Football often has the opportunity to shock and excite, with the biggest shocks always involving a minnow overcoming a giant. For Leeds United, though, the feeling of both being a giant and a minnow can be relatively easy to recall. Go back to the start of the century, and Leeds were a competing for honours on several fronts; head back to the turn of the previous decade, though, and Leeds were mired in battles in the third and second divisions.
Only in 2020 did Leeds finally return to the top-flight, so even their days as Championship promotion contenders will feel fresh. Giants, though, they are – so it was pretty apt they were the largest name to fall in the third round of the English FA Cup as fourth-tier Crawley Town won 3-0.
As the club in the top flight who have longest been declared a ‘sleeping giant’, their name has quickly been erased from the 2021 FA Cup. The Yorkshire outfit were taken down by a team with greater invention on the day, and clearly more drive to win. With a team comprised of various role players and academy talents, Leeds looked ready for a comfortable afternoon with fresh legs and ideas give a shot – that was until kick-off.
From the off, fourth division Crawley looked far more inventive and enterprising. With a gap of some 62 league placings between the sides, this was a major win for the provincial outfit. To overcome a Leeds side, albeit a rotated side, known for some of the most attack-minded and ambitious football in the domestic game, was a huge scalp. Indeed, they become only the second team from the fourth division of the English game to win by three and above goals in over three decades.
‘The game of their lives’
Leeds, though, for their part, were pretty magnanimous after the game. Indeed, North Macedonian utility man Ezgjan Alioski complemented the home side on their win, declaring they had played ‘the game of their lives’ and thoroughly deserved the win. It was a huge result for the team, especially for the player who scored the opening goal. Nick Tsaroulla was a former Tottenham Hotspur academy player; however, a a car crash that came after a 2018 release put a career in the game in doubt.
After playing for Brentford’s reserve side, he joined Crawley in October and has flourished since. His opening goal – started off with a silky turn in midfield, before parading forward and entering the box, finishing with aplomb – was the clear moment of the match. In fact, one could say that it was the kind of goal that the opposition was expected to score.
Second and third goals came later on in the match, with Ashley Nadesan and Jordan Tunnicliffe scoring the goals to keep things flowing.
Glenn Morris, though, also made some crucial saves for the home team to keep the score down and remain in control of the game. Playing against one of the most exciting teams in England, Crawley Town both showed an attacking, team-based philosophy of their own, and reminded Leeds United just how far they have come in a few short years. This was the kind of score many had come to almost mock Leeds for overseeing during the doldrum days of the lower divisions – for some players who played pre-Bielsa, this will be a reminder of a past well forgotten.
For Crawley, it could be the catalyst that sparks a season, as well as providing the club with much-needed financial impetus to move forward with in the future.