had spent 19 years going week-in, week-out. That night it may have been an inconsequential League Cup game, but for me it is one that will always have meaning.
Prior to today Leeds and Shrewsbury had never met in the League Cup, although there was one FA Cup fixture between the clubs back in the 1964/65 season. It was an Fifth Round tie that took place at Elland Road and ended in a 2-0 win for the home team. Leeds went on to reach the Final before losing 2-1 to Liverpool. Would today be the start of a Cup run for the Yorkshire side that would see them end up at Wembley?
It had been another strange week for Leeds, as on Thursday it was announced that the planned investment/takeover (delete as appropriate), was now off. It sparked unsurprisingly a massive reaction on the various Leeds United websites and blogs, with all sorts of rumours and speculation. However, by this morning it was reported that a deal was back on. So the saga continues.
Elland Road was bathed in sunshine as a crowd of just over 18,000 gathered to witness a reshaped Leeds United team. As the players warned up, another signing was introduced to the fans, that of El Hadji Diouf and it brought a very mixed reaction. Neil Warnock has rebuilt this squad and so it is very much his team, with the Grayson side pretty much dismantled.
However as the game kicked-off it was the visitors who looked the better balanced team in the opening exchanges. Shrewsbury had the first shot on target just three minutes into the game from Mark Wright, which was held by Kenny in goal for Leeds. The Shrews neat passing and build-up also lead to two other good chances in the opening fifteen minutes for Paul Parry and Jermaine Grandison, but both were off target. Leeds were struggling to get into the game, but all this turned around in a six minute period. First on twenty minutes, Jamaican international Rodolph Austin unleashed a shot which Town keeper Chris Weale could only parry, as the defence tried to clear Luciano Becchio was quickest to react and tucked the ball away to give Leeds a lead they hardy deserved. Shrewsbury responded with a well-worked effort from Marvin Morgan which was saved and held by Kenny. However, on twenty six minutes, Shrewsbury again contributed to their own downfall with poor defensive work which allowed Ross McCormack through on goal, who was able to square for Luke Varney to put into an empty net. Instead of being 2-0 up, Shrewsbury were stunned to find themselves 2-0 down. Leeds with the cushion at last started to dominate and play with some confidence and Becchio was unlucky with a header just after the half-hour mark. In the last ten minutes the game lost shape and a number of free-kicks were conceded by both teams. Half-time 2-0 to Leeds and perhaps rather fortunately so.
Into the second-half, the 1,000 or so Shrewsbury fans tried to get behind their team. However the opening fifteen minutes brought no reward for Town as Leeds were more comfortable in possession. On the hour though, Kenny spilled a Parry shot which fell to Marvin Morgan who somehow put it over the bar, although it wouldn’t have counted anyway as the flag was up for offside. Leeds upped the tempo and just as they had in the first half struck twice in quick succession to completely kill off the game. On sixty five minutes Luke Varney rose high to head the ball down for David Norris whose scuffed effort somehow found its way into the net. Five minutes later Michael Hector was adjudged to have handled as Paul Green lifted the ball over the defender. McCormack coolly finished from the spot and Leeds were cruising at 4-0. With the game safe and fifteen minutes to go Neil Warnock changed things around with a double substitution, with Dominic Poleon replacing Paul Green and El-Hadji Diouf on for Ross McCormack. Diouf had a mixed reception and there boos from the stands whenever he touched the ball. Graham Turner rang the changes for the Shrews as well, but he knew it wasn’t going to be his day when a late effort from Morgan was clearly pushed round the post by Kenny, only for the referee to award a goal-kick.
4-0 to Leeds at the whistle, but in all honesty, that was a flattering score-line. Whilst not denying that United were the better team over the ninety minutes and had taken their chances well, the opening twenty minutes were a very bumpy ride for Leeds. The team is undoubtedly still bedding in, but nobody should be fooled that this was a perfect display. Kenny, whilst comfortable with his shot-stopping, also gave evidence (with the spill in the second-half and his flapping at corners), that he will cost Leeds points this season. Peltier looked the pick of the back four, whilst Austin looked solid enough. For many of the others, they only really came into the game once Leeds had the two goal advantage. Shrewsbury played some nice football and looked useful in midfield and going forward, however at the back they were far from convincing and that will be a worry for manager Graham Turner.
“…Que sera, sera, whatever will be will be…we’re going to Wem-ber-lee…que sera, sera…” sang a group of fans behind me as we exited the ground. Don’t you just love the optimism at the start of a season. Football is back…