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Red Devils rocked by mighty Whites
Published : 03 Jan 2010 15:22:21
It is six years since Leeds' loyal fans have made this particular trip - and not since 1981 have they returned across the Pennines celebrating victory. But in manager Simon Grayson they have a man with the club in his heart, and in Beckford they have a striker capable of shooting them to better things. Those are things to cling to when your once proud club has struck financial strife so deep it sends you tumbling into League One. And when Beckford's 20th goal of the campaign trundled past Tomasz Kuszczak, you could just sense the hosts would not be saved - not even by the five minutes of stoppage time that must have shredded a few nerves before that final glorious release. In a sense, Sir Alex Ferguson was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Normally, a week involving two cup matches, one against a side from two levels below, at home, would offer an obvious opportunity to blood a few of his youngsters. Yet Leeds are no ordinary League One outfit. Even if they were not surging clear at the top, fuelled by a confidence Grayson has painstakingly built up during his time at the helm, this could never be a normal fixture. The sight of Eddie Gray and Alex Stepney in the press box was a reminder of one era when the Roses rivals fought battles at the very top. The presence of an injured Rio Ferdinand in the directors' box triggered more memories. In addition, the presence of 9,000 visiting supporters created an atmosphere that crackled from the first whistle, long after minor scuffles outside had reminded everyone that there is no love lost between the two whatsoever. Leeds were primed and ready. The home side crucially stood off, the sheer ferocity of the visitors' approach catching the less experienced members of their team by surprise. The Yorkshire outfit were already on top when first Dimitar Berbatov, then Danny Welbeck, lost possession inside the Leeds half. Jonathan Howson spotted his opportunity and launched a long ball over the top for Beckford, who had stolen half a yard on Wes Brown. The Manchester United defender was only playing because Nemanja Vidic had been injured in the warm-up and must have thought he had got away with it as Beckford's control took the ball away from him. But Kuszczak was slow to react and Beckford had time to nip the ball beyond the Pole and send it rolling over the line. Grayson, a Leeds fan as a kid and a Leeds player as an adult, led the jubilant celebrations, fully aware of what this particular hostility means on both sides of the Pennines. Their ecstasy would have only lasted five minutes if Jason Crowe had not been quick-witted enough to get back onto the goal-line as Wayne Rooney charged onto Berbatov's reverse pass. Rooney bore down on the Leeds goal, then beat Casper Ankergren with a low shot that was heading in until Crowe scrambled it away. If anything, the second period was even more fractious as United's desperation for an equaliser - and Leeds' to stop them - increased. Welbeck was denied by Ankergren's right leg when he let fly for the bottom corner after charging into the box. The youngster also set up Berbatov, but again Ankergren came out on top. Ferguson decided it was time for the reinforcements, which are always readily available if things are going wrong in such circumstances. This time it was Ryan Giggs and Antonio Valencia, although the response was muted and 10 minutes later Michael Owen was on as well. It is almost a month since Owen scored that hat-trick in Wolfsburg, since when he has not started a game. That lack of match practice was evident as, with virtually his first touch, he scuffed his shot after getting himself in the perfect position to turn home Valencia's cut-back. Rooney blasted over from a similar position before Leeds countered and Beckford skimmed the far post with a shot across the face of goal. Robert Snodgrass came even closer shortly afterwards when his free-kick shook the angle of bar and post with Kuszczak beaten. As is their nature, United pushed and pushed. But the equaliser would not come as their failure to retain possession allowed Leeds to celebrate a famous victory.