Crank up that AEC Bridgemaster, Doncaster will be celebrating this one for years to come. For the first time in history, Leeds bowed out of the League Cup at the first hurdle, as Paul Dickov's men held their nerve from the penalty spot to book a second round glamour tie with Ipswich Town. While the League Cup was never seen as a priority for the season, the nature of our dismissal was still frustrating as a spectator, as Leeds seemingly conspired against themselves after taking control of a game that should have been easily won.
Uwe Rosler made a few changes from the side that drew 1-1 with Burnley on Saturday, bringing Liam Cooper in to partner Giuseppe Bellusci in defence, with Ross Turnbull making his debut behind them. Souleymane Doukara replaced Sam Byram on the right wing, supporting Mirco Antenucci who earned his starting place with a fine goal in the opening game.
Finally, and most surprisingly, Scott Wootton was brought in as a holding midfielder, a decision which was met with trepidation from many fans. Wootton has rarely looked convincing in his natural position at centre-back, so seeing him attempt to fill the boots of Tom Adeyemi, behind Cook and Mowatt in midfield, was going to be interesting to say the least.
Doncaster started the game well, knocking the ball around a Leeds team getting to grips with an experimental system. The away side pressed well and pressured the opposition into occasional mistakes, but could never seem to get a real grip on proceedings. Wayward passes and loose ball-control saw Leeds struggle against a Doncaster side willing to take their time and build attacks in a measured, patient approach. The less said about Doukara's contribution to proceedings the better, as the makeshift right-winger failed to stamp any sort of authority on the game, constantly losing possession, to the ire of the travelling support.
Upon his arrival last year, I was massively impressed with Doukara's ability for such an imposing figure, particularly his first touch, but the occasional glimpses of quality we saw early on have all but disappeared from the Frenchman's game, replaced with a figure who seems completely off the pace. In all fairness, it's fairly obvious that Doukara is no winger, but you feel that other players would at least make a concerted effort to adapt their game when it was required. With only FA Cup matches left to play alongside the league, Doukara desperately needs to step his game up if he wants to remain in Rosler's plans for the rest of the season.
As the first-half moved past the 10 minute mark, Leeds finally came into their own and started to take hold of the game. Mirco Antenucci, who had a great game given the circumstances, burst into the box in pursuit of a Stuart Dallas through ball, before curling a shot towards the far post from a tight angle. Rovers keeper Thorsten Stuckmann parried the shot away, but only as far as the onrushing Lewis Cook, who slipped the ball into the open goal, before wheeling away in delight. His first senior goal, and Leeds were one up. Happy days.
For the next 15 minutes or so, Leeds held the game in their grasp, controlling possession and working a few more opportunities in an attempt to cushion their lead even more. Then they decided they were bored with that, proceeded to release their grasp on the game and started punching themselves in the face instead.
Cedric Evina's first touch was poor, taking him into the box, but away from goal. His second touch took him past the covering Scott Wootton who instead of following his man and cutting off his sight of goal, decided it would be better to lunge in and take him three feet into the air instead, right in front of the referee. Penalty to Doncaster. Andy Williams (not that Andy Williams) stepped up... 1-1. The penalty was poor, far too close to the keeper, but Ross Turnbull had committed to the far corner, diving over the ball which squirmed underneath him and into the goal. Unlucky, but surely something we could bounce back from.
Five minutes later, Lewis Cook picked up the ball midway into the Doncaster half, over by the right touchline. Quick as a flash, he was off, jinking past two defenders before cutting back in towards the area, close to the corner flag. Filled with adrenaline, Cook knocked the ball too far in front of him, right towards the feet of Aaron Taylor-Sinclair. Perhaps a more experienced player would have simply given up on the ball, or just attempted to block any clearance. No harm done really, it was a good effort, you made some ground, try again next time. Cook, however, decided the best course of action would be to dive in to a tackle that never needed to be made, two-footed, off the ground.
The youngster, much like Luke Murphy against Bradford last year, knew exactly what he'd done the second he hit the ground, grimacing as Keith Hill brought out his red card. A quick apology to Taylor-Sinclair, a few annoyed handshakes with team-mates, and Cook was off, with an attitude rarely displayed by even the most respected of professionals. We sometimes forget that, at 18-years old, Cook is far from the finished product, and will make mistakes like this from time to time. I have faith, however, that he will learn quickly from this and NEVER DO IT AGAIN.
What followed Cook's red card was around 90 minutes of pointless, energy-sapping football, as Doncaster failed time and time again to put the game to bed. Some impressive performances from Berardi, Bellusci, Taylor and Antenucci (backed up by a commanding Ross Turnbull) were, eventually, negated by a penalty shootout in which Sam Byram and Chris Wood both pinged their efforts firmly over the bar, to the delight of the sparse Doncaster crowd. As I said before, exiting the competition isn't a problem in itself, but when you consider that Doncaster didn't really have to do anything in order to go through, it becomes an issue.
True, the introduction of Wood and the sheer industriousness of Antenucci meant that Leeds more than held their own at times (I still fail to see how Mr Hill failed to spot Andy Butler's attempt to remove Wood's shirt, or deemed it unworthy of a penalty), but while we showed promise going forward, there were far too many lapses in defensive concentration, allowing Doncaster numerous chances that their attackers simply failed to convert. The utilisation of Wood's presence was also disappointing, despite the positive efforts displayed by Byram and Antenucci beside him. Too many times the big Kiwi was ignored when making a run, or standing wide open with free space in front of him.
Leeds now go into Sunday's game at Reading without Lewis Cook and with the fatigue of 120 minutes worth of mid-week football hanging over many members of the squad. Berardi, Bellusci and Taylor will, no doubt, start at the Madjeski, while Antenucci doesn't deserve to lose his place on the back of a solid performance. Luke Murphy is fit again, and will come in to replace Cook in the three-man midfield, but you worry that, without Cook's pace in the middle, Tom Adeyemi will be under a lot of pressure to clean up any mistakes on Sunday, especially with so many tired legs in defence. Simply put, this was the kind of game Leeds and Uwe Rosler really could have done without, and they really only have themselves to blame.