A thriller of a cup tie ended with Salford reaching the Carabao Cup third round with a 9-8 victory on penalties, the hero proving to be Ossama Ashley. The midfielder’s first effort was saved by Karl Darlow to his left but the referee, Oliver Langford, correctly ruled the goalkeeper was yards off his line when doing so. Take two and Ashley made no mistake, this time blazing in to Darlow’s left, this coming after Jamie Shackleton had hit the 19th kick off Alex Cairns’ bar.
Cue pandemonium and a pitch invasion as Salford progressed to round three for a first time having recovered from Pascal Struijk bundling home a free-kick from the substitute Sam Greenwood to cancel out Matt Smith’s opening-half strike.
As expected Neil Wood’s League Two side had soaked up relentless pressure from a Leeds side 46 places above them in the league and despite the disappointment of the equaliser capitalised on the chance of spot-kicks for a second stab at glory.
Four years ago Leeds claimed a 3-0 victory here, also in the EFL Cup, in the inaugural meeting between these clubs. Daniel Farke’s Championship under-performers were relieved to force the lottery of penalties.
Following a pre-tie soundtrack of The Killers, and New Order, Leeds dominated the first half, via the lively Wilfried Gnonto, but walked off at the break trailing.
Theirs was a quick-paced, technically astute threat in which Gnonto continually pierced Salford along the hosts’ right. First up, the winger claimed a free-kick which Crysencio Summerville ballooned into Alex Cairns’ hands. Then, the Italian burst along his wing and teed up Leeds’ lone forward, Georginio Rutter, but he steered over.
Gnonto’s cocktail of pace and trickery was easy to identify as the potent threat, supremely hard to defend. So, from their 4-4-2 shape, Salford attacked to negate this, launching raids down their flanks. Ryan Watson, their left winger, pinged in a ball that Leeds scrambled to repel, after Luke Bolton – from open play and Stevie Mallan at a dead ball – had earlier done the same from the opposite side.
As soon as Leeds once more hogged possession a pass was sprayed out to Gnonto who was tormenting Liam Shephard: the right-back did not dare get too close as the attacker shimmied into Salford’s area and was relieved when the pass was misplaced.
Farke, who made six changes from the weekend 4-3 victory over Ipswich, had his XI drilled to press from the front so when he spied his forward lazily failing this demand the German instantly yelled “what are you doing?” at Joe Gelhardt. It was a rare lapse as Leeds were here to play – and to win the right to do so, as a crashing challenge from the 17-year-old Archie Gray indicated. This came before a Summerville shot smacked back off Cairns’ left post as Salford were being schooled by their famous opponents.
But Wood’s side turned the tie: in came a delivery from the left-back, Luke Garbutt, and Smith headed in, leaving Leeds feeling sucker-punched.
The home crowd partied and this remained their mood until the referee Oliver Langford blew for the break – Struijk having previously slide-tackled Bolton as he went to pull the trigger before Cairns, moments later, at the other end, dived left to save Summerville’s low effort.
Wood’s move for the second half was to replace the overrun Shephard with Connor McLennan. Leeds’ riposte to losing was, inevitably, to feed Gnonto who, on dancing for an umpteenth time into the area, was felled in what appeared a fair shout for a penalty but Langford was unmoved.
Leeds were a blur in blue. Their attitude could not be faulted but far better execution was required when in on goal. Salford, in chilly late August air, knew the upset was on and presented a red wall that they determined to firm up with each passing minute . There was craft, too, when Callum Hendry dipped a shoulder, broke the Leeds backline and pinged in a cross. The ball was worked to Mallan who for a moment believed a dipping 20-yard attempt would double the lead but this ranged wide of Karl Darlow’s left post.
Salford survived a scare when the unmarkled Struijk could freely head but there was no equaliser as Cairns clutched the ball but the question was how long they could remain intact.
A Struijk deflected shot meant a corner. Summerville fired the ball in and Salford hooked it clear. Gnonto, switching to the right, probed and Wood’s men still refused to buckle. An opening had Summerville this time shooting and Cairns once more thwarted the No 10, to his right. Leeds continued to rain heavy artillery down on Salford and, finally, from their captain, clutched a lifeline. At the death, a fine Cairns stop saved his team from heartbreak.