The League Cup is a competition that holds little interest for me; it’s always been very much to the FA Cup what the UEFA Cup used to be the European Cup and is now even more so to the Champions League: a poor a distant relation. It seems to me at least, that the League Cup – or to be correct, the Capital One Cup – exists these days for a single purpose; as a viable option in the pursuit of silverware for the Premier League ‘never will be’ brigade; a route glory for a Stoke City (actually, scrub them, they were turned over by Swindon), Fulham (oh hang on!), ermm… it really does seem like nobody gives a shit about the Coca-Cola…? Carling…? Oh yeah, Capital One Cup.
Actually no, I take that back. There’s always Liverpool, a club that appears to assemble teams of such astonishing mediocrity, that the practically annual salvation provided by a fortunate Wembley win in this competition just about sustains the belief on Merseyside that the club remain a big player, come every August that follows.
Fair to say then, the pilgrimage to Elland Road was not undertaken with an overwhelming sense of excitement and anticipation of what was to follow. Year upon year of standing in a two-thirds empty Elland Road, barely engaged in a football match that the whole world – playing and management staff included – appear indifferent to and regularly concludes with a depressing defeat is enough to stifle even modest expectations.
With this in mind and the thought of lining Bates’ trousers with another £12 for the pleasure of standing witness to it all, looming heavy in the mind, there had to be to something worthwhile to be had at the end of it; something that allowed the trip home to be made untinged by self-loathing for pissing more money into the despot’s deposit box for little or nothing in return – Sam Byram, I salute you!!
With 33 minutes on the clock, young Sam received the ball with his back to goal and spun on the spot, before nudging the ball between two approaching defenders, nipping between the pair, and then from an angle, chipping the goalkeeper from around 12 yards. It was a wonderful goal and instant payback for a lot of the intolerable shit that this competition has served up over the years. Such was the quality of the goal, had it come from Rooney or Van Persie in a Champions League tie, you’d imagine that Gary Neville gone way beyond the point of “GOOOOOOOOAAAAAAALLLLL!!” and to the moment of total abandonment as he reached the absolute point of a shuddering, ground shaking climax, showering a profusely hyper and sweaty Alan Parry with so much celebratory seed that his co-commentator resembled a painter’s radio.
Yes, it was a special goal – especially for a lad primarily considered a right-back, and prior to Preston, not even involved in the first team squad. The buzz was such that those who were there rushed home at the final whistle to relive the moment, while those who’d only heard of it were already there, posited in front of Sky Sports News. It was never shown; in fact, as it turned out, Sky didn’t even bother to send a camera to Elland Road. Sky Sports: “Because Every Goal Matters” – MY ARSE!!
The only real shame was that such a goal should arrive on a Tuesday night in a League Cup tie against lower league opposition, as having an empty South Stand as a backdrop did Byram’s effort rather a disservice. Still, at least Sam was in good company, as 6 minutes prior Rodolph Austin also notched his first for the club against the same backdrop. Another fine effort it was too; the Beast drilling in from 25 yards, the exact direction of shot seemingly immaterial to the man as he struck home, safe in the knowledge that the keeper was merely an object placed to help deflect the ball towards its inevitable destination. A joyous celebration ensued as a leap from Rodolph, and a spontaneous rendition of “Rodolph Austin’s having a party, bring your Rizlas and Bob Marley” of sufficient voracity on the Geldard to ensure its widespread adoption as chant of choice, marked the moment.
The lead flattered a Leeds side that had struggled to get to grips with confident looking visitors, but from that point onwards, it was pretty straightforward stuff and shortly after Byram’s contribution, Diouf could have killed the tie dead, but his shot was beaten away.
The second period continued in the same vein as the first had ended as Leeds dominated; Austin, freed to break forward more often due to the presence of Brown almost scored with an outrageous bending effort from 35 yards that clipped the bar – some players shoot on sight, Rodolph appears to oblige upon command, seemingly letting rip whenever the cry goes up from the stands. Then as tradition on the evening dictated, it was Byram’s turn again, this time he also failed to oblige with a finish, fiercely volleying Drury’s cross wide from 8 yards.
A third goal did arrive on 73 minutes as a second sighting of a smiling Tom Lees was logged in the space of 7 days, an angled header into the bottom corner putting a seal on the victory. Even the begrudging acknowledgement of El Hadji Diouf’s superb cross from the right couldn’t diminish the significance of such an event.
So all in all, not a bad night; certainly far better than anticipated both in terms of result and performance – all that and one very special moment via the right boot of Sam Byram. The feelings of self-loathing and naivety could be set aside and put on hold for another journey home… although that couldn’t be said of one particularly heroic caller to the Yorkshire Radio post-match phone-in. Having opened with the classic fawning praise of Eddie Gray gambit to place the hosts at complacent ease, the man in question then proceeded to brand Bates corrupt, declare the squad weak and label the radio station ‘Propaganda FM’ – Eddie floundered, ummed and ahhed, then mumbled his default line about the game being “all about opinions” before his co-host finally rescued him by cutting off the incognito dissident.
As Tuesday night showed, twice over, sometimes you’ve just gotta be there…