If any club needed a decent cup run, it is one which had declared losses of almost £50m on the morning of the match. Needless to say, Leeds United did not get it, although they would have had to win several Carling Cups to make a dent in their debts.
The manner of their exit merely added insult to deep financial injury. Having taken the lead and then equalised through Roque Junior, a player who is almost as derided in this corner of Yorkshire as the men in grey suits who caused the club's financial demise, they saw the tie wrested from them three minutes before the end of an extra time that overflowed with drama. The manner in which Alan Smith hurled a bottle which had been thrown on to the pitch back into the crowd on the final whistle, was a signal of the sheer, desperate frustration of it all.
There has been plenty of naïvety about Leeds this season, no more so than immediately after Roque Junior's second goal, a low cross from James Milner which had struck his knee and ricocheted in. Leeds did not regroup and allowed Eric Djemba-Djemba to score again with a drive which looped bizarrely over the goalkeeper Paul Robinson's head.
This should have been a night in which Elland Road could forget the financial catastrophe that has overwhelmed it to such an extent that you needed to have sold 100 shares in Leeds United to buy a matchday programme. Instead, much of the game only served to emphasise that a club which a year ago aspired to challenge Manchester United for the championship could barely trouble the mixture of reserves and youngsters Sir Alex Ferguson traditionally employs for League Cup fixtures.
Some, like Darren Fletcher, who had scored for Scotland before he managed a goal for United, and Chris Eagles, a 17-year-old from Hertfordshire, looked as though they might become a Scholes or a Giggs of the future. The two combined to send over the ball which Diego Forlan clipped home to hand Manchester United back the lead in the second period of extra time.
Less than a minute before, Leeds appeared to have been denied an obvious penalty when Cyril Chapuis was hauled to the ground by Quinton Fortune. "They say these things even themselves out over the course of a season, so we're due for some great decisions," the Leeds manager, Peter Reid, said, his voice laced with sarcasm.
As the teams trooped off after 45 minutes, David Bellion looked a lost, almost bewildered figure, who had failed entirely to gel with Forlan. By the end it was possible to see why Sunderland were so angered to have lost him to Old Trafford.
Bellion's chief asset is searing pace, developed at the same youth academy in Cannes which produced Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry. Brought to Wearside by Reid in the summer of 2001, Bellion frustrated more than he impressed and, until he struck a dozen minutes from the end of normal time, he appeared overawed.
Bellion proved his speed as a pass from Djemba-Djemba left Roque Junior a spectator. His finish, placing the ball through Robinson's legs, was as icy as the evening air. By the end he might have had a hat-trick.
The breathlessness of the last 45 minutes succeeded in obscuring the mediocrity which dogged most of this tie. Even Roque Junior's header for the opening goal was the product of Fortune's error in conceding a corner to a harmless ball, and Fletcher produced a shot so inaccurate it missed the corner flag. But if it was a metaphor for the pointlessness of the competition, it was a false one.
Leeds United (4-4-2): Robinson; Kelly, Camara, Roque Junior, Harte; Milner, Johnson, Olembe (Lennon, 59), Sakho (Chapuis, 80); Bridges (Domi, 72), Smith. Substitutes not used: Duberry, Carson (gk).
Manchester United (4-4-2): Carroll; P Neville, G Neville, O'Shea, Fortune; Fletcher, Djemba-Djemba, Butt, Richardson (Eagles, 65); Bellion, Forlan. Substitutes not used: Pugh, Lynch, Johnson, Howard (gk).
Referee: P Durkin (Portland).
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