Sutton United v Leeds United: Top scorer Chris Wood on FA Cup challenge

Leeds United striker Chris Wood scores against Nottingham Forest on Wednesday, his 20th of the season (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe).
Leeds United striker Chris Wood scores against Nottingham Forest on Wednesday, his 20th of the season (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe).
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TIGHT, homely ground with fans close to the pitch? Check. Live TV cameras present, hoping for a Cup upset? Check. And a pitch that the minnows hope can prove a big leveller? Check.

For Cambridge United in the last round of the FA Cup, read Sutton United tomorrow as Garry Monk takes his Leeds United side to Green Gander Lane for a tie that screams ‘potential banana skin’ for the Championship promotion-chasers.

The romance of the world’s oldest knockout competition suggests the non-League club might make light of the three divisions and 84 places between the two clubs to repeat their stunning upset of 1989 against Coventry City, then of the top flight and Cup winners a little over 18 months earlier.

Chris Wood, however, has other ideas and he believes Leeds’s experience in beating League Two side Cambridge earlier this month will be a major help.

“The FA Cup is a competition when anything can happen,” said the 25-year-old Kiwi to The Yorkshire Post. “Cambridge was always going to be tough and it was a real cup tie down there.

“The opposition are going to come at you fighting. To be fair, I expected nothing less because it was an FA Cup match and Cambridge wanted to cause an upset. That is what the competition is all about.

“I am sure the next round will be the same and that is why we will have to be on it from the first whistle.”

Leeds, after struggling in the first half against Shaun Derry’s U’s and deservedly falling behind, denied BT Sport the cup shock they craved with second-half goals from Alex Mowatt and Stuart Dallas.

Wood was an unused substitute but, from the bench, he saw exactly how the League Two side were determined to make it hard for Leeds.

“We knew Cambridge was always going to be tough,” added the striker, fresh from reaching 20 goals for the season in midweek. “But the lads showed their class to come through that and get the result.

“The great thing about the last round is how we showed our character. Even when it wasn’t going well in the first half, we hung in there and then the boys pushed on after half-time.

“Getting through is everything in the cup and we want to go further.”

As with the Abbey Stadium, a venue Leeds had visited just twice before, Monk and his players will tomorrow be a world away from their usual habitat in the second tier. The pitch, though, will not be the type so interwoven into the folklore of the FA Cup.

Sutton’s installation of a 3G surface two summers ago means Monk will not have to ape the actions of Don Revie ahead of the only previous meeting between the two clubs. That came almost exactly 47 years ago, Revie’s legendary preparations extending to making his players train in the city’s East End Park during the build-up to replicate the muddy conditions of Green Gander Lane.

Revie’s planning worked with United, then the reigning league champions, triumphing 6-0 against the Isthmian League outfit with Allan Clarke netting four times.

Clarke wore the number 8 throughout his time in the famous white shirt, and Wood is undoubtedly his modern-day successor.

A big money signing in the summer of 2015, the Kiwi international initially struggled to win over the Elland Road crowd.

The criticism from the terraces became so bad earlier this season that, after netting a last-gasp equaliser against Fulham, Wood made a point of cupping a hand to his ear in the direction of the Gelderd End critics.

Five months later, however, and Wood is the goalscoring talisman behind United’s push for the Premier League and rightly regarded as one of the Championship’s big hitters.

“It is brilliant to play in a team that attacks like this,” says Wood, who netted 13 times in a poor side during 2015-16.

“The team has come on leaps and bounds since last season. We are at a whole new level and we are creating chances left, right and centre. That is brilliant to see and to be part of.

“There are so many more chances being created than a year ago and that is great for us all. Credit to all the boys for that, as everyone is working hard, from the lads at the back to those further forward.”

Wood’s success is down not only to his own hard work, but the sacrifices made by parents, Julie and Grant. Realising their son’s dream was unlikely to be fulfilled in New Zealand, the family took the huge decision to uproot and move 11,500 miles.

Mother Julie came first, Wood’s offer of a place at West Bromwich Albion’s Academy seeing her move to Birmingham with the teenager. Father stayed in New Zealand until Wood’s sister had settled at University before making the move to the Midlands himself.

By then, Wood had already become only the fifth Kiwi to appear in the Premier League after making one of three appearances in the top flight for Albion. Leeds, who reclaimed third place in the Championship with Wednesday night’s win over Nottingham Forest, plan to provide many more next season.

“What I like about this team is the momentum we have,” added Wood. “The FA Cup and league can go together. We went to Cambridge and were desperate not to lose because we were on a good run of form. More progress in the Cup means we keep that going.”