Already Garry Monk must know what Leeds United will do to his heart-rate. As the 90th minute ticked by at Fleetwood Town last night, his first win as head coach could not have come quickly enough. By the end of a penalty shoot-out, it was on the board and a relieved Monk wiped the sweat away. Once again Uwe Rosler was left wondering what the Elland Road club had done to him.
Rosler’s reign at Leeds was little longer than that of a caretaker but for so much of an eventful game at Highbury, the strain of those days seemed far behind him. The German cut a relaxed figure on the touchline, jacket open and smiles aplenty until the result slipped away from him. A few yards to his left, the pressure weighed on Monk as the EFL Cup threatened to empty Leeds at the first hurdle.
United have been prone to lower-league opposition in this competition for a few years, beaten by Doncaster Rovers under Rosler and Bradford City under the maligned David Hockaday, and they trailed Fleetwood by a solitary goal from the 13th minute to the 90th. Monk skipped around in his dug-out as his players chased an equaliser, oozing tension after a sore league defeat at Queens Park Rangers on Sunday, but a concerted onslaught in the second half bore fruit eventually.
Substitute Marcus Antonsson forced extra-time in the last minute of 90, showing a level of poise which had otherwise been lacking to drive a classy finish into the roof of the net, and the striker won a penalty at the start of the additional half-hour, inviting Chris Wood to edge Leeds towards the second round. Wood made the most of an evening of personal struggle by tucking it away safely but an Ashley Hunter equaliser on 111 minutes forced a shoot-out, just as Fleetwood’s legs appeared to have gone. If Leeds practiced for that eventuality then their work paid off as Wood, Antonsson, Alex Mowatt, Kalvin Phillips and the impressive Pablo Hernandez bested Town goalkeeper Chris Neal. With the score at 5-4, Green threw himself to his left and denied Eggert Jonsson, sending United through.
The impressive response Monk wanted after QPR, or the response he expected, was complicated by an early Fleetwood strike on 13 minutes, scored with the aid of a defence who are already shipping the same brand of cheap concessions which kept Leeds well away from any honours last season. Fleetwood fancied a scalp, as Rosler doubtless did, and Aaron Holloway’s goal dumped Leeds in another hole. It took the late introduction of Antonsson and a strong cameo from Mowatt to rescue them from it.
In all there was more up front than their had been at QPR, shots on target at least, and last night’s game followed a similar pattern to the contest at Loftus Road as Leeds reacted to a lame first half by dominating most of the second. Antonsson’s interjection and United’s salvage job gives Saturday’s meeting with Birmingham City a very different perspective.
The final result bucked the trend of a week of long knives in the EFL Cup. Yorkshire’s contingent were comprehensively annihilated on Tuesday as seven competing teams crashed out, and round one was littered with upsets involving Championship clubs. Fleetwood produced the appropriate weather for a problematic tie – slanting rain drifting in off the west coast – and Leeds were on dangerous ground early on.
They diced with trouble in the very first minute when a scuffed header from Liam Cooper sat up nicely for Devante Cole to smash a volley past Green and beyond his far post and Fleetwood did not waste a second error on 13 minutes. After a struggle to defend a corner – a feature of United’s night – Lewie Coyle dithered beneath a high cross and Holloway stuck out a foot to stab the ball inside Green’s near post.
In between, Hernandez portrayed himself calming and inventive influence, nutmegging Victor Nirrenold with an early touch and spreading play whenever the ball came to him. The cold did not seem to bother a player who was sunning it up in Qatar a fortnight ago and he was closest to an equaliser in the minutes that followed Cole’s goal. Hadi Sacko’s sprint down the right caught Fleetwood short of numbers but Hernandez prodded an off-balance, right-footed shot over the crossbar with only Chris Neal to beat from 10 yards.
It was, nonetheless, a familiar ordeal for Leeds as defensive problems encouraged Fleetwood to come at Monk’s side. A clearance by Bartley almost found his own goal after smacking against Charlie Taylor and from the resulting corner, Bartley appeared on the goalline to head away a Holloway volley which was flying towards the roof of his own net. The expected signing of Luke Ayling from Bristol City in the next 24 hours will give Monk another means of dealing with a costly weak spot in his side.
Roofe tried to restore parity with a well-hit volley from the corner of the box which Neal dived to parry on 24 minutes but the threat of a second Fleetwood goal always lingered, particularly when Rosler’s side drilled crosses in from the flanks. Eggert Jonsson wasted one of them by nodding a free header a couple of yards wide.
Only in the last 10 minutes of the half did Leeds find a way of sticking in Fleetwood’s half, forcing a series of clearances with a spate of attacks down the left. But corners from Hernandez dropped at the near post too often and a clever ball from the Spaniard on 37 minutes ran just in front of Chris Wood’s attempted diving header as Leeds caught Fleetwood on the break. A decent effort from Kemar Roofe tested Neal again just before the interval but the keeper’s two-handed parry sent Leeds down the tunnel with clouds hanging over them.
If the football was a cause for concern, aspects of the atmosphere were too. Throughout the first half, a clearly divided away end exchanged chants of ‘time to Go, Massimo’ and ‘support the team or f*** off home’, interspersed with a communal ‘we are Leeds’. These are early days for Monk but he has seen in a short time how political United can be. Unity was more apparent at full-time.
Leeds attacked that end of the pitch in the second half and did so with more energy, pressing Fleetwood back and leaving Rosler to rely on good ball retention among an isolated front two. Wood and Roofe cleared the bar with efforts in close succession but Fleetwood went closer again when substitute Ashley Hunter missed the frame of the goal by inches in front of Green.
Monk’s body language became more tense animated as Leeds waited for a glaring chance to fall. Hernandez almost had one in the 65th minute but the ball slipped off his foot with Fleetwood exposed as Wood pinged a pass through the box and Roofe’s stinging drive from 20 yards was fractionally off target. Monk plucked Mowatt from the bench and then Antonsson and as the tie slipped into the final minute of the 90, the Swede had Monk punching the air.
Another surge forward left Fleetwood scrambling again and when Antonsson gathered the ball a few yards from goal, his rising effort on the turn was too hot for Neal to match. Monk’s reaction was a release of undisguised relief while Rosler turned away and scratched his head in frustration. It was enough to force extra-time, though only after Neal kept out Mowatt’s last-gasp volley.
Fleetwood, however, were desperately low on steam and three minutes into the added half-hour, a trip on Antonsson allowed Wood to dispatch a crisp and calm penalty to Neal’s left. Job done or so it seemed but Fleetwood raised themselves suddenly in the second half of extra-time and replied with a low finish from Ashley Hunter. The equaliser tested United’s backbone again but Monk’s players faced Neal down with five clinical spot-kicks and Green’s full-length save put a dramatic game to bed.