Risk of reserves parade for United-Leeds clash

The status of the FA Cup could suffer another body blow on Sunday if Leeds United decide a third round clash with Manchester United is less important than a League One game against Wycombe Wanderers.

It seems unthinkable that an Old Trafford meeting that conjures up memories of some classic Cup clashes when Leeds were a major force in the 1960s and 1970s, could now be seen as an unwelcome distraction for both teams.

However, such is the reduced allure of the world's oldest knockout competition, which Manchester United have won a record 11 times, that it could well be a reserves parade on Sunday.

Manchester United, buoyant after beating Wigan Athletic 5-0 in the Premier League on Wednesday, are desperate to overtake leaders Chelsea and win an unprecedented fourth successive league title, while they also have an eye on their forthcoming Champions League tie with AC Milan.

Manager Alex Ferguson regularly rests his big names in the Cup and paid the price last season when a virtual reserve team lost to Everton on penalties in their semi-final at Wembley.

Leeds, who needed a replay to get past minor league Kettering Town in the last round, will also be wary of being diverted from their main priority: securing promotion to the Championship with a view to getting back to the Premier League they last graced in 2004.

Currently eight points clear in League One they are looking good.

Recent opponents have included Brentford, Accrington Stanley, Hartlepool United and Stockport County and their fans, whose team reached a Champions League semi-final nine years ago, will savour a now rare visit to opponents who once feared them. VICIOUSLY RUGGED

Leeds won a titanic semi-final replay duel with United thanks to a solitary Billy Bremner goal in 1965, a mere prelude to their clashes in one of the all-time classic semis in 1970.

A total of more than 173,000 fans watched two viciously rugged goalless draws, followed by a second replay again decided by a solitary goal from Bremner at Bolton's old Burnden Park ground which put Leeds into the final against Chelsea.

Coincidentally, that season's other semi-final, which saw the eventual Cup winners Chelsea crush Watford 5-1 at White Hart Lane, is also being reprised this weekend.

Chelsea, the current holders, face Watford at Stamford Bridge on Sunday and could easily repeat that winning margin against their mid-table Championship opponents.


Forty seasons ago it was unthinkable that teams would field weakened teams in the FA Cup and although Leeds manager Simon Grayson is yet to reveal his hand for Sunday's game he gave a hint when he said after the draw: "The league is our bread and butter. It's the league that counts and picking up points to get us closer to where we want to be.

"Promotion is the priority here - everyone knows that."

There are three all-Premier League ties this weekend, with Sunday's West Ham United v Arsenal game - a repeat of the 1980 final when West Ham became the last club from outside the top flight to win the FA Cup - the pick of them.