The day Gaetano Berardi sparked Leeds United joy at Salford City

Leeds United are no strangers to being on the end of a cup upset and that was exactly what was threatened ahead of a trip to Salford City nearly two years ago.

Saturday, 3rd July 2021, 5:00 pm
Gaetano Berardi celebrates scoring against Salford City for Leeds United. Pic: Getty

Marcelo Bielsa's outfit had been drawn against a club co-owned by Manchester United legends in the League Cup in August 2019 - the motivation crossing the Pennines for the midweek clash was clear; just win.

It was a game that attracted attention in the form of television cameras and a sellout crowd as press benches were filled to the brim forcing a number of reporters to sit in the stands alongside the home support.

Bielsa opted for a mix of youth and experience to navigate the tricky tie for his Championship promotion hopefuls.

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Kiko Casilla was named in goal with stand-in captain for the night Gaetano Berardi Gjanni Alioski, Helder Costa and Mateusz Klich the experienced heads.

New loan signings Eddie Nketiah and Ben White were handed starts while academy prospects Jamie Shackleton, Leif Davis and Jack Clarke all featured.

Salford were fresh off the back of a fourth promotion in five seasons and the League Two side made their debut in the competition against the Whites.

City co-owners Phil Neville, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Gary Neville all watched on at the Peninsula Stadium as did former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

It was the hosts and lower-ranked side who actually started on the front foot buoyed by the possibility of a shock.

Leeds, though, weathered the early storm to overcome a sticky start and show their class.

Leif Davis cleared a Richie Towell volley off the line and it was the closest Salford would come to finding their way onto the scoresheet throughout the night.

Arsenal's Nketiah - who had moved to West Yorkshire for first team minutes just days earlier - broke the deadlock two minutes before the half-time interval on his first start, showing the killer instinct that attracted Victor Orta's interest.

The striker ghosted into the box unchallenged to side-foot home a low cross from winger Helder Costa and edge Leeds in front.

United cult hero Berardi then bagged five minutes into the second half to settle any nerves and spark joyous scenes, scoring only his second ever club career goal.

As Leeds fans danced on the terraces in delight the former Swiss international was swarmed by his team-mates.

"If Berardi scores, we're on the pitch" rang out from the travelling contingent much to the delight of the now departed 32-year-old.

It was a rare occurrence and one that would be remembered fondly, unlike his first at Newport County in a dismal FA Cup exit in Wales.

Following the two-goal cushion Leeds started to assert control and their dominance.

It was Polish playmaker Klich who put the result beyond doubt eight games later as he finished off a devastating counter-attack.

Berardi hooked a loose ball from a Salford corner clear which Klich latched onto before curling an inch-perfect shot into the far corner of the net from outside the box.

There was late panic in the Whites box as Casilla missed his punch from a free-kick but Berardi was again on hand to hammer the ball into the stands and avert the danger.

United head coach Bielsa said post-match a strong run in the competition would help and not hinder their Premier League promotion bid.

“For us it’s very positive,” said Bielsa, asked about a possible cup run.

“It means that all of our players play and we have players to come in and a group of young players that are looking to play games.”

Nketiah also celebrated opening his account for his loan club on debut afterwards as reporters quizzed him on his game.

It’s good for me,” Nketiah said of scoring.

“It’s good for my confidence to score in my first game but most important was the team and getting the win. It’s nice to get out there and get the rhythm.

“I’m sure there will be more to come. Hopefully, that brings goals for me. I thought I did well. I tried to work for the team and make options.

“I think in the first half we found it difficult. They were very compact and it was hard to break them down.

“I think 3-0 is a good result for us.”