This War of the Roses, with only 40 miles separating the two clubs across The Pennines is always a big match, regardless of the competition. January 3rd 2010 when Leeds were still in Division 1 was a shock result as Luciano Becchio scored to beat The Red Devils 1-0 in the FA Cup 3rd Round at Old Trafford.
Tonight I squeezed my way along Elland Road, which was lined on both sides by police, many in combat uniform. Along comes a double decker bus with Man United fans from Leeds station. Three vans of police, a video van, and a van full of savage 'bite 'yer legs' Alsacians dogs and even more savage looking handlers. This was NOT a night for the squeamish.
Visiting fans took the whole of the South Stand, two tiers, and the rest of the stadium was as full as possible despite a still in progress 6 million addition to the gigantic East Stand. Sir Alex Ferguson made 11 changes to his free scoring team from the weekend, but Old Trafford reserves were some star names. We had J S Park, Michael Owen, Ryan Giggs, Dimitar Berbatov, Valencia, Fabio, Macheda, Carrick and more, to face the relatively unknown All Whites, whose main task this season is to climb into the Premier League. Despite all the youth that Sir Alex put on the pitch, the team was actually almost 4 years on average older than last weekend. Michael Owen in his first start was 31 and Ryan Giggs 37.
Only a decade ago Leeds United were one match away from The Champions League Final, having tied Valencia at home in the semi-final first leg. Then it all went pear shape in Yorkshire!! Simon Grayson has a less talented strike force than in the last 2 seasons, and they are definately not yet ready for prime time and the EPL. However, Leeds fans are never bashful and super supportive, with chants and songs and anti Man United abuse. Marching On Together is their favourite song, sung with passion. The first 6 minutes was end to end cup-tie fare with 7 corners, and Leeds almost took the lead as Tom Lees header was cleared off the line by Giggs and twice Berbatov was similarly defensive in quick succession.
Simon Grayson, the young Leeds manager of a team that is only 11th in The Championship, knows that even Manchester United reserves are far too full of class for his journeyman pros. They tried to play attractive football, but at times it looked like The Harlem Globetrotters vs the Washington Dummies, such was the class divide. Owen scored a brace, the second pure class, and the diminitive former England striker clearly relished his chance to impress the Boss, and indeed he did. Giggs who was given a hard time by the vitriolic home fans in the Don Revie North Stand scored a beauty after 37 minutes, with a nutmeg then an outside left foot shot. He cupped his hand to his ear and trotted back to the half way line. By then the match was over. For the visitors 7 wins out of 7 and 24 goals so far.
The second half was goalless and 3nd choice goalkeeper Ben Amos had little to do. We all went home knowing what a gap there was in the two teams as The Red Devils go back to the really serious stuff of the Premier League and the Champions League, and Leeds know what a task they have to even get promotion, and challenge and compete at the top table.