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Leeds United 2 v 4 Derby County

Wednesday, 15th May 2019 Kick-off 19:45
Leeds suffer yet more play-off agony with bitter Derby defeat
Thursday, 16th May 2019 23:57 by Tim Whelan

For the first 40 minutes of a crazy game it looked like we were going to Wembley, but then a calamitous mix-up sparked a comeback that saw Derby County get to the final at our expense.

There was a great atmosphere inside Elland Road as kick-off approached, helped by the club’s decision to give a free scarf to every Leeds fan in attendance, for us create a spectacle by holding them above our heads or twirl them round in unison at different points in the game. As no club had previously got through a play-off semi-final in the Championship after losing the first leg at home, the expectation was that we would be in the final once the night was through.

Bielsa had two enforced changes to make to the starting line-up, with the injured Roofe and Forshaw making way for Shackleton (which most of us were delighted by) and Bamford (which we weren’t). Otherwise, our Argentinian maestro kept faith with the players who began the first leg in Derby.

But it was fat Frank who had made the biggest alteration, having finally realised after three defeats that his usual passing style is too easy for this Leeds side to pick off. So they arrived with a ‘diamond’ formation in midfield and a more direct approach. Apparently they had been working on the new style in training ever since Saturday, which we failed to detect now that we’re no longer allowed to go and spy on them.

The early stages followed the same pattern as the first game, with Derby initially the first to put the opposition under pressure, but Leeds then seeming to take control once we’d weathered the initial storm. There was even a promising run from Bamford to the edge of the Derby box, until he lost control of the ball when he should have passed. I thought this signalled the start of a livelier performance from him, but sadly that wasn’t to be.

Still, we took the lead in the 24th minute, when Phillips curled a free kick into the box, and a slight flick off Cooper’s head took it onto the post, with no other player getting a touch. And Dallas was the quickest to react while the Derby defence rooted to the spot, and the Ulsterman made no mistake in sending the rebound into the back of the net. We were now two up on aggregate and surely well on our way.

A few minutes later a neat move set Klich up for one of his trademark shots from just outside the area, but it cannoned down off the bar and bounced in front of the line and away, the rebound just a fraction from another goal which surely would have settled the tie once and for all. Bamford’s next contribution was to get booked for simulation in the box, though there had definitely been a bit of contact from Keogh, so perhaps his reputation now goes before him.

And the booking count continued to rise as the game got a bit heated, with Malone picking up an especially pointless yellow card for knocking the ball out of Hernandez’ hands as the Spaniard was about to take a throw in. Meanwhile, there was the first sign that Derby weren’t beaten just yet, when a looping header from a corner saw Casilla stranded, but the ball came back off the post.

As half time approached we looked well in control, but the turning point came just before the break. A long ball was sent into the Leeds half and although Cooper was going to reach it, Casilla had come racing off his line for no reason, which caused a fatal hesitation from Cooper. In the end Cooper tried to turn and try to whack it clear, but it just fell nicely for Derby substitute Malone to roll the ball into an empty net.

It was similar to the mix-up that caused Ipswich’s winner in the last game of the regular season, and yet still Casilla didn’t learn the lesson. There was still time for him to cause another panic before the break with another mad dash off his line, but that time he just got away with it. He needs to be told to stop doing it, that if a defender is going to get to the ball first he can leave them to deal with it and make himself available for a backpass rather than causing confusion and getting in the way.

With Derby having been gifted a lifeline the whole atmosphere was changed at the break, so now Lampard could give his team a rousing ‘we’re still in this’ talk, while the nerves would start to infest the Leeds dressing room. And the result of all that was that Derby would score a second goal right at the start of the second half, and unbelievably they had brought the aggregate score level.

Now it was Derby who were playing the neat passing moves around the area, with the Leeds defence plagued by uncertainty Although Mount slipped in the act of shooting, he was still able to scoop the ball over Casilla, who again had come a little way off his line. And the Rams could have scored their third a moment later, but this time Casilla was in position to make the save.

We did have a couple of chances to get back in front on aggregate, the first from Harrison from close range, but he failed to get any power of the shot even though it fell to his favoured left foot. The Dallas was denied as Roos made an excellent save from his curling shot, and Hernandez effort from the rebound was blocked.

But it was Derby who got the next goal, as Cooper panicked and pulled Bennett back just inside the area, quite needlessly as there were other defenders who would have been in front of Bennett on his way to goal. Wilson stepped up and gave Casilla no chance with the penalty, so Derby had completely turned the tie round and gone in front on aggregate for the first time.

Yet they held that lead for only four minutes before this eventful game swung back in our favour with another goal from Dallas, who took the ball past a couple of defenders before curling a shot inside the far post. There was a bit of debate in the TV studio about whether Dallas was offside when he was played in, but as far as I can see from the replay he was just about level.

We began to hope this would give us a bit of momentum to go on and win the tie, though Bamford was again struggling to make an impression up front, and Hernandez was seemingly out of sorts. When the little Spaniard plays well Leeds do well, but he seems to have run out of form and confidence since his crucial penalty miss in the game against Wigan.

Match Gallery: 16 photos

Ayling played a good one-two with Bamford inside the box, but agonisingly his shot went just wide of the post. Then Leeds were dealt a blow as Berardi picked up his second yellow card after losing his rag completely when he was surrounded by Derby players as he tried to break into their half. His first yellow had been soft, but you could say he deserved two yellows in the same incident, first for a late tackle, and then kicking out at Johnson after the ball had gone.

And Derby made the extra man count in the 85th minute, when Marriot was played in on the Derby left. This time you could excuse Casilla for racing out to meet him, with no defender nearby, but our keeper went to ground a bit too early, giving Marriot the chance to lift the ball over him and into the far corner of the net.

Bielsa made a couple of changes as time ran out, first the traditional introduction of Clarke for Klich, though I would have replaced Hernandez, who was looking like a spent force. And the second change saw Izzy Brown make only his second Leeds appearance, with Bamford coming off. The fact that a striker came off when we desperately needed a goal tells you just how ineffectual he was for almost all of this game.

Five minutes of injury time were announced, and Scott Malone became the second player dismissed. I thought he was unlucky to get a second yellow for a fractionally late tackle on Hernandez, but he will have plenty of time to regret his stupid first booking as he misses the final. So the numbers on the field were level once again, but it was almost too late for that to help us.

Dallas was denied by another fine save from Roos, and Brown missed his late chance for glory by sending a free kick over the bar. It was a bit odd he was allowed to take it, when Harrison was also standing over the ball and the position favoured a left footer. And with that a season that promised so much came to a bitter end, with the fifth play-off campaign in our history going the same way as the previous four, i.e. with no promotion.

There has been no shortage of scapegoats on the Leeds forums today, with Cooper, Casilla, Bamford and Berardi all having their backers as to who was most responsible for this debacle, but at least the scenes at the end show that the players and staff all share our pain. Hernandez was in tears at the end, and Bielsa wasn’t far from blubbing himself in his post-match interview.

So fat Frank finally got the last laugh despite his three previous defeats at our hands. We’re going to have to force ourselves to hope the even more irritating Villa beat them in the final, if only because Villa will be more of a danger to us than Derby next season if they don’t go up. That is of course assuming that we can get over this disappointment by August and mount another promotion challenge.

Ultimately we weren’t quite good enough in the crucial matches of this campaign and while we looked excellent in some matches, we have also been inconsistent and dropped points to some very average teams as well as our promotion rivals. But surely we can iron out these flaws and go one better next time round?

Reuters Media Express

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