What could have been the most famous night in Salford City’s history was instead a comfortable evening out for Leeds United, as goals from debutant Eddie Nketiah, Gaetano Berardi and Mateusz Klich sent Marcelo Bielsa’s side through to the second round of the EFL Cup.
Bielsa could not help but mention Salford’s Manchester United connections before kick-off and Sir Alex Ferguson joined the majority of the Class of ‘92 in attendance at the Peninsula Stadium. Co-owners Gary and Phil Neville, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt watched alongside their old manager, but those links to Leeds’ historic rivals did not bridge the gulf in class.
It was a first round tie between one club just starting their time in the Football League and another desperate to end theirs. A year from now, Leeds hope top-flight status will give them a bye through this stage but in the here and now, they could not initially be certain of progress past their well-drilled opponents.
The League newcomers had all the early opportunities. The industrious Richie Towell was a particular nuisance, forcing youngster Leif Davis into a goal-line clearance after just 12 minutes. A Towell burst past Kalvin Phillips later queued up Jake Beesley, but a player who spent last season on loan at Bradford Park Avenue could not beat a former Real Madrid reserve in goalkeeper Kiko Casilla.
The failure of Mani Dieseruvwe to convert a header after half an hour finally sparked life into Leeds. A spell of sustained pressure immediately followed from Bielsa’s side. Phillips and Jack Clarke speculated from range, drawing saves out of Chris Neal, but the Salford ‘keeper could do little to prevent Arsenal loanee Nketiah converting from point-blank range after Helder Costa’s square pass into the six-yard box.
Salford’s resistance has been broken with just two minutes of the first half remaining and Leeds would double their lead shortly after the re-start. It was too simple for Berardi, whose telegraphed run towards the near post still outfoxed a static defence. And if that had not already booked Leeds’ place, Klich would settle the contest only a few minutes later.
It stemmed from another bright spell for Salford, with Danny Whitehead twice putting Casilla to work from the edge of the box, but the visitors countered at speed the second time around. Their slick break up field ended at the feet of Klich and, with his rasping drive into the top right-hand corner, so did any hope of a memorable upset.
Leeds’ reward for progression to the second round was a home tie against fellow Championship side Stoke City, who will visit Elland Road in a fortnight’s time. Newcastle United host Leicester City in the tie of the round.