Leeds finally deflowered the Poppies of Kettering to set up a Roses reunion with Manchester United – but they made embarrassingly hard work of this FA Cup second-round replay last night. Only in the second half of extra time, when American substitute Mike Grella sparked a spree of four goals in 11 minutes, did the League One leaders see off the side lying fifth in the Blue Square Premier.
Kettering's run ended acrimoniously when their goalkeeper-manager, Lee Harper, announced he was "considering his position" after his assistant, John Deehan, was sacked after the game. Stopping short of naming the chairman, Imraan Ladak, Harper claimed that "someone high up" had fired the former Norwich manager because of his handling of the substitutions.
"I've told the lads that might be it for me, and every one of them is disgusted by what was said," said Harper, a former Arsenal player who succeeded Mark Cooper in the job before last month's 1-1 draw with Leeds. "I'm a very sad man. We've just made this club £200,000."
Leeds will expect to make rather more from a new-year visit to the champions, and their manager, Simon Grayson, admitted it was "a game everyone's looking forward to". However, he clearly had their second-half fade-out in mind when he added: "If players don't perform between now and then, they won't be playing at Old Trafford."
Luciano Becchio had headed Leeds in front only for Anthony Elding, a Leeds fan and former player, to head Kettering level. Leeds struck the goal frame four times but looked desperate until Grella, a 22-year-old New Yorker, shot them ahead in extra time. Tresor Kandol headed a third before Grella's curling drive and Jermaine Beckford's close-range finish put them out of sight. For Harper, a burly model of defiance, the anguish was just beginning.
Leeds United (4-4-2): Ankergren; Hughes (Grella, 106), Michalik, Bromby, White (Capaldi, 56); Howson, Doyle, Kilkenny, Snodgrass; Beckford, Becchio (Kando, 76). Substitutes not used: A Martin (gk), Crowe, Marques, Prutton.
Kettering Town (4-4-2): Harper; Taylor, Dempster, Roper, Davis; Noubissie (Fowler, 106), Heslop, Boucaud, Patridge (Wrack, 97); Elding, Bain (Thomas, h-t). Substitutes not used: Bussey (gk), Cooper, Cherry.
Referee: P Crossley (Kent).