Sutton United 1 Leeds United 0: Phil Hay’s big match verdict after ‘toothless’ Whites left red faced

Leeds United's captain Liam Cooper is shown the red card. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
Leeds United's captain Liam Cooper is shown the red card. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
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On a weekend of upsets this ranked as the worst, regardless of the team chosen by Garry Monk.

It is 47 years, almost to the day, since Leeds United ran riot at Sutton United, winning 6-0 at the same stage of the FA Cup, and revenge was served as cold as it comes yesterday.

Sutton lie 108 below the top of the English league pyramid and in that respect alone Leeds’ 1-0 defeat at Gander Green Lane was an abject humiliation. Worse still was the sight of the furthest reaches of Monk’s squad struggling to live with a mid-table National League club. Monk had made changes aplenty during Leeds’ previous cup exploits this season but 10 against Sutton, including two unforeseen debuts, pushed the capabilities of his squad too far.

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That much was apparent in the earliest minutes of a cup tie which had every element of a classic upset: the lowest-ranked side left in the FA Cup against a club who were fighting for the first division title and several other trophies when Don Revie took Leeds to Sutton for an FA Cup fourth-round match in 1970, a weakened line-up fielded against them and a tricky, unhelpful pitch.

Leeds were beaten in woeful fashion in the mud of Histon in 2008, their first defeat to non-league opponents, and an Astroturf field was the scene of their second yesterday. Neither result was flattering and neither could be argued with, though the loss at Sutton should not set Monk on the sort of dramatic slide that Gary McAllister endured after Histon. Leeds were lucky to be level after 45 minutes at Gander Green Lane, indebted to goalkeeper Marco Silvestri at that point. A blunder involving Silvestri eight minutes into the second half sent Sutton through to the fifth round.

Silvestri and Lewie Coyle were guilty of looking at each other as a high pass dropped into United’s box and when the Italian allowed it to spill off him, Coyle tripped the on-running Roarie Deacon and conceded a penalty. Sutton captain Jamie Collins, aware of the importance of the moment, took several deep breaths before sending Silvestri the wrong way.

Leeds had rarely looked like scoring before then and did not look much like equalising after it as a tight, noisy ground made them feel the weight of a horrible occasion. Monk’s big hitters were absent in the main, left behind as United’s manager cut his cloth at the start of a big week, perhaps making a point about the depth of his resources.

He will smart for a couple of days but might still feel vindicated if league games at Blackburn Rovers and Huddersfield Town go to plan this week. The squad he took to Sutton said something about a club who have made no signings in this transfer window to date and sold Alex Mowatt to Barnsley two days before a fourth-round tie in which the midfielder might have played. Leeds finished yesterday’s tie with 10 men and no hope after Liam Cooper was sent off for a second bookable offence seven minutes from time.

Sutton were not by any stretch United’s typical opponents; a part-time unit with an artificial pitch which their manager, Paul Doswell, dipped into his own pocket to pay for. The surface was watered before kick-off, greasing it in preparation for a young and risky Leeds line-up. If Monk’s preparation required some homework, Doswell would not have anticipated a team including two 20-year-old debutants in Billy Whitehouse and Paul McKay. Mallik Wilks took a seat on United’s bench despite the death of his brother in a shooting in Leeds on Thursday.

There was no Pontus Jansson, Kyle Bartley or Chris Wood and no Pablo Hernandez. Monk left Liam Bridcutt and Eunan O’Kane at home. It was far removed from the Revie approach, which in 1970 involved playing everyone at Gander Green Lane with the exception of an injured Eddie Gray and a grieving Gary Sprake, whose mother had died in the days before the tie. For Revie, as for Monk, it was the first of three away games in a week. Monk prioritised accordingly.

The first tackle of the afternoon, a late foul by Craig Eastmond on Matt Grimes, explained why he was minded to hold his most important players back. Grimes was felled by a rash sliding tackle and limped around for 10 minutes, attempting to shake an ankle injury off. He and the midfield around him made hard work of taking Sutton by the scruff of the neck.

Between Eastmond’s aggression and a concerted start, it did not take Sutton long to turn the game into the physical face-off they wanted. The ball was in United’s net after six minutes, smashed high beyond Silvestri by the incessant Deacon after a long ball forward bounced behind Liam Cooper, but Deacon – a goalscorer in each of the previous rounds – was deflated by an offside flag. He was denied again when Silvestri, Monk’s regular cup goalkeeper, tipped his 25-yard shot over the crossbar.

For most of the first half, Leeds could do little more than resist Sutton’s efforts. Liam Cooper was booked for a trip on Bedsente Gomis as the striker tried to slip in behind him and McKay, Cooper’s young partner at centre-back, and Tyler Denton picked up another for sliding foul on Deacon. A shot from Gomis deflected wide as Sutton put pressure on a vulnerable defence and it took an important reaction from Silvestri, an awkward block made with his backside, to stop Gomis turning home a loose ball from close range after Deacon’s driving run dragged players out of position.

That chance, the best of the game up to that point, quickly prompted United’s first, a chip from Stuart Dallas which Ross Worner rushed out to meet 12 yards from goal, and the Northern Ireland international threatened again with a deflected effort 10 minutes before half-time. Though second best, Leeds took the sting out of Sutton’s performance until another long-range strike from Deacon re-examined Silvestri’s reflexes. The Italian was the sole difference between a goalless scoreline and an interval deficit.

Monk refrained from any personnel changes at the start of the second half but a switch to 4-4-2, pairing an anonymous Souleymane Doukara with an equally quiet Marcus Antonsson, acknowledged the dead ends that Leeds were lost in up front. His players had precious little time to readjust before Sutton finally scored.

The goal was of United’s making as Silvestri and Coyle left a lofted pass from Bailey to each other and eventually collided inside the box. Deacon picked up the pieces and went down as Coyle stuck a foot out towards him. Referee Stuart Atwell took a long look and awarded a penalty which Collins clipped to the right as Silvestri’s went left.

Monk could see the trouble Leeds were in and the substitutions came quickly. Wilks was given his debut and Hadi Sacko and Kemar Roofe both joined the attack. Still there was nothing and a free-kick from Matt Grimes, driven against the feet of Sutton’s wall from a promising position on the right, was a perfect example of a toothless display, 12 minutes from time. Leeds had chances against Histon. At Sutton there were virtually none and Cooper’s dismissal for a trip on Eastmond was a fitting end to so much struggle.

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