ON a night when many of the classic ingredients will be in place for an FA Cup shock, Garry Monk insists his Leeds United side has the mettle to prevail amid testing circumstances.
The Elland Road club has been on a fine run in the Championship, nine wins in their last 12 games having lifted United up to fifth in the table.
Tonight, though, will bring an entirely different challenge for Monk’s men as Shaun Derry’s Cambridge United looks to get one over his old club in front of the live BT Sport cameras.
The U’s will be hoping to capitalise on what seems certain to be a raucous atmosphere at a small ground that will be filled to capacity for a meeting between two clubs separated by two divisions.
“I have good and bad memories of the FA Cup,” Monk told The Yorkshire Post. “It is a great competition, famous all around the world. There is lots of tradition and it is a competition all players look forward to playing in.
“It will be difficult because Cambridge are doing very well in their league. They have ambitions of going up and will want to use the Cup as a springboard.
“The ground will be very tight and a big crowd is expected. They will be vocal and the fans will be tight to the pitch. Cambridge are winning games and will be confident. We have to respect our opponent.”
Leeds reached the quarter-finals of the League Cup before bowing out to Liverpool at Anfield.
Monk rotated his squad during that run and he is again expected to give a couple of fringe players their chance to shine tonight at the Abbey Stadium. He insists, though, that this should not be taken as a sign that Leeds are focusing on their promotion push at the expense of the Cup.
“I wouldn’t call the Cup a distraction,” he added. “Our approach in any game is to win it.
“We used the League Cup to give us momentum and install a winning mentality. We need to do the same with the FA Cup. We will make changes but it is a balance we need between those who have not played that many minutes but also making sure we have a group that can win the game.”
After a slow start that brought no wins from the opening eight league games, Cambridge have hit form and will pose a dangerous threat.
Charlie Taylor is again expected to miss out for Leeds with the Achilles injury that kept the left-back out of the festive period but Eunan O’Kane should be fit after returning to training along with Lewie Coyle.
Stuart Dallas is expected to start after dropping to the bench in the derby win over Rotherham United a week ago and the Northern Irishman admits to relishing the chance to progress in the Cup.
“I haven’t had that many good memories of the Cup,” said the 25-year-old, who joined Leeds after three years at Brentford. “The FA Cup is still a special competition and everyone loves a good run in it. We will go there and look to be professional to get the job done.”
Dallas knows a thing or two about being the underdog in knockout football after helping Northern Ireland to the second round of the Euro 2016 finals last summer.
For Michael O’Neill’s unfancied Irish side, read Cambridge and Dallas is aware just how fired up the League Two team will be in front of the live cameras.
“We want to go there and be professional and win. But it won’t be easy at a small ground with a good atmosphere. They won’t roll over. They have been on a good run in their own league. They will be strong and physical.
“But, if we do what we are good at, I am in no doubt we will progress. We just want to keep winning, especially after the run we have been on. The FA Cup is a special competition. Everyone around the world knows it and to go as far as we can would be great.
“The atmosphere among the lads is good and there is confidence everywhere. Our preparations are the same, it doesn’t matter who we play or when. Playing on a Monday night makes no difference. We are all looking forward to it.”
Last six games: Cambridge United LWWWDW, Leeds United LWWWDW.
Referee: C Pawson (South Yorkshire).
Last time: Cambridge United 2 Leeds United 2; April 7, 1984; Division Two.