FOR all the many ‘Happy Jermaine Beckford Day’ wishes being exchanged between Leeds United supporters on social media earlier this week, the FA Cup has proved a less than happy competition for the club since the turn of the Millennium.
Falling at the first hurdle 10 times in those largely sorry 17 years is ample proof of that, never mind the hugely dispiriting days when United were knocked out by non-League duo Histon and Sutton United.
Those disappointments, of course, made Beckford’s winner at the home of bitter rivals Manchester United in 2010 that little bit sweeter.
But, as head coach Thomas Christiansen prepares for his first taste of the FA Cup tomorrow at Newport County, there is no escaping the sense that United are overdue a change of fortune in the world’s oldest knockout competition.
A first visit to Newport, United never having faced either the ‘old’ County at Somerton Park or their successors at Rodney Parade, awaits and Christiansen insists his players are ready for the challenge.
“I would like to go far in this competition,” said the 44-year-old to The Yorkshire Post. “It is nice for everyone to dream and to have the possibility of facing a good team in the Cup.
“If it is Manchester United, if it is (Manchester) City, if it is Chelsea or whoever, it is nice to have the possibility. And if we had the possibility to play at home in front of our fans that could be nice.”
When former England international Jermaine Jenas plucked ball 21 from the glass bowl, that in football parlance is forever known as ‘the hat’, during last month’s draw, it was the second time Leeds had been sent to Newport in the Cup this season.
Back in August the two clubs were paired together in the Carabao Cup only for the second-round tie to be switched immediately to West Yorkshire due to a new pitch being laid at a stadium that hosts Newport Dragons rugby union club as well as Michael Flynn’s Exiles.
The League Two side took the lead at Elland Road just after the half hour only for the hosts to hit back in style to triumph 5-1 with Kemar Roofe netting a hat-trick.
Newport’s disappointment at crashing out was eased by Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani generously insisting the Welsh side receive the full 45 per cent of the gate receipts from the tie that would have been their right as the home club.
“It is a brilliant gesture and just goes to show what class even the big clubs possess,” said Flynn to The Yorkshire Post on the eve of the tie.
Radrizzani this week celebrated his first anniversary as the owner of United. Initially in tandem with Massimo Cellino before buying out his controversial fellow countryman last May, the Italian media mogul has made a big impact at Elland Road.
“I have only positive things to say about Andrea,” said Christiansen, a surprise choice when named as Garry Monk’s successor last May. “For the confidence he showed to bring me to Leeds with (director) Ivan Bravo and (head of recruitment) Victor Orta who are very important.
“I am very satisfied with how everything is going and how professional they are. They want to give us all the facilities that we need to be better and to grow as a team.”
The 1,300 or so Leeds fans heading to the Principality tomorrow lunchtime will no doubt echo those sentiments about the club’s owner especially after the often chaotic goings-on under Cellino.
What those same supporters will also be desperate to avoid is a repeat of last season’s humiliating – and, in many ways, totally avoidable – Cup exit to National League outfit Sutton.
Monk’s decision to make 10 changes and put in two debutants who have not been seen since may well, as seemed to be the case at the time, have been fuelled by a desire to make a point over a transfer window that, with two days remaining, had delivered no new signings.
But that was little comfort to those fans who had paid good money to see their side dumped out by a part-time team from three divisions lower in the pyramid.
Monk’s standing in the eyes of many never really recovered and Christiansen is aware of the need to avoid another shock tomorrow.
“No one wants to go out in the Cup and less so against a lower-ranked team,” said the Dane. “But this is the beauty that this Cup has. If it is famous for something, it is that these things can happen.
“If you take it serious enough, but then unlucky or whatever, this can happen. We have to be prepared for all the things that can happen.
“We also have to put it into the mind of the players that this is another serious game.
“If we don’t get want to get a surprise, we have to approach this tie like this.”
Christiansen, in common with most managers this weekend, is planning changes to ease tired legs following the hectic Christmas and New Year period.
Development squad quartet Jack Clarke, Oriol Rey, Liam Kitching and Tom Pearce have all been added to the squad, but the Leeds chief insists the target remains to be in Monday’s fourth-round draw.
“We have a difficult match,” he added. “We have a long journey and it will be a tough game. We faced Newport in the other Cup and got a very good result. But we saw that night how we had to give our best to get the win, especially in the first half when we suffered.
“There are many things to think about. How is your squad? What are your priorities? The League, the Cup? But we need to reach the next round, this is obvious.”