Leeds United 2 Everton 1: Elland Road has become a theatre of ghosts in recent years but it was full of modern-day heroes last night as Neil Warnock's Leeds United knocked Everton out of the Capital One Cup with a scintillating performance. Inspired by the enigmatic veteran El Hadji Diouf, the Championship side beat the Premier League's third-placed team and deservedly so.
Warnock was delighted. A semi-finalist with Sheffield United in 2003 he declared this "as good a performance and result as I've had in the competition given Everton being such a good side and us having so many injuries. We were better on the night. I think even our fans were surprised."
Aidan White gave Leeds a fourth-minute lead which Rodolph Austin doubled with 20 minutes left. A late header from Sylvain Distin gave Everton hope but it was not enough, David Moyes' selection gamble had backfired. The Everton manager had made six changes from the team that cruised to a 3-0 victory at Swansea at the weekend giving a debut to Francisco Junior, a 20-year-old midfielder from Guinea-Bissau, and a first start to Costa Rican Bryan Oviedo.
"Some of the players that came in took their chance," said Moyes darkly, "some didn't. If you don't use them what is the point of having them?"
Warnock, his options limited by injury, made four changes, one of which was White who made an immediate impact. Steven Naismith played a lazy pass inside which Austin pinched away from Junior and White pounced on to the loose ball ahead of Marouane Fellaini. He glided by Distin and swept the ball beyond Jan Mucha with a composure that belied the Otley-born youngster's failure to score in his previous 72 Leeds appearances.
The goal settled the young home team and they went on to create the better chances of a tight first half notably when Naismith cleared off the line in added time after Mucha had parried Luciano Becchio's header from Diouf's cross. In between, Michael Tonge drove a free-kick past the far post and White, after a neat interchange with Diouf and Sam Byram, brought a low save from Mucha. All Everton mustered in response was a shot from Victor Anichebe which sailed well wide.
Moyes, having re-jigged his formation several times in the first half, made a more comprehensive reshuffle at the break bringing on Phil Neville and Steven Pienaar to add passion, composure and craft.
The changes worked as Everton upped the tempo with Pienaar, Felliani, Naismith and Anichebe all threatening Leeds' goal before the hour-mark. Naismith, especially, should have scored but somehow mis-directed his header from Anichebe's cross after being left unmarked at the far post. Everton had solved one problem, the failure to create chances, now Moyes sent on Nikica Jelavic in the hope he would solve the failure to convert opportunities.
But the switch disrupted Everton's momentum and Leeds, having withstood the assault, mounted some pressure of their own. This led to a fortuitous free-kick won by Austin off Seamus Coleman. Diouf rolled it back to Danny Pugh whose shot struck the shins of Neville and Austin in quick succession before sneaking inside the far post. Austin did not know much about Pugh's shot, but the ball would have gone wide had it not hit him, so it was his goal.
Everton pressed desperately and Jamie Ashdown was finally brought into action by a shot from Fellaini. With a dozen minutes to go he was beaten by a looping header from Distin after Anichebe flicked on Pienaar's free-kick. But it was not enough and Everton, who must have felt this competition represented a realistic chance of a first trophy since 1995, were out.
"We lost the game in the opening 20 minutes," said Moyes. "It was like going back in time," concluded Warnock. "A great cup tie, tackles, headers, rain chucking it down, both centre-halves needing stitches." And Leeds United winning.
Man of the match Diouf.
Match rating 7/10.
Referee L Mason (Lancashire).