Bolton Wanderers v Leeds United: Mustapha Carayol looking to earn some FA Cup memories

Leeds players after losing to Histon.Leeds players after losing to Histon.
Leeds players after losing to Histon.
Histon. Just the very mention of the tiny village in Cambridgeshire is enough to send a shiver down the spine of Leeds United supporters.

It is a little over seven years since the Yorkshire club suffered its one and only FA Cup defeat to non-League opposition but the memories remain as vivid as ever.

Of how the rain fell and fell on the tiny 4,000 capacity Bridge Road ground, making the pitch almost unplayable. And of how Leeds failed miserably to adapt to the conditions, as Gary McAllister’s men continued to try and pass the ball through the puddles with predictable results.

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But, above all, what will take the most effort to forget is the moment postman Matthew Langston wrote his name into Cup folklore by netting the only goal to condemn United to a humiliating defeat.

Such memories are why, when the draw for this season’s fourth round promised either a trip to fellow Championship side Bolton Wanderers or non-League Eastleigh, very few supporters fancied heading to Hampshire.

In the end, the Leeds fans got their wish as Wanderers prevailed in the replay and around 6,600 fans will head across the Pennines today hoping to see their side book a place in the fifth round.

Mustapha Carayol, a goalscorer on his debut in the last round as Rotherham United were dispatched, is again looking to make a telling impact.

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However, unlike the vast majority of those whose loyalties lay with United, he admits to having hoped the National League side could have been Leeds’s destination today.

“I actually know the management team at Eastleigh,” explained the Middlesbrough loanee to The Yorkshire Post fresh from netting a second goal in United colours during the midweek draw at Brentford.

“I played with the manager (Chris Todd) at Torquay, while the assistant (Shaun North) was on the coaching staff at the same time. They are good people and I wouldn’t have minded playing them.

“Mind, I am not sure too many others agreed. I think they preferred Bolton, just because no-one really wants to be at a non-League team. Everyone else wants an upset and you have to be careful.

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“I did speak to the lads at Eastleigh when the draw was made and they were desperate to get through. It would have been fun.”

With Eastleigh being the last side from outside the Football League to bow out of the Cup, no other team will this term have to suffer the kind of embarrassment that still haunts Leeds all these years on from Histon.

That said, United are expected to progress today against a club whose biggest battle is simply to reach the end of the season. Crisis after crisis has befallen Wanderers in recent weeks and, with just three wins to their name, League One is surely beckoning.

The ideal opposition, you might suspect, for a club such as Leeds who need an extended run in the world’s oldest competition to keep their own campaign alive.

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This, though, is the Cup and Steve Evans has been quick to stress all week that his side cannot afford to take anything for granted.

Carayol, whose debut goal against the Millers was arguably the most spectacular of the third round, is determined to play his part as he eyes at least matching his previous best run in the Cup when Middlesbrough bowed out in the fifth round three years ago.

“I didn’t play that many times in the FA Cup for Boro,” he said. “Instead, I was usually rested or left out in rotation.

“In fact, I can only remember playing once in the Cup for Boro. It was against Chelsea and we lost to goals from Fernando Torres and Victor Moses but it was still a big occasion.

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“It would be great if we could get a big tie this season. Get through this round and who knows what might happen? We might be able to reach the quarter-finals again. Or further.

“The most important thing is to give the fans something to cheer. They deserve that off us.”

Carayol’s season began at Boro but it was clear that he would have to go out on loan to continue his rehabilitation from a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament.

He had spent 13 months out following the injury, which was sustained in March 2014 in a goalless draw with Bournemouth, and needed regular action.

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An offer to join Huddersfield Town was duly accepted and he went on to make 16 appearances before asking to cut short his loan over the festive season.

David Wagner’s rotation policy was the cause and Carayol left on good terms. “The manager understood that if I was ever going to get back to how I had played before then I needed games,” he added.

Boro fans, who remembered his swashbuckling displays before the injury, were keen to see Carayol stay at the Riverside, as was made clear in an internet poll. The Gambia-born wideman, however, knew another move was necessary and Leeds fitted the bill, not least because he was already living in the city from his time at the John Smith’s Stadium.

“A lot of the fans wanted me back so that was nice to read things like that,” he says of that poll of late last year. “I do think I played my best football at Middlesbrough before the injury.

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“The fans wanted me to go back and to be given a chance. But you have to look after yourself and that means playing games.

“It is what is right for my career and I just want to play games. The FA Cup is something to focus on. They are the games you really want to play in. There is so much at stake.

“We can put the league out of our heads for a while and focus on getting through. This is a game we are all desperate to win.”