By the time it was all over, the FA Cup had another of those results that will be remembered for as long as the daft old competition exists and Sutton United, a club that will always be synonymous with giant-killing exploits, could reflect on the perfect day. Rose’s Tea Bar, a fixture here for over 50 years, had finished with record profits. The team had dumped out one of the most famous names in English football and, even in the moments of high excitement, their supporters resisted any temptation to bang Gander Green Lane’s metals stands, in keeping with a pre-match request not to create “noise nuisance” for their neighbours. It was just a surprise, perhaps, not to see anyone from those houses hanging out of the skylights for a free view.
They would have seen a famous effort from the team currently 16th in the Conference and perhaps the best compliment that can be paid to Paul Doswell’s team is that there was never any point when their opponents looked worthy of being 84 places higher up the football ladder. Leeds United had won 6-0 on the last occasion they were here, in 1970, but that was Don Revie’s title-winning team and their manager was sensible enough not to rest Billy Bremner, Peter Lorimer or any of his other regulars. Garry Monk underestimated Sutton by putting out a reserve team and the embarrassment for Leeds is considerable, just as it was for Coventry City when they went the same way in 1989, two years after John Sillett had been swigging imaginary champagne from the trophy.
This is not the first time Leeds have been subjected to this kind of ordeal, as Histon United can testify from 2008, but they were a third-division team back then. Their current side aspires to start next season in the Premier League. Instead, they went down to a team whose match-day partners included Beaver Pest Control, Sutton and Cheam Cars and M&S Carpets – which turns out to be Matthew and Steven, a Carshalton company, rather than Marks and Spencer.
Monk must regret keeping back his usual team for their trip to Blackburn Rovers on Wednesday and another away assignment next Sunday against Huddersfield Town. Jürgen Klopp had done something similar with Liverpool in their defeat to Wolves and, again, there was the clear sense here that one set of players had seen the team-sheets an hour or so before kick-off and realised the odds had changed. Monk had made 10 changes and given two of his young reserves, Billy Whitehouse and Paul McKay, their debuts. They struggled with the artificial pitch but, more than anything, it was their attitude that was questionable.
Sutton, in stark contrast, were terrific. They have a habit here of losing the occasional ball – five times it went over the stand in the first half alone – but that is more about the size of the ground rather than any tendency to hit the ball high and long. They played some quick, incisive football and Leeds were indebted to some fine goalkeeping from Marco Silvestri before the home team’s captain, Jamie Collins, scored the decisive penalty eight minutes into the second half.
Sutton warmed up to a backdrop of old punk classics and it quickly became apparent that Leeds, struggling to find any real tempo, were facing a much more challenging assignment than their last visit. Roarie Deacon was a regular threat, denied an early breakthrough by an offside flag, and the penalty incident was typical of the panic he created on several occasions. Silvestri had come off his goal-line but he and Matt Grimes seemed to get in each other’s way. Deacon and Maxime Biamou both went down and Collins kept his composure from the penalty spot.
Leeds were not helped when their own captain, Liam Cooper, was sent off in the final exchanges for collecting his second booking but it was startling to see the tepid nature of their response to going behind. Sutton made it to the end with relative comfort and, at the final whistle, the pitch filled with their own supporters.