Crawley 3 Leeds United 0

Last updated : 13 August 2021 By David Hytner at Crawley

It has come to feel as if Leeds only deal in FA Cup pain and humiliation. Just five times in 20 years have they made it past the third round and sometimes they have not even got that far.

Their supporters still shudder at the crashes from the League One days – against Hereford and non-league Histon in rounds one and two respectively.

This was another disaster and the name of League Two Crawley can be added to the roll-call of shame that also includes Newport County, non-league Sutton United and Rochdale.

It was an afternoon when Leeds were not so much beaten but torn apart during a second half in which Crawley scored three times and ought to have had more.

Were it not for the colours, nobody would have been able to tell the team that sits 12th in the Premier League from the one that occupies sixth place in the bottom division of the professional game in England. Crawley had the hunger, they had the work rate and the plan, and they had the cutting edge, too.

Nick Tsaroulla, a former Tottenham trainee, got the rout started when he sprinted from halfway to finish brilliantly in the 50th minute and it was quickly 2-0 when Ashley Nadesan embarrassed Kiko Casilla at his near post. It was a horror moment for the Leeds goalkeeper but it got even worse for him and his teammates.

Crawley’s third came when Casilla pushed out a shot from Nadesan following a corner and the centre-half Jordan Tunnicliffe was on hand to fire into the roof of the net. The minnows had further chances during a period that will live for ever in the memories of their fans who, sadly, had to enjoy it from their living rooms via the BBC.

Crawley brought the stardust – not their more illustrious rivals – all the way down to their introduction of the reality TV star Mark Wright as a 90th-minute substitute. Wright, a one-time Spurs youth team player who went on to feature in non-league before seeking his fortune outside the game, is currently the subject of a BBC documentary. The latest episode was exquisitely scripted.
Wright, 33, has been training with Crawley for the past couple of months and this was the first game for which he was eligible. The Only Way is Essex? The only way, here, was West Sussex. Never before have Crawley upset Premier League opposition. It was surely the biggest result of their history.
“That’s what they’re telling me,” the manager, John Yems, said. “We went to church this morning, and lit a few candles. Nah, not really. We knew we had to make it as difficult as we could – don’t get caught chasing the ball, don’t get mixed up in their game. We did that. We let them have it in front of us and the rest is history.”

Marcelo Bielsa had been poetic in his pre-match press conference. “For me, the FA Cup represents English football in its purest form,” the Leeds manager said. He showed his respect to the competition – and Crawley – by naming a strong starting XI, which he set up in a 3-4-3 formation with the England midfielder Kalvin Phillips on the right of the defensive three.

Leeds had all the ball in the first half but they failed to do very much with it – an Ian Poveda shot from a tight angle that worked Glenn Morris and an optimistic Rodrigo penalty shout being the sum total of their efforts. And they melted into the background after the interval as Crawley shone the harshest of lights on their defensive looseness. Bielsa has now lost all three of his ties in the competition.

Crawley could have been in front at half-time. Nadesan was crowded out after a mistake by Phillips but the big chance came on 41 minutes from a Jack Powell corner only for Tom Nichols to head too close to Casilla, who saved smartly. It did not matter.

Bielsa made three changes at half-time, with two of them being the introduction of the youngsters, Oliver Casey and Jack Jenkins. Casey, in particular, struggled in central defence and Leeds were 2-0 down before they had seemingly caught their breath. “They changed up at half-time which I think favoured us,” Nadesan said.

The power of Tsaroulla’s 40-yard run was matched by the precision of his low shot into the far corner – where was the Leeds resistance? – and Crawley were in dreamland when Nadesan outpaced Casey and blasted for the near post. The bounce deceived Casilla and the ball squirmed through him.

Tom Dallison and Sam Matthews had gone close before Tunnicliffe’s goal while after it, Jake Hessenthaler had two good chances – the first after he dribbled around Casilla; Casey would make a saving block. The Rocky theme tune filled the stadium at full-time and the only consolation for Leeds was that Gatwick airport was a mere 10 minutes away.