Blog by ITV Calendar's Sports Reporter Chis Dawkes
Not for the first time, and I daresay not for the last, Leeds United were the victims of a cup upset which not only dented their pride but left them exposed to ridicule on a national scale.
League Two side Crawley, some 62 places below them in the league ladder, not only beat Leeds on a cold January afternoon in West Sussex, they thrashed them 3-0. This wasn't a lucky backs-to-the-wall smash and grab, it was a battering. All played out in glorious high definition on national television.
Before the match Leeds head coach Marcelo Bielsa spoke of "paying homage" to the integrity of the competition and by including £30 million record signing Rodrigo in his starting 11 and others who've featured regularly in Leeds' first season back in the Premier League for 16 years, Bielsa was certainly true to his word.
On a bobbling pitch, which to be fair is not too dissimilar to Elland Road's at present, the fluency which has made Leeds such a joy to watch this season was absent. Instead, it was Crawley who carved out the best chance of the opening half. Only Kiko Casilla in the Leeds goal prevented the Whites from going into half time a goal down.
What happened at the break though seemed to swing the game in Crawley's favour. In what appeared pre-ordained changes, Leeds hooked striker Rodrigo, captain and defensive lynchpin Liam Cooper and holding midfielder Pascal Struijk, replacing them with two players from the clubs academy and Jack Harrison, a winger.
It didn't take long for the changes to take effect. Crawley scored three times in 25 minutes to kill the tie. They even had the luxury of bringing on reality television star Mark Wright for the final few seconds. A publicity stunt yes and a smidge of disrespect to the heroic underdogs but an act which underlined Leeds' shame. Not so much The Only way is Essex, more the only word is embarrassment.
As Crawley's players headed off to celebrate at the Sugar Hut (ok maybe not, but they would've done in simpler times), Bielsa didn't sugar-coat his assessment of the giant slaying: “In the second half the game was played how the opponents wanted to play. They did create danger to deserve the goals that they scored.“The result generates a lot of sadness and disappointment for us.“It’s not a question of surprise, we know the characteristics of their players and the opponents, just like every other opponent.”
This is just the latest in a succession of Leeds' failures in a competition they've grown to fear. From Colchester in 1971, through to Histon in 2008 and then Sutton four years ago. This time it was meant to be different though. No promotion to attain. No clogged football league fixture pile-up. As ever, it's the same record playing endlessly on a loop. Probably 'Things Can Only Get Better' by D:Ream. Although it never does.
In the Premier League they are a joy to watch. When it comes to the FA Cup, if Leeds are on the box it's probably best to avert your eyes.