Wilfried Gnonto scored twice – including one of this season’s FA Cup goals after just 26 seconds – as Leeds hammered Cardiff in a replay to reach the fourth round.
The Italy international – a summer signing for FC Zurich – fired a superb scissors volley across the crossbar from Rodrigo’s precise chipped ball to set Los Blancos on their way to a well-deserved victory.
The 19-year-old Gnonto also scored the home side’s third goal, slotting in low to send Cardiff away from the game shortly after Rodrigo made it 2-0 with a cool finish of his own.
Cardiff, led by caretaker manager Dean Whitehead after the dismissal of Mark Hudson, thought they had reduced the deficit but Curtis Nelson’s header from a corner was ruled out when VAR spotted Andy Rinomhota in an offside position.
Leeds, who had fallen in the third round of this competition in every campaign since 2016-17, added two more in the second half through Patrick Bamford. The striker has scored three goals in two substitute appearances since returning from injury.
Leeds offered Championship wrestlers Cardiff two consolations as Luke Ayling’s error allowed Callum Robinson to head unchallenged, before a Marc Roca handball – spotted by VAR – allowed the same player to score a kick.
Jesse Marsch’s side travel to fifth tier Boreham Wood or League One Accrington Stanley in the fourth round on the weekend of January 28/29.
These two teams were due to meet in a third-round replay on Tuesday, but it was postponed due to frozen ground, with the rescheduled game set to take place on Tuesday, January 24.
Gnonto the shining light for Leeds
Leeds United don’t play FA Cup home games, at least not in recent years. It was their first since January 2016 and only because they salvaged a late draw in Wales 10 days ago.
A sold-out crowd is testament to how long these fans have waited for the oldest World Cup competition to return to LS11 and they were treated to something special before many of them had taken their seats.
When Gnonto joined Leeds, boss Marsch suggested he was ‘not ready for the Premier League’, but from the moment he stepped onto a pitch in England he set out to prove that the American was wrong.
His first goal was something from the top of the drawers – a bold, superbly executed volley through the air – similar to that scored by fellow Italian Paulo di Canio for West Ham against Wimbledon in 2000, albeit closer.
Gnonto’s second was a more routine finish, but underlined the brilliant anticipation, movement, speed and maturity of a player who quickly makes his £4million fee an absolute steal.
In between was another fine goal from Rodrigo, who saw his tag as Leeds’ record signing swept away by the capture of Georginio Rutter last week, but now has 12 goals in 20 games this season.
If Rutter can live up to the hype, a forward line from the 20-year-old Frenchman, experienced Spaniard and teenage Italian, with England’s Bamford competing with them, promises a lot for Leeds in the second half. of the season.
Wednesday’s win was the biggest for boss Marsch, who is under increasing pressure after a run of just two wins in 17 games.
The Whites looked to be back to form ahead of the World Cup break but have struggled for consistency since the restart, with performances showcasing encouraging attacking play but terrible defensive lapses costing them points.
Such was the case in the opening draw in Wales, in which Leeds were the better side overall, but had to rely on a second-half comeback from 2-0 up and an equalizer in injury time. replacing Sonny Perkins to force a replay.
It was a much more confident display, following the high-energy attacking effort they displayed at Aston Villa on Friday.
It was not perfect, with chances squandered and the offside flag sparing blushes following the failure to effectively clear the corner from which Nelson headed just before half-time.
But it’s something to build on ahead of what’s an even more crucial fixture – and bigger test – for Los Blancos and their manager at home to Brentford in the Premier League on Sunday.
Cardiff were second best, but at least left something on the board thanks to Robinson’s brace – and can now focus fully on their own dire league situation.
Between the two cup matches with Leeds, they sacked manager Mark Hudson after just 118 days in charge after nine games without a win.
This run is now in double digits and needs to be stopped quickly whether it’s Whitehead still in charge of Millwall’s league visit on Saturday or not.