There is an appalling quality to Leeds’ FA Cup record for the past two decades. Only five times have they made it past the third round and sometimes they haven’t even gotten that far. His fans still wince over a pair of clashes from the dark days of League One, against Hereford and Histon out of the league in rounds one and two, respectively.
This was another humiliation to place alongside others, against the non-league Newport County, Sutton and Rochdale; an afternoon where they weren’t even beaten but shattered during a second half in which Crawley scored three times and should have had more.
Had it not been for the colors, no one would have been able to identify the team that ranks 12th in the Premier League. The sixth-placeholder in League Two was hungrier, more in tune with the demands of the occasion, and also brought a vanguard.
Nick Tsaroulla, the former Tottenham trainee, landed what had to be described as a win that started when he ran to finish early in the second half and quickly went 2-0 when Ashley Nadesan embarrassed Kiko Casilla in first place. It was a moment of horror for the Leeds goalkeeper, but the pain didn’t stop there for him and his teammates.
Crawley’s third came as Casillas pushed Nadesan’s shot off a corner kick and central midfielder Jordan Tunnicliffe was available to climb to the top of the net. The home team had more opportunities during a period that will live forever in the memory of its fans who, sadly, had to enjoy it from their living rooms through the BBC.
Crawley brought stardust, not his most illustrious rivals, down to the detail of his introduction of reality TV star Mark Wright as a substitute in the 90th minute. Wright, a former Spurs youth team player who passed To appear in non-leagues before seeking your fortune outside of the game, is the subject of a BBC documentary.
The 33-year-old has been training with Crawley for the past few months and this was the first game for which he was eligible. The only way is Essex? The only way here was West Sussex. Never before has Crawley bothered a Premier League rival. It was surely the greatest result in its history.
Marcelo Bielsa had been poetic in his pre-match press conference. “For me, the FA Cup represents English football in its purest form,” said the Leeds coach. He showed his respect for the competition, and for Crawley, by naming a strong starting eleven, which he rode in a 3-4-3 formation with England midfielder Kalvin Phillips to the right of the three defenders. But despite a couple of blinks in the first half, Leeds took a back seat.
Crawley was well trained with his two benches of four behind the forwards and tenacious at the tackle. “Get him out,” a voice yelled from his bench as Leeds pushed through the first half. Captured the atmosphere of local challenge.
Crawley could have been up front at halftime. Nadesan was displaced after a Phillips error, but the big opportunity came in the 41st minute from a Jack Powell corner, and what a moment it was for Tom Nichols. The forward maneuvered in space to head towards the goal, but the effort was too close to Casilla, who saved with intelligence. For a fraction of a second, it looked like Nichols was the favorite to score.
It didn’t matter. Crawley began the second part step by step, brimming with conviction. They surely reasoned that Leeds hadn’t done anything to hurt them in the first half, so why should they fear anything?
Bielsa made changes at halftime, featuring a pair of youngsters in Oliver Casey and Jack Jenkins. They struggled, particularly Casey in central defense, and had barely caught their breath when their team was two goals behind.
The power of Tsaroulla’s 40-yard dash was matched by the precision of the low shot to the far corner: where was Leeds’s stamina? – and Crawley were in dreamland when Nadesan edged out Casey and fired at the near post. The rebound tricked Casilla and the ball went through him.
From then on, Crawley had a blast, stringing together some passing sequences. Leeds couldn’t get off the field fast enough. Tom Dallison and Sam Matthews had closed in before Tunnicliffe’s goal, while afterwards, Jake Hessenthaler had two good chances: the first after dribbling Casilla; Casey would make the block.
Full-time, the stadium announcer could hardly believe his own words when he announced the score before hitting play on the Rocky theme tune. Leeds was shocked.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism