Neil Warnock has dabbled with interest in the League Cup before, most notably in 2003. But more often than not he welcomes the day when the competition drops from his club’s fixture list.
After his Queens Park Rangers team lost to Rochdale in the second round a year ago, Warnock claimed he was happy to be out.
“I don’t think people care about the competition,” he said. “If I can’t get motivated by it then I can’t blame the players if they can’t either. It’s not a priority.”
Warnock might have applied the same reasoning to Leeds United’s failure had the club been beaten in any of their Capital One Cup ties to date but, enthused by the manner of their win over Everton on Tuesday, he found a taste for the tournament again.
“Anybody who’s left in the competition can win it now,” he said. “You just need a good night, a good draw.”
Leeds received what they would class as a favourable outcome in the draw for the fourth round on Wednesday night with a tie at home to Southampton.
They failed to land any of the three non-Premier League clubs remaining in the hat but avoided the most competitive opposition, including Manchester United and Chelsea who will play each other. Crucially for Warnock, United’s tie will be at Elland Road for the fourth time this season.
“If you want to do anything in a cup competition you settle for just about any home draw,” he said.
“That was what I wanted most and I look at Southampton as a winnable game. I’m not saying it’s an easy game. it’s as hard as Everton was in the last round. But it’s a decent draw and we’ve a chance.
“When I said that anyone left in the cup could win it, I meant it. Believe me, we’ll be trying to go all the way now.
“We’ve got this far with some good performances so I’m thinking ‘let’s see what happens’. You never know.”
United’s run in the Capital One Cup has fallen into place almost unintentionally.
Their first-round win over Shrewsbury Town, on August 11, was classed by Warnock as an additional pre-season friendly and a warm-up for the first weekend of the Championship season, which unusually began after the opening stage of the cup.
Leeds scored four unanswered goals against Shrewsbury and swept past Oxford United before the end of August, despite Warnock’s decision to field a weakened team. Though he found himself chronically short of players on Tuesday night, Leeds turned in a performance against Everton which was arguably as creditable as any seen under Warnock in seven months as the club’s manager. Goals from Aidan White and Rodolph Austin earned a 2-1 win.
United last reached the fourth round of the League Cup under Gary McAllister in 2008, losing to Derby County despite having the better of a 2-1 defeat at Pride Park.
They were not expected to go so far this season, and Warnock set out last month with the sole aim of adding an eighth promotion to the ones he has achieved previously in his managerial career.
It was his daughter, Amy, who suggested that Leeds might attempt to make inroads into the Capital One Cup, asking her father following the win over Shrewsbury whether his squad would “try and win” the trophy.
“She’s delighted with all this,” Warnock joked, “and if I’m being honest, I’ve enjoyed the games too.
“Normally I’d rather be somewhere else when the cup games are on. In the past I thought I’d be better off spending the night scouting, looking at players or looking at our next opponents.
“It’s not a great secret and everyone knows that I’m not really bothered with the cup. But at this stage we’d be daft not to have a go.
“The draw has not been bad for us and we’ve built up a bit of momentum in the competition. Who knows where we’ll end up?”
Southampton’s route to the last 16 was a 4-1 win over Stevenage Borough and a 2-0 defeat of Sheffield Wednesday at St Mary’s earlier this week.
Nigel Adkins’ line-up was heavily changed against Wednesday but two goals from Jay Rodriguez – their £6m summer signing from Burnley – carried them into the fourth round with the minimum of fuss. Assistant manager Andy Crosby called it a “good night’s work”.
Like Leeds, Southampton have more to worry about than the Capital One Cup this season.
Their first year in the Premier League since 2005 began with four straight defeats and it is already clear that the fight against immediate relegation will occupy them for most or all of the term.
But Rodriguez said: “Reaching the last 16 is a great achievement and we still want to go further. We’ll take any team and show them how good we are. We can hopefully get through to the next stage.
“It was really good for us to get through to this round and put on a good show for the fans – it builds confidence.”
When Sheffield United reached the semi-finals of the League Cup under Warnock in 2003, that passage of form coincided with an appearance in the last four of the FA Cup and a run to the Championship play-off final.
Asked whether Leeds’ displays in the Capital One Cup would help their results in the Championship, Warnock said: “I’m not sure. It can’t do any harm but the Championship’s such a tough league.
“What you do in the league depends on what you do in every game – whether you turn up and perform.
“Good results in the cup are going to breed confidence but they don’t mean you’ll go out on a Saturday and get another result.
“We got a great result against Everton and then we moved on to Bristol City but you only get a good result at Bristol City if you’re up and at it in exactly the same way.
“Southampton seem to be putting out a mixed side in the cup this season and they might do that again when they come here.
“Then again, they might play all their top lads. But I still think it’s a good draw either way.”
United’s tie against Southampton will be played during the week beginning October 29, between their league match at home to Birmingham City and their Friday night match away at Brighton.