Crawley Town delivered one of the FA Cup third round’s most emphatic upsets as the League Two underdogs tore apart Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds on Sunday.
Three second-half goals rewarded a fantastic performance from John Yems’ side as they made light of the 62 places between themselves and their Premier League visitors.
Nick Tsaroulla, playing only his seventh game in senior football, set the ball rolling, beating three Leeds defenders to fire home a superb solo opener.
United keeper Kiko Casilla’s error allowed Ashley Nadesan to double the lead before Jordan Tunnicliffe added a third for Crawley, who could have won by more.
Bielsa made seven changes to his side but Leeds fielded England midfielder Kalvin Phillips among several regular top-flight starters including Pablo Hernandez, Ezgjan Alioski and club record signing Rodrigo.
However, after an even first half, they were completely outplayed in the second period by a Crawley side who have reached the fourth round for only the third time, having spent most of their 125-year existence in non-league football.
Crawley even had the luxury of bringing on reality TV celebrity Mark Wright in stoppage time for the former The Only Way Is Essex star’s debut, having signed for the club on non-contract terms in December.
Leeds’ loss is the first time in 34 years a top-flight side has lost to a fourth-tier team by three or more goals and only the second ever instance since a fourth division was added to the Football League in 1958.
They may be the lesser-known of the two Red Devils but Crawley’s efforts were no less impressive than Manchester United’s 6-2 dissection of Leeds last month.
While Bielsa rested first-choice stars such as Patrick Bamford, Luke Ayling, Stuart Dallas and Mateusz Klich, there was still plenty of experience mixed in with the youth in Leeds’ line-up.
But the hosts, sixth in League Two after an eight-game unbeaten run, never gave them the chance to settle and while neither side could break the deadlock before the interval, it was Crawley who went closest as Casilla kept out Tom Nichols’ close-range header.
He was helpless, however, to prevent Tsaroulla – a former Tottenham trainee who spent a year out of the game because of injuries sustained in a car crash – firing Crawley ahead after a twisting run into the area that beguiled the Leeds back-line.
Rather than protect their lead, Crawley went for the jugular and Nadesan soon doubled their advantage, although his strike owed much to a bobble that beat Casilla at his near post.
Tunnicliffe then fired into the roof of the net after Casilla parried from Nadesan and Crawley could have had a fourth after top scorer Max Watters came off the bench to round the keeper, only to be denied by a covering defender.
The win marked the first time in four attempts that Crawley have beaten a Premier League side in the FA Cup and so comfortable was the victory that TV personality Wright was given his late cameo.
Bielsa was left to mull over back-to-back 3-0 defeats, albeit this one coming in a much different context to Leeds’ Premier League loss at Tottenham on 2 January.
This was the former Argentina manager’s first taste of an FA Cup shock, after far more mundane exits against Arsenal and QPR in Bielsa’s two previous campaigns since taking the Elland Road reins in 2018.
But it was not unfamiliar ground for Leeds as Crawley – who have finished in the bottom half of League Two for five successive seasons – emulated non-league pair Histon and Sutton United, as well as lower-league clubs Rochdale and Newport, in upsetting the Whites this century.
The visitors only forced one real save from Crawley keeper Glenn Morris, who reacted well to push away Ian Poveda’s strike from an acute angle in the first half.
Leeds might point to a penalty they perhaps should have had before the interval when Crawley defender Tony Craig got away with pulling back Rodrigo as he attempted to meet Helder Costa’s volleyed cross.
But there was no video assistant referee system at the game, and they offered very little going forward after Rodrigo was substituted at half-time.
It was a fourth successive third-round exit in a competition they could have looked to with some hope, given their relatively comfortable position in the Premier League.