Leeds U23s are on a cup race to [venue tbc] • The square ball

Leeds United Under-23s qualified for the Premier League Cup knockout stages with a 1-1 draw against Mansfield on Monday. Don’t worry if none of that last sentence makes sense – what is the Premier League Cup? Why is Mansfield in it? What do you mean by Leeds qualified? – all that matters is that Leeds United are officially on a cup run. A cup race!

This game has been postponed so many times that the knockout stage already started last week, with Leeds still waiting to play their last group match. When it was finally time to play, Leeds and Mansfield were out and ready to kick off before the scheduled 1 p.m. start. They were either eager to battle it out for the final qualifying spot behind group winners Wigan (Mansfield were expected to win, Leeds only drew) or desperate to get it over with.

If it was the latter, so would I at the end of watching the first half. The match was played at the RH Academy, “a really good place where you can bring young kids to play football”, according to its official Facebook page. It looked like a bowling green in the middle of a windy field. Leeds were fairly chronic, but gave first-team edge players a rest, calling up a pair of Under-18 Joes, Littlewood and Snowdon. Mansfield has embarrassed himself by fielding a number of adults, including 32-year-old goalkeeper Marek Stech, formerly of West Ham; former Newcastle defender and QPR James Perch, 36 with nearly 600 senior appearances; and the curious case of 29-year-old Danny Johnson, whose USP counts Billingham Synthonia and Real Murcia among its list of former clubs, and scored twenty goals for Leyton Orient in League Two last season.

Stuart McKinstry hailed Johnson before the game kicked off; the winger was emerging at Motherwell while the striker spent a season there. Johnson was far less friendly with the rest of the Leeds squad. He left one on Littlewood after an innocuous back pass, and was hitting the ground after wasting a good chance to score. He tried to miss an even easier chance by laughing at himself just before half-time, but by then he had already put Mansfield ahead after a weak Leeds defense in midfield and the defense.

Jesse Marsch isn’t the only new dad at Thorp Arch, with loan manager Andrew Taylor taking over as U23 boss following Mark Jackson’s promotion to the first team. The former Middlesbrough and Bolton left-back improved after half-time, particularly when Mateo Joseph (remember him!) came off the bench. Leeds set about finding ever more spectacular ways to miss chances, like the best of the first team – Charlie Allen could have scored a hat-trick, hit the bar as best he could, a diving half-volley after that a corner bounced off him. at the edge of the box. They eventually equalized when Littlewood assisted fellow centre-back Kris Moore’s scuffed shot on its way into the net.

Everyone agrees that the FA Cup isn’t cool anymore, so instead we can start dreaming of Premier League Cup glory. No brand like Derby County and Peterborough have already qualified for the quarter-finals, with Huddersfield Town potentially joining them on Thursday against Stoke. Neither of these clubs are in the Premier League, so it would seem fairer to leave Leeds goodbye on the way to the prestigious final at – *quickly Googles* – uh, the home ground of one of the teams in the final.

I would already book my tickets if it weren’t for the fact that Leeds have already been drawn to West Ham in the Round of 16. West Ham’s biggest boys bullied the Leeds kids when they last met in January, and the elders have already been knocked out of the FA Cup in east London this season, so Leeds’ best cup run of the campaign probably ends here. Maybe it will do less harm to our kids to go out now than to end a big day with a trophy on the line feeling deflated in Peterborough? ⬢

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