IN the end, there was to be no goalscoring hero for Leeds United in the mould of Tony Yeboah, Alan Smith or even Eric Cantona.
But, while that trio may all be able to look back on famous goalscoring exploits in a white shirt against Liverpool with pride, Garry Monk’s current crop last night also left Anfield with their heads held high despite slipping to defeat.
United gave a side that sits just one place and one point off the Premier League summit an almighty scare with a performance that, for so long, threatened a huge upset.
Kemar Roofe, who produced the sort of display that underlined why Monk was willing to spend £3m on the Oxford United man last summer, hit a post when the score was goalless, while Hadi Sacko and Kyle Bartley both had gilt-edged opportunities to break the deadlock.
Had any of those three chances gone in, then maybe the Championship side could have gone on to claim a victory that would have sat proudly alongside Cantona’s hat-trick at Wembley in the Charity Shield and ‘that’ thunderbolt from Yeboah in United’s hall of fame against Liverpool.
As it was, Leeds headed back along the M62 hoping that maybe next season will see a rivalry, which during the days when Don Revie and Bill Shankly ruled the roost effectively decided who was the top team in English football, resumed in league combat.
Certainly, last night’s first meeting between the two clubs at Anfield in more than 13 years lived up to a pre-match billing that ensured every seat was filled.
For Leeds, this meant that little bit more. After so long in the wilderness, this was an opportunity to prove the club was once again on the up.
Not since the first season back in the second tier under Simon Grayson has there been a feelgood factor at Elland Road to compare to the one Garry Monk has created.
Grayson was the manager when Leeds last won at a Premier League ground, when Jermaine Beckford’s goal knocked Manchester United out of the FA Cup in 2010 and he was in the crowd at Anfield.
He must surely have been impressed by Leeds.
Neat and tidy on the ball, United were disciplined in defence with Charlie Taylor outstanding against the dangerous Sadio Mane.
Liam Cooper, beaten 6-1 on his professional debut for Hull City at Anfield in 2009, also impressed alongside Kyle Bartley to largely keep in check a host side that featured nine of the XI that had knocked Tottenham Hotspur out in the last round.
Mane and Emre Can – bought for a combined £45m – were the two additions to the team that had seen off Spurs and the latter really should have put the hosts ahead just after the half-hour.
A poor pass from Kalvin Phillips followed by a rare slip in concentration by Bartley allowed Can to nip in but his prodded shot went wide.
It was the closest Liverpool came to breaking the deadlock in a first half that saw the visitors ask plenty of searching questions of their own in attack.
Hadi Sacko should have done a lot better in the third minute when played through by an exquisite Stuart Dallas pass, Simon Mignolet pulling off a save low to his left.
Roofe also brought a save from Mignolet, who later flapped at a Dallas corner and was mightily relieved to see Sacko’s follow-up squirm away from goal.
Liverpool had another let-off six minutes into the second half when some high-tempo pressing by Leeds saw Phillips claim possession on the edge of the home penalty area.
The ball broke to Roofe, who curled a delightful shot over Mignolet but, as Monk jumped up to celebrate, the post came to the Reds’ rescue.
Another two let-offs in quick succession came the hosts’ way when, first, Kyle Bartley headed wide when unmarked from a Charlie Taylor corner and then Mignolet got down well to deny Roofe after a flowing move from the visitors.
Liverpool finally responded, as a neat pass from Mane played in Georginho Wijnaldum who became the second player of the night to strike a post. Mane then made a mess of the follow-up when a squared pass would surely have handed Ben Woodburn an opportunity to ape Leeds’s debutant Smith in 1998 by scoring in front of the Kop with his first touch in professional football.
Allowing such a big opportunity to go begging, however, didn’t unduly affect the Reds who took the lead 14 minutes from time.
Trent Alexander-Arnold created the opening with a right wing cross that Divock Origi anticipated quicker than the Leeds defence to touch past Marco Silvestri.
Woodburn then doubled that advantage five minutes later with a close range finish and United’s hopes of a first semi-final appearance in 20 years were over.
Liverpool: Mignolet; Alexander-Arnold, Lucas, Klavan, Moreno; Stewart (Woodburn 66), Wijnaldum, Can; Mane, Origi (Grujic 89), Ejaria (Milner 82). Unused substitutes: Karius, Lovren, Clyne, Henderson.
Leeds United: Silvestri; Berardi, Bartley, Cooper (Ayling 46), Taylor; O’Kane (Phillips 28), Vieira; Sacko, Roofe, Dallas (Wood 62); Doukara. Unused substitutes: Green, Antonsson, Grimes, Mowatt.
Referee: A Marriner (West Midlands).