Leeds United have bigger fish to fry than the Carabao Cup but the chance to roast Burnley, Charlie Taylor and Chris Wood was too good to waste. All three were cooked at Turf Moor last night as Leeds drove into the last 16 in breathtaking fashion.
This is not the competition on which Leeds will rate their season and Burnley can say the same with a Premier League campaign to navigate but the ambivalence of English football towards the League Cup is never so strong when the football starts. If the tournament matters little to Leeds or Burnley then it was hard to tell as the teams clung to each other desperately by exchanging four goals in the dying stages of normal time.
Twice United thought the tie was won. Twice the Clarets salvaged an equaliser from somewhere to force a third-round firefight into extra-time. It took a penalty shoot-out to drag the teams apart, the game won by Stuart Dallas’ conversion after Andy Lonergan made the only save from Burnley defender James Tarkowski.
Wood, the former Leeds striker, joined left-back Taylor in taking a barrage of abuse from an away crowd who had not forgotten their summer defection from Elland Road and had waited since the draw was made last month to give them both a going over.
Much of normal time was dominated by the fractured relationship between United’s support and two of their ex-players but when the barracking of Wood and Taylor was done, Turf Moor engaged itself in a cup tie of the highest drama, a tie forced into an additional half-hour despite United leading on two occasions as the final whistle approached.
Substitute Hadi Sacko split two tightly-matched sides on 81 minutes when he sprinted clear to beat Burnley goalkeeper Nick Pope but the game swung from goalmouth to goalmouth as Wood equalised with an injury-time penalty, Pablo Hernandez replied with an injury-time spot kick of his own and Robbie Brady reeled Leeds back in with an improbable free-kick in the 97th minute. Who deserved what at the end of a frantic exchanges of blows was impossible to say.
What Thomas Christiansen, United’s head coach, could tell himself was that the reaction he wanted after Leeds’ unbeaten start to the season crumbled at Millwall on Saturday was delivered by a group of players who, in the main, had not been responsible for an uncharacteristic no-show in Bermondsey. He can also feel quietly satisfied about the strength of the furthest reaches of his squad. He had problems in defence and key figures were rested but his team had Burnley rocking badly and the quality of Brady’s dramatic, 97th-minute strike could hardly be blamed on Christiansen’s defence.
The flood of goals was a clear signal that a shoot-out would be needed to settle the tie and it came after a cagey period of extra-time. Leeds held their nerve to bury all five spot kicks, forcing a wobble from Tarkowski which Lonergan read and punished. Christiansen’s smile at full-time suggested that all thoughts of Millwall had been buried.
The Dane made nine changes to his line-up and did not have much choice about fielding the two players who held their places after Saturday’s loss to Millwall. Three centre-backs – Pontus Jansson, Matthew Pennington and Liam Cooper – missed last night’s game and the pairing of Luke Ayling and Conor Shaughnessy was the only card Christiansen could play.
Across the whitewash, Taylor made his first home appearance for Burnley against the most politically-charged opposition on offer. The 24-year-old did his best in the matchday programme to defend his bitter departure from Elland Road in July but the away end were waiting for him and gave him the treatment throughout. Sean Dyche allowed his other Leeds old boy, Wood, to start the evening out of sight on the bench.
By the fifth minute Turf Moor had a game on its hands. Lonergan pulled off a sprawling save to deny Scott Arfield an immediate goal and in the blink of an eye, Pope was sweeping up a weak finish from Jay-Roy Grot after Dallas knocked possession to him inside the box. There was no initial onslaught from Burnley.
The fiercest contest developed between Taylor and the travelling crowd as the left-back played out the first half into the arms of an unforgiving mass. Gaetano Berardi pleased United’s following with a trademark tackle on halfway and Grot and Kemar Roofe took turns in flattening him, the former drawing a booking just before the break. Wood also came under fire as he strayed out of Burnley’s dug-out and began to warm up after half-an-hour. Hernandez, who was stretching by a corner flag, offered the striker a conciliatory handshake.
Now and again, the football took over. Ashley Barnes – forever to be remember at Leeds as one of GFH’s crowning embarrassments – aimed a header wide after Taylor skipped past Berardi and swung the ball in from the left wing. Kevin Long should have done better on 34 minutes when he met Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s free-kick with a glancing finish.
Long’s chance was followed by a better one as Sam Vokes burst away from Christiansen’s defence and cut the ball back to Arfield.
Six yards out and under pressure from Berardi, he side-footed wide of the far post with Lonergan beaten. Barnes then nodded a header beyond the same upright. They were good opportunities but not so glaring that Leeds felt lucky to be level at half-time.
Dyche resisted the temptation to call on Wood for as long as he could but a scrappy start to the second half made the prospect of extra-time and penalties very real.
Burnley continued to prod and a low cross from Gudmundsson ran just in front of Vokes at close range and Gudmundsson was inches away with a left-footed finish after beating Borthwick-Jackson to a loose ball.
Borthwick-Jackson gave way soon after, bringing a hitherto out-of-favour Sacko onto the field.
By then the sound of an additional half-hour was starting to ring around the ground and Wood’s introduction came 18 minutes from the end of normal time as Dyche tried to force a result inside 90.
It was Hernandez, however, whose invention broke the stalemate nine minutes from time and seconds after appearing as a substitute. Burnley lost possession inside Leeds’ half and Hernandez had the vision to see Sacko holding his run, avoiding an offside flag and ready to burst away.
The winger left Burnley’s defence for dead and drove a low shot through Pope’s legs, appearing to settle a tie which United – for one reason and another – took great delight in leading.
What followed next was cup football at its best. Berardi was penalised for pulling back Long in the box and Wood held his nerve to tuck away the penalty with 89 minutes gone but as play raged into injury-time, Tarkowski pulled on Roofe’s shirt and handed Leeds a penalty of their own.
Without Wood to rely on, Hernandez stepped up and stuck away his second spot-kick in three games, sending Pope the wrong way.
Burnley had no obvious way back but with 97 minutes on the clock, Ashley Westwood went down a few yards outside the box and Brady picked out the top corner of Lonergan’s net with the most nerveless free-kick Turf Moor has ever seen.
An interlude before extra-time was needed to let two bewildered sides clear their heads and a predictably tired half-hour followed.
Leeds found a last burst of composure as penalties came and finally put the tie to bed.